Do you remember during those formative years in high school when you had that friend that you wanted to cut and walk away from but never did? It was the one that constantly let you down, sometimes embarrassed you in front of others and regularly struck blows to your self esteem.
For some reason you didn’t walk away as soon as you should have. Hope and optimism that things would change kept the toxicity flowing for far too long. However time and circumstances eventually put paid to the “friendship” and it instantly felt better once the separation was completed.
At the age of eight I formed a relationship with a lifelong (or so I thought) friend the BalmainTigers. We rode the highs and lows together. The wins, the losses, the consecutive grand final defeats and a few wooden spoons.
As Nick Hornby said in his book Fever Pitch on his obsession with the Arsenal football club.
“I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.”
Despite the bumpy ride I was honored to say I was a Balmain supporter and wear the merchandise. I was proud of the players, the coaches (well apart from a certain radio talkback announcer who had the role briefly), and my fellow supporters. Hell I was even proud of the administrators – find me a player that has a bad word to say about Keith Barnes.
When year 2000 came along and Balmain canceled our friendship and merged with Western Suburbs, I was briefly all at sea before a strong and narrow current delivered me to a relationship with the joint venture club.
Match Preview of our clash ahead of our Easter Monday Showstopper – https://t.co/myU6d3dyZM #WestsTigers #NRLTigersEels
— Wests Tigers (@WestsTigers) April 7, 2023
The Wests Magpies are a foundation club with a similarly proud supporter base that had the changes thrust upon them.
After a somewhat shaky start success came surprisingly soon in the new relationship when a premiership victory was achieved in 2005. Whilst it was not quite the same as winning the 1988 or 1989 grand finals would have felt, we dined out on the win and Benji’s miracle pass for some years on.
Fast forward to 2023 and we haven’t played a finals match for 12 years. Last season we sunk into the deepest hole possible by taking the club’s first wooden spoon. But to be honest it’s not the lack of on field success that cuts the deepest.
The club has become cannon fodder for mainstream media. There is a daily kick in the guts with stories that ridicule the administration, recruitment and attitudes that surround the club. If Wests Tigers don’t feature negatively in the daily tabloid or the Fox Sports discussion panels it is a surprise. While we can blame the clickbait fueled media outlets the truth is Wests Tigers are making it easy for them with their actions.
The club has become a joke and worse still we attract genuine sympathy from rival fans. As Wests Tigers tragics when we come across one of our own we nod silently at each other to acknowledge the pain we recognise behind our fellow supporters eyes.
Last season I watched the Sydney Roosters knife slice through Wests Tigers butter at home with a friend who supports the Bondi based mob. Instead of the usual banter she started apologising to me as her team went through the motions of a 72-6 thrashing.
The latest in a long of stuff ups and inability to read the room is around a commemorative jersey to be used for ANZAC round with the end result being an apology and reissue of the merchandise. This comes on top of multiple recruitment blunders including letting rising talent walk out the door and signing players on their last legs to long term deals. The CEO served a suspension and the club had its salary cap reduced at one point. At best it is management based on desperation and at worst incompetent.
We came into 2023 hoping for, and needing, a change in fortune after the club recruited some quality forwards, installed Wests Tigers legends into the coaching staff and spun the public relations wheel with talk of a revamped side who would play a completely different game, evoking memories of the last time the head coach tasted success in 2005.
The spine, apart from Api Korisau at hooker remained the same and the truth is the halves and fullback have just not been good enough to make an impression at NRL level.
This comes on top of stories of contracted players lacking pride and not buying into the so-called on field vision.
In short the club has been a mess for over a decade and there is no signs that this will change in the short term. There seems to be no accountability asked from the board and the administration.
As a fan it is difficult to remain optimistic and continue my support.
Every day I see supporters say “I’m out. “I’m done.” I can’t do it anymore” on social media.
A Wests Tigers action group has been formed by fans who are fed up and want to see change across the organisation.
My state of mind would surely improve if I could walk away and watch footy without any skin in the game or adopt another club. It won’t happen because the pick and stick mentality I held when I put on that Balmain Tigers jersey won’t let me. I can only hope that Wests are forced into a change of personnel both on and off the field.
I want to feel proud of the club I support as much as I did when I first went through the gates at Leichhardt as a boy.
1969 Bob Smithies was a teacher at Stanmore Public school and the school football coach. One day he brought half the team to school, I started to follow Balmain from that day on. It has been hard over the last few years, I want to leave but just can’t.
I know exactly how you feel John!