This article was first written for and published by The Roar.
At the end of most weekends, I take a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to live in a country like Australia – a country that loves sport as much as I do.
This weekend alone we saw 2 major upsets in the NRL with the Tigers defeating the Broncos on Friday night and the Dragons edging out the Cowboys on Saturday. The Adelaide Crows ended the GWS Giants 6 game winning streak and the Swifts ended the 21 match winning streak of the Queensland Firebirds. To cap off the weekend, the Australian women’s rugby 7’s team made history in France by becoming the first ever Australian team to win a World Series. And it’s a State of Origin week this week!
I live in Sydney so live sport is at my fingertips every weekend. 2 weekends ago, I went to watch the GWS Giants play on Sunday afternoon at Spotless Stadium and on the Monday night I went and cheered on the Eels at Pirtek Stadium (despite there not being much to cheer about). Too much sport is never enough.
The opportunity to not only watch NRL and AFL, but also netball and rugby union in winter has always been something I have enjoyed, which is why articles like this, inciting code wars frustrate me.
Tom Heenan, a teacher of sports studies at Monash University wrote an article on the weekend, explaining why, despite the success of the GWS Giants on the field in 2016 (currently sitting fourth on the AFL ladder with 7 wins and 3 losses), they will lose the code battle, which Heenan would have you believe is currently happening in Western Sydney. He goes one step further though and suggests that despite the Giants success in 2016, no one in Sydney really cares about them.
For me, sport is something which has the capacity to unite people and to create a sense of community. Any attempt to undermine this community by inciting code wars is something which frustrates me. I see no utility in it because people can enjoy more than one sport. For me, as long as people, particularly kids are being active and enjoying sport, there are only winners.
The article is an unfounded attack on a Sydney based team, a team which, over the last couple of months, is a team I have fallen in love with.
I want to ask Heenan who the enemy is here? Is it the GWS Giants or is it the other codes in Western Sydney which the Giants are in competition with?
Let’s start with Heenan’s attack on membership numbers. According to Heenan, the Giants have 12,780 members in 2016 which he describes as ‘not… too flash’. Compared to what? Is it not too flash as against the AFL Clubs in Victoria who have membership numbers spanning from 34,000 to 70,000? If that’s the case, I see the comparison as irrelevant because comparing the Melbourne market with the Sydney market is a waste of time. It does not comprehend that sport is fundamentally different in Sydney and that almost no club in Sydney (bar perhaps the South Sydney Rabbitohs) has membership numbers that even come close to those of the Victorian AFL Clubs.
If it’s a code war in Western Sydney that we are waging, then surely it would be more useful to compare Giants membership numbers to those of other clubs in Western Sydney like the Eels or the Bulldogs who only eclipsed 20,000 members for the first time this year. No surprises that the Giants membership numbers are fairly consistent, if not slightly lower, than most of the other Sydney based teams (regardless of sport). A reasonable achievement considering how young the Giants are as a club.
Not only is it enough for Heenan to attack membership numbers, but he also attacks Giants crowds which have averaged 10,300 in 2016. Disappointing according to Heenan, but unsurprising due to the lack of success the Giants have had on the field in recent years.
To someone in Victoria, to have just over 10,000 people at an AFL game might be considered a national embarrassment. In Sydney though, a crowd of that many is a reality. For example, whilst the Giants crowd for the game against the Western Bulldogs was 9,612, in an overcrowded Sydney market where the sun was out, the NRL was on next door (a match which had a crowd of about 18,000) and the Giants were playing against a club with fans that do not traditionally travel, I was not surprised. Nor was I surprised at the 17,000 person attendance at last years ‘battle of the bridge’ between the Swans and the Giants. 17,000 is a healthy Sydney sporting crowd and nothing to be ashamed about.
What I found most offensive about the article though was the suggestion that no one cares about the GWS Giants.
I want Heenan to come to a GWS Giants home game and say that to the group of men and women who sit in the GWS Giants cheer squad. He could perhaps start with the young man who paints his face in a different design each week with the colours of grey, black and orange. Then he could speak to the mother and son who have been to every single GWS Giants game since the club’s inception. He might want to finish with the passionate man that leads the cheering, whose voice is hoarse and bare at the end of the game because of how loud his voice is.
Do you know who else cares about the Giants? People that support women’s sport. With the AFL set to announce any day now which clubs will receive a licence to have a women’s team in 2017, the Giants were the only club in Sydney which put in a bid. The Swans did not have the resources whilst the Giants were able to point to their continuing relationship with the Auburn Giants and their female academy program to demonstrate their commitment to women’s football.
If the Giants are successful with their bid, Giants fans have 2 teams to call their very own and the team will become club of choice for people in Sydney passionate about women’s football. Not to mention the Giants intention of partnering with a netball team for Australia’s new look netball competition set to launch next year which will generate even more interest in a growing club.
This suggests to me that the people that care about the Giants is only set to increase.
Heenan may also want to do his geography too. The Giants are located at Homebush and find themselves very close to what is being described as the new centre of Sydney – Parramatta. Western Sydney is a growing region and spans as far as Penrith, to Campbelltown, to Blacktown, to Parramatta to Homebush (home of the Giants).
To finish, Tom, you can stomp your feet and raise your voice about how the Giants will never be successful in Sydney and point and jeer at their smallish crowds and membership numbers. Meanwhile, I’m going to have some fun and continue to love sport. I’ll love my NRL and the Parramatta Eels. When the Eels and Giants don’t clash, I’ll head to Spotless to watch Phil Davis, Jeremy Cameron, Stephen Coniglio, Callan Ward and Adam Tomlinson who have been with the GWS Giants since the very beginning, much like many of their fans who really do care about the squad.
And let’s chat again in 10 years, because only then can the long-term project named the GWS Giants be judged. I’ll give you a hint though, get used to the orange black and grey, because the Giants are here to stay.
Ladies who Leap xxx