Written by Stuart McLennan
A lasting memory in the midst of Covid lockdowns and restrictions is the images of Newtown fanatic John Trad riding what seemed to be endless laps around Henson Park as part of the ‘Laps with Trady’ ‘Keep the Jets Flying’ campaign to raise money for the Newtown Jets after the Canterbury Cup season was cancelled for 2020.
Trad, riding a penny farthing bike holding a Jets flag on game day with a trail of kids running behind him, reflects what Newtown are all about.
The club has seemingly found the sweet spot between traditional support as a 1908 founding club and the demographic that now resides in the once working-class suburbs of Newtown and Marrickville.
To gain a better understanding of what makes the Jets, once known as the Bluebags a ‘feel good’ club, Everything Rugby League sought out Social Media Manager Steven Russo.
“A lot of the people at the club have read the room well when it has come to the area’s changing demographics and have subsequently introduced initiatives that cater for the newer generation of inner-west residents,” Russo told Everything Rugby League.
“That said, the club hasn’t ignored its roots either. We pay a lot of respect to our long history and those who have ‘dug the well’, so to speak. Every year we hold a reunion day and invite players that represented the club at any level and we generally try to stay in close contact with anyone who has ever donned the royal blue.
What separates Newtown from many clubs is the number of non-Jets supporters from far and wide visiting Henson Park on game day in what’s seen as a rugby league ritual where fans can watch quality rugby league in a grassroots style setting.
Russo points to the welcoming environment at Henson Park as a reason for healthy crowds (a number that the club always posts as 8972).
“In my experience, the club has made a really conscious effort to make everyone feel welcome at their games by hosting theme days like Hipster Day and Pride and Diversity Day. Newtown, as a suburb, is a weird and wonderful place and we try and reflect that in our club culture.
“I see the Jets to be as much as a community hub as a football team in that we aim to make Henson Park a place where you can meet up with your friends and family, have a yarn, maybe a drink and enjoy some high quality football.”
The vibes at the club were what initially attracted Russo, a long time Balmain Tigers fan, to work for the club
“I’ve always been a Tigers fan and growing up I used to occasionally go to Henson Park to watch Balmain take on Newtown in the NSW Cup. I was always attracted by how welcoming people were at the club, even to opposition fans.
“When the Wests Tigers decided to merge Balmain and Western Suburbs in reserve grade at the end of 2012, I felt a little put out, so I started following the Jets instead. I ended up becoming mates with people at the club and subsequently felt compelled to become more involved. Initially, I just used to write the occasional article for the club, but when I lost my full-time job because of COVID, I threw myself into working with the club.”
— Stuart McLennan (@Discomclennan) January 8, 2021
Given the tribal nature of rugby league and its fans, friendly cross club banter can turn into vicious debate in a single tweet however the Jets have largely managed to avoid those attacks.
“Generally speaking we get pretty good feedback from our social media. I’m a fairly creative person, and I’m constantly trying to find new ways to push club messages in fun and exciting new ways. When our season was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID outbreak, we tried to keep fans engaged by replicating the game day experience with virtual games which we streamed on Facebook and that seemed to go down well.
“Our social media really tries to tap into contemporary society while also acknowledging our past. For example, last week we made a joke tweet claiming our club song had taken the number one spot on Triple J’s Top 100. People had a bit of a laugh about it and we were able to get some attention from social media users who are not necessarily interested in footy.
“It may seem a little lofty in terms of objectives, but I’d like to see us get similar numbers of engagement to the NRL clubs. While we obviously don’t play in the top tier, we’re a strong brand and I feel like we punch well above our weight when you consider the resources we have at our disposal. Because we’re considered to be a bit of a cult or hipster club, I feel like we have a bit more scope to experiment with content that doesn’t necessarily fit the ‘NRL norm’, so I’d like to try some more kind of wacky (yet relevant) content moving forward and see how that flies.
“Another massive component of social media, from my perspective, is using it to support our commercial goals. Sure, it’s great to have great engagement levels, but that means very little if you’re not getting bums on seats or people aren’t purchasing memberships, so I’m keen to keep using social media to push those objectives as well.”
While Trady rides the laps and Newtown welcomes all fans with a smile and a bit of fun, the club will be admired by rugby league fans across the globe no matter where their allegiances lie.