(2015 Slogan of Wests Tigers Photo courtesy of http://www.twitter.com/wests_tigers)
Unite, Commit, Achieve. That’s the 2015 slogan of Wests Tigers Rugby League Football Club. A 16 year entity, that has forever struggled to forge its own independence and personality. Not through any fault of its own. It cannot be guilty of being portrayed, seen and viewed as something it is most certainly not. However, the rest of the Rugby League fraternity including players, both former and current, media commentators, journalists, coaches and ignorant fans, those that refuse to accept reality. Last week was a week to forget for Wests Tigers. I am not referring to the loss to the Premiers in a error ridden performance, but more so from a holistic perspective, a perpetuity which continues and never seems to evaporate or subside, much to the Joint Venture club’s detriment.
It all started last Wednesday evening on Peter Sterling’s ‘Sterlo on the coach’ Rugby League television program. Guest host, well travelled journeyman Willie Mason whilst posing a question to young Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco muttered the words “James, you have played all your career with Balmain, coming up through the Balmain juniors and lower grades and now into First Grade, it must be a pretty rewarding feeling?” Mason copped a barrage of angry tweets and feedback and later sent out an apology claiming it was a slip of the tongue and meant no offence by it.
However Big Willie is not alone. Former Easts and Souths backrower Bryan Fletcher, a regular on Fox Sports Matty Johns respective programs is synonymous with referring to Wests Tigers as Balmain. As is Gordon Tallis. Does it help when Matthew Johns, whenever referring to the Tigers, constantly rolls out old footage of Balmain from past era’s time and time again whenever the Wests Tigers club comes up against traditional teams namely in Souths and Canterbury? The NRL’s own social media #hashtags do not include Wests Tigers. Whilst most utilise the animalistic or mascot identity, some use the geographic location, namely in Souths and Manly. Wests Tigers however, is just Tigers. Not WT, not WST, not WestsTigers, but simply Tigers.
(The neglected foundation club and partner in the Wests Tigers marriage – Photo courtesy of http://www.foxsports.com.au)
Peter Sterling, a media commentator who is usually rather diligent when it comes to respecting football club’s sovereignty and history also had a case of ‘foot in mouth disease’ yesterday claiming that Wests Tigers were formally Balmain Tigers, with no mentioning of Western Suburbs, a foundation club, the other half, the seem to be forgotten half of the Joint Venture club who has as much history as South Sydney or the Sydney Roosters, who helped pioneer the game of Rugby League in Australia, having played in the first ever 1st Grade game back in 1908.
Rewind back a week, a Sterling’s former colleague and good friend Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin and co-panelist Darryl Brohman, both referred to former Wests Tigers winger Beau Ryan as former Sharks and Balmain player. Are you starting to see the trend here? The consistent pattern of blatant mistaken identity. Constant references and overall perception that Wests Tigers is still very much the Balmain Tigers. Daily Telegraph Rugby League editor Phil Rothfield is another serial offender, as is the NSWRL who recently in a press release last week, promoting their NSW Cup fixtures for last weekend’s round ‘mistakenly’ had Balmain Tigers instead of Wests Tigers in the online team list. And theses are just a handful of instances that have occurred this year.
But the greatest kick in the guts and insult came yesterday (Sunday 22nd March 2015) at the South Sydney Vs. Wests Tigers game at ANZ Stadium. Rabbitohs officials prior to kick off thought it would be a nice gesture to show the history and rivalry between the ‘two clubs’ by showing a video montage. Footage of the memorable clashes from over the years. The only thing, it did not feature Wests Tigers. Instead it featured Balmain Tigers. Balmain’s clashes with Souths and how special the rivalry is as they’re both foundation clubs. What’s wrong with this picture some may ask? Plenty. Balmain is not, has not and never will be Wests Tigers in any form or capacity. Nor is Western Suburbs for that matter. Yet unlike Balmain, Western Suburbs does not feature, figure or even gain a mention when it comes to being a equitable partner in a company they co-own.
(Old Western Suburbs Wests Tigers fans have been disenfranchised and have walked away by the constant dominance and referencing that the Joint Venture club is still seen and viewed as Balmain – Photo courtesy http://www.westsmagpies.com.au)
The perception, the association the view that the Tigers are still Balmain is a significant reason as to why the club is yet again struggling with membership numbers, with gate receipts, with merchandise (which is heavily Black and Gold dominated, the traditional colours of Balmain) and with many affiliated supporters from the heritage club of the Magpies, having walked away because of the dominance and continued referencing and identity by almost everyone in the game that it’s still very much the Balmain Tigers in every facet and aspect. Which is a very hard to hear and see after years and decades of generational support supporting a team, a football club, that is in no way now a representative of the love once had for the club they fell for and the reason they started supporting Rugby League initially.
But the question has to be asked, where is the damage control, risk management resolution and proactive nature from the supposed leaders of the Wests Tigers? The Wests Group Representatives from Ashfield and the District Football Club? Wests Group Directors on the Wests Tigers Board? Wests Tigers Chairperson Marina Go and CEO Grant Mayer? 16 year generation Wests Tigers fans and old Western Suburbs Wests Tigers fans (the small minority who haven’t walked away that is) are yet to hear or see from the Joint Venture club’s leaders, demanding a please explain, an apology for the continuous gaffe’s and brand association of a club that has not graced the NRL First Grade Football paddock since 1999.
As it has been well documented, the NRL along with the financial Wests Group (Wests Ashfield Leagues Club and District Football Club) are the current shareholders of the company known as Wests Tigers. With Western Suburbs being a viable partner in this company, why aren’t the directors, officials and elected representatives up in arms about the continued disassociation of the Western Suburbs identity, heritage and legacy not being acknowledged and respected by continued referencing and brand association to the non-financial partner in Balmain? Is it that they simply do not care? Is that it? Constant references that Wests Tigers as Balmain, Balmain this, Balmain that, the Black and Gold’s, the team from Leichhardt etc etc. How can the Wests Group and Wests Tigers leaders sit back and not even flinch? They seem content to let it slide by, just as it has done for the past 16 years.
(Wests Tigers Chair and fellow Directors don’t seem to care that their brand is being seen as an extension of one that was retired 16 years ago which is alienating fans and members – Photo courtesy of http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au)
Can you imagine if it was South Sydney, Sydney Roosters or Newtown Jets? There would be an almighty uproar from their respective hierarchy demanding that the wrongs be righted. These clubs, unlike Western Suburbs seem to be proud of their illustrious history, their heritage and preserve it better than any other NRL Club and to some degree, most professional sporting clubs across all codes. Western Suburbs since 1908 have always been the runt of the litter. The second-class citizen. That relative that no one likes or wants to sit next too at Christmas or other respective family gatherings. The Magpies have always copped the rough end of the stick. Known as the perennial battlers of Rugby League for many an era. Not much has changed, even in their new life as a Joint Venture. The forgotten entity, the neglected partner, the oppression is so loud, it is deafening.
Respect. Respect is all that Western Suburbs want and has only ever wanted. Not to dominate. Not to get one up on or over the now struggling Joint Venture partner. That respect it longs for and seeks comes easily and simply. How? By calling the company it co-owns as a viable shareholder as its registered business name. The name of the Joint Venture Club; that it has had since its inception back in 2000. That being ‘Wests Tigers’. It’s time that leaders of the Wests Tigers came out and were accountable, visible, fought for and demand the guilty culprits respect the name of Wests Tigers and heritage of it’s origins and stress the importance of the damage being done by the constant and continued referencing and association of Balmain and negative impact it is having on all areas of it’s business. Perhaps it’s time to re-educate the uneducated, the ignorant and those in denial. Maybe then, just maybe, the slogan of ‘Unite, Commit, Achieve’ will actually stand true and become a reality.