A supporter without a team to support - Green and Gold Rugby
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A supporter without a team to support

A supporter without a team to support

On the 11th of August 2017, my 29th birthday, my wife and I took the day off and spent the night in a swanky hotel. It was a great night however I woke the next day in what felt like a state of mourning.

The announcement to cut the Western Force from Super Rugby feels like there’s been adeath in the family and has left me saddened, confused and angry.

Sitting there and watching two old men in their multi-million dollar office in Sydney tell an entire state that you’re not wanted, that you are unsustainable without any real details behind their claim hurt. It hurt a lot.

If you’ve ever been to WA you will know there is only one thing that matters when it comes to sport – the AFL. Relationships are defined by one simple question ‘do you support the Eagles or Dockers?’.

Now I’m asked this question weekly and my answer is always ‘neither I’m a rugby fan I support the Western Force’.

Most people are confused by this and assume you must be from over east or maybe New Zealand as no self-respecting sandgroper would ever follow Rugby.

Well let me tell you how I came to support the Force in a world of Eagles and Dockers.

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I was born in WA as were both my parents. My Dad grew up on the coast less than a kilometre down the road from the North Beach Rugby League Club. At the time Perth had a small League comp with a few local clubs, as the club was so close Dad grew up playing League. He played for years until he discovered girls and cars but never lost his passion for the sport. When I came along in 1988 the Eagles had just entered the VFL comp, WA was gripped with footy fever.

Dad didn’t get caught up in the hype and continued supporting the Sea Eagles (they had the same colours as his North Beach team).   So you could imagine his joy in 1992 when the Western Reds were established and then introduced into a new national comp in 1995. New local teams were popping up all over the place and he soon registered me at our brand new club. I had all the Western Reds gear and went to all the games. 

I still cherish the memories of me and the old man going to every match, playing on the WACA at half time and going into the change rooms on a few occasions after a game. I dreamt of playing for the Western Reds when I grew up. But it wasn’t to be. 

A different set of old men in their multi-million dollar office in Sydney decided WA was not needed and the Western Reds where no more, so too my new club along with a number of other local teams. League in WA was dead. I didn’t really understand what had happened only that my heroes were gone and my Dad and I could no longer watch the team we loved.

Not long after Dad was watching a game of Rugby on TV. “Why are they lifting them up in the air Dad? Why aren’t they playing the ball correctly? That scrum looks weird.” My Dad explained to me that this was s different game, this was Rugby Union. I didn’t care what it was it was amazing. I also didn’t know that my school played Rugby, but you had to be in year 6 to play. I would need to wait a whole year until I could join in.  

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In 1998 the Wallabies would play their first ever test match in Perth against the Springboks. I was given an early birthday present a brand new Wallabies jumper and 2 tickets to watch them play South Africa.  Dad even took me down to the South Fremantle Football club to watch the Wallabies train. There they were – John Eales, George Gregan, Matt Burke, Toutai Kefu and Tim Horan – all the guys from the TV. I had them sign my new jersey; I must have slept in that thing for the next month.

We went to the match at Subi and watched the boys go down by one. The result didn’t matter I was hooked. The next year I finally got play for my school team. Then the Wallabies won the Rugby World Cup. I remember taking my jersey to school, and for first time it was cool to be a Rugby supporter in Perth.

The high school I ended up at didn’t have a Rugby team.  No matter my parents found a local club not too far from our house. Only issue was there weren’t many other kids playing. Our coach would drive about six of us to another club 20 minutes away. We trained with them and played in their uniform but it didn’t matter to me. Every Saturday we would head to Britannia where all the juniors played (and still do). Here we all honed our skills and made lifelong friends. This was rugby at it purist.

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This continued all throughout high school. We didn’t have Foxtel at home and so I had no idea about Super Rugby. My Rugby experiences consisted of watching the Wallabies on TV and listening to Gordon Bray, Budda Handy and Simon Poidevin.  

When I heard that a professional team like the Eagles and Dockers might be coming to WA, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Two rugby Mums (one whose kid would go on to play for the Force) organised a rally at Subiaco Oval, thousands of people turned up to show their support and then…enter the Western Force. We all know what transpired over the next 12 years mixed results, players/coaches coming and going, dodgy deals and even something involving a quokka… 

However away from the professional playing fields rugby was flourishing in Western Australia. Only now have the dream’s which were planted back in 2006 begun to come to fruition in the eyes of players like Dane and Ross Haylett Petty, Kyle Godwin, Richard Hardwick, Cruze Ah-Nau, Kane Koteka, Curtis Rona, Chance Peni, Harry Scobbal, Luke Burton, Nick Jooste, Brad Lacey and Ollie Hoskins (who’s mum was mentioned above) to name a few.

In the hundred years prior to 2006 WA produced a single Wallaby. In the past 12 months WA has produced three, with more to come. Rugby in WA has also had an impact on the junior rep sides and women’s comps. Four WA players were named in the Wallaroos for the World Cup just a few weeks ago. In 2017 WA was the third largest rugby playing base in Australia, the Western Force finished second in the Australian conference behind the Brumbies with equal amount of wins, they were the only team in Australia where attendance increased, they have the backing of the rugby community through the Own the Force Campaign, the backing of the richest man in Australia as well as the Perth Spirit who will attempt to go back to back when they defend their NRC championship. Rugby in WA has never been stronger but then, it happened again. The ARU announced that the Force were gone.

What was it all for? What Now? Is this the end?

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I sit here typing as if I’m typing a eulogy; my fear is that the hopes and dreams of the thousands of junior players in WA will be lost as was my dream of playing for the Western Reds.

No longer will mothers and fathers be able to take their young kids to see the best of the best duel it out, just as my Dad could no longer take me to see the Reds.  Rugby League in WA is a shadow of its former self following the removal of the Reds. Neither my Dad nor I have attended at League game since. There are a hand full of clubs left but no real pathways. The odd player gets a chance in the NRL, in part due to the exposure afforded to them because of the Force.

Rugby WA feel cheated and betrayed and will take the fight to the courts, the three ARU men at the centre of the decision are now gone. A man who has played over 900 matches for his WA club has stepped down from the ARU board due to the mishandling of the whole situation; I dare say these resignations are just the beginning.

The ARU claim that Rugby in WA was around long before the Force and will continue to be around well into the future now that the Force are gone. Only time will tell what the future hold for Rugby in WA. But for now I am once again lost to a sport that I love, a supporter without a team to support.

As much as it hurts me I won’t be attending another Wallabies match as long as the junior players in WA are denied their chance to dream big.

It’s time for me to reconsider my answer to the impending question “Who do you support?”

  • jamie

    Wonderfully written. Hopefully the Force isn’t dead yet.

  • Mike Beven

    I have the wallabies logo tattoo on my chest and i once showed it proudly to any one who would look ( mostly blokes at a pub) im now ashamed and looking into removing it. I too will never go to a wallabies game again. Not untill perth is given a fair go. The decision to kick perth out makes no sense to me and hurt more then i imagined. My wife laughed when i explained to her it felt like some one had passed away. Rugby was my life. Either playing or watching it was always on my mind. And now thinking about rugby just makes me sad.for now all my wallabies tops are in a bin bag in the bottom of my wardrobe as im not sure if i should bin them or not one things for sure they will no longer be worn. I know its juvenile but the night the force were annouced as the team cut i set fire to my once beloved wallabies flag as i thought it showed how much i am hurt.

    • Simon Powell

      I have the Western Force logo on my shoulder blade. Its been there for at least 11 years.

      Any suggestions?

      • Mike Beven

        Keep it mate its rugby wa and they have done nothing wrong remember the force. I wish i had the force logo and not the national one.

      • Missing Link

        Nothing to be ashamed of unlike the dolphin and stars I got on my lower back while drunk in Bali back in 1999*

        *may or may not be true

        seriously no need to do anything about it

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Mate I feel you aren’t alone. I don’t think the Force supporters are going to change allegiance to another rugby team, whether they live in WA or not, they’ll desert rugby in their droves and the pain will reverberate throughout Australian rugby for some years to come.
    This is just a shit situation to be in

    • Wallabrumby

      I agree. While I do empathise with the position ARU were put in by SANZAA here they did make the wrong choice for the good of Aus Rugby and their management of the whole situation pisses me off more than anything.

      While SA were busy going ahead and finding another competition for their teams, our ARU spend months to just make an announcement in the end to just cut and run. Even if this was the only solution they could come up with they should have been working on a plan to appease the Force & Rugby WA Fans with a long term plan for rugby in WA, a new competition or something constructive at least.

  • Perth girl

    We are all in a world of pain here in WA. The way the ARU has treated the Force has been disgusting, Clyne and Pulver are plain liars and I hope the truth comes out in court. I too will never attend another Wallabies game

  • Chris Gates

    Gaffa, I feel the same way. But don’t lose hope just yet. I don’t know what’s legally possible. But I fervently hope that the cretins who have done this are made to answer publicly for their actions. I hope they have to answer the allegations made in The Australian newspaper that despite public denials in the week leading up to the treachery, behind the scene the ARU were working actively to facilitate the transfer of the Rebels licence for the second time in a few years for one dollar. Even if the situation can’t be retrieved the perpetrators should be made to carry the stain on their characters for a long time.

    • Andrew Luscombe

      Pulver was involved in meetings regarding selling the Rebels licence back to the VRU, but refused to bring it to the board for approval in case the arbitration went against the ARU. Someone in Victoria then realised they could use the put option without ARU approval, so they did.

  • Nicholas Wasiliev

    Wonderful article. I would hate to be in this situation. But I feel sick too. I may support the Brumbies, but this decision hurt me too.
    For me, and many fans, it’s never been east and west rugby: we are all fans supporting the same game. We are on the same side. So when something like this happens, with all the rugby supporters in the west utterly disregarded, it hits us all.
    Rebels fans are angry at this. Tahs fans are angry. Reds fans are angry. Brums are too. The Force as an organisation, both players and fans, earnt so much respect from many, yet the ARU still cut them anyway.
    It’s disgusting. It’s disgraceful. And I’m glad that everyone is putting the torch on them. They’ve handled this appallingly and with little regard for the future of the game. I stand with the Force.

    • Mike Beven

      I am a force fan but a wallabies fab first. If i could see anyway this decision is good for the sport i may not be so hurt

    • Phil Kcraig

      I think this should be the catchcry of all rugby fans in Oz “I stand with the Force”

  • Rob Hill

    I echo your story Gaff a. Hopefully the bloodbath that this will cause at executive and board level for the ARU will be enough for the other states to finally stare down the nsw/qld cabal that has so destroyed Australian rugby in the professional era. Time for revolution

  • Julie T

    Beautifully written. I too remember the Western Reds. But have been a firm Union fan since the 1991 RWC. I remember the first Wallabies test match in Perth and remember going to an open training session at Trinity College by the river and looking in awe at the size of Matt Burkes thighs as they ran passed me at eye level. I too have been a Force member from the very start and have lived through the highs and lows. I was a Wallabies fan first as Super Rugby meant nothing to me until we had a team here. But if they take my Force away, I’m not sure I can garner any excitement for the Wallabies. The true sadness of this comes as last week I finalised my flights for an amazing world tour. I have tickets to see the Wallabies this year in Mendoza, Argentina ; Twickenham and Murrayfield. This year I turned 50 and this tour was to be my celebration. Now as countless others have said just thinking about the Wallabies reduces me to tears and fills me with sadness. It’s heart breaking. And feels as deep as any relationship break-up I’ve ever had! I’m not giving up the fight. But all the revelations from Stooke and others leave me with little hope that logic or rational argument count for anything. I have no trust in the integrity of the ARU board or administration.

    Meanwhile I’m heading off for the Pindan semi final at Wests Scarborough to be with some like minded folk. The sun that was overhead seems to have past and the storm clouds are rolling in here on the coast. Fitting

  • Jules

    I am feeling the same. Then I go between disbelief, hope that some legal challenge can be made and despair in that order every few hours. It just down right sux and I don’t understand how a sport struggling for supporters just cut at least 20% of their fans off and how that will help!!!

  • Duncher

    One thing I cannot understand is Pulver’s resignation… Surely if this guy has lead us to this point he has planned beyond it.

    Who this shit is going to jump in to clean up this mess?

    Great write up too. I’m no force fan, I’m a tahs fan but I feel sick to the stomach with this. I keep asking myself how I’d feel if it was the rebels that we cut instead and frankly I think it would sit easier for some reason, but it’d still be rubbish

  • chibimatty

    After watching the demise of the WAFL, with our own grand final day parades and our own local derbies, to the AFL franchises, I latched on to both rugby codes as a way to keep alive a uniqueness in WA sporting culture. I was raised watching our world-beating WA hockey teams, State cricketers, and our formidable soccer team who would regularly beat foreign clubs and international teams, including the likes of Werder Bremen, Nottingham Forest, West Ham, Japan, South Korea and the Socceroos. I thought it was a boon for the State with the inclusion of the Western Reds, as now we in WA would be able to contribute to the Kangaroos also. But it was when we were invited to join the big boys in my favourite sport, rugby football, I was over the moon. Could WA become a major contributor to the Wallabies as we had been to our national teams in basketball, cricket, hockey, soccer, netball, softball, lacrosse, baseball and so on? I couldn’t wait.

    So the WAFL’s gone as an urban Perth cultural feature, the Western Reds are gone and RL with it. Now my favourite sport has gone too, how long before the Spirit are removed from the NRC without the Force there to feed? This is a tremendous disappointment. Yes, I’m thankful for the Perth Scorchers, the Glory and the Wildcats, but this one really hurts, especially considering the player base over here and mine and their love of the game.

    The whole affair is nonsensical. I still can’t believe there was no contingency plan by the ARU to keep the game alive here. It has been mentioned how South Africa “honoured their part of the deal” by cutting two teams as opposed to us cutting only one. But that is untrue, both of those provinces will continue to play in BOTH the Currie Cup and the Pro14. WA, on the other hand, is now dead in the water, there is no “shifting of the Force to another competition” as has happened in South Africa.

    I can only hope this is a temporary short-sightedness; because for the good of the Australian game, we need our sport to grow, and grow it did, here in Western Australia. A top-level team needs to exist in WA, by hook or by crook, otherwise this is ineptitude of the highest order, to deliberately shrink your sport, that’s the opposite of what a national body should be doing.

    SANZAAR needs to take a good long look at itself. It’s taken the greatest rugby competition to ever exist and ruined it. It’s watched two of its foundation member nations flounder out of the top three, the two original members with the largest populations and potential for growth and revenue. All the while proclaiming to ensure the health of southern hemisphere rugby.

  • dabiged

    A spine tingling tale Gaffa, one that strikes very close to home. I too grew up in WA in an AFL household, one that used to write ‘football’ in the religion section of the census. I too did not have pay TV but still was drawn into this game. I too have followed this team through thick and (mostly) thin. I too am now a fan without a team.

  • Adrian

    The biggest PR disaster for any sport I can remember in 55 years,….and all self inflicted

  • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

    Well written. When I watch a rugby game, I feel a deep sadness and anger that I will never be able to see the team I support again. It feels like losing a family member, a deep sense of loss and the feeling that you are powerless to make any difference. I cannot support the Wallabies as this team represents everything I hate at the moment: the ERU. I will do almost anything to get back at the ERU. There is no turning back from this, rugby will not return to WA and I will have to try out AFL. There is nothing else here in the winter anyway. What a disgrace.

  • Kokonutcreme

    Brace yourself there could be more tough news to follow. In the Australian today is a report from Wayne Smith about fears for the Perth Spirit.

    “Meanwhile, it has come to light that the ARU also intends cutting the Perth Spirit from the NRC at the end of this season. RugbyWA vice-chairman John Edwards said the club only realised their NRC team was also under threat during negotiations a few weeks ago after the ARU had issued a Termination of Alliance Agreement. (The agreement is the contract signed between the Force and the ARU when the national body bought the Super Rugby licence in June last year.)

    “In the course of renegotiation about what would happen should we lose the arbitration, the NRC Spirit team was in the Alliance as well and we asked them about that,” said Edwards. “They basically said this will be their last season, the one that’s about to start.”

    • chibimatty

      Sheer bloody-mindedness

    • Perth girl

      So much for supporting rugby pathways for WA players. The ESRU want to kill rugby here

  • chibimatty

    After watching the demise of the WAFL, with our own grand final day parades and our own local derbies, to the AFL franchises, I latched on to both rugby codes (with rugby union being my favourite of all sports) as a way to keep alive a uniqueness in WA sporting culture. I was raised watching our world-beating WA hockey teams, State cricketers, and our formidable soccer team who would regularly beat foreign clubs and international teams, including the likes of Werder Bremen, Japan, South Korea and the Socceroos. I thought it was a boon for the State with the inclusion of the Western Reds, as now we in WA would be able to contribute to the Kangaroos also. But it was when we were invited to join the big boys in my favourite sport, rugby football, I was over the moon. Could WA become a major contributor to the Wallabies as we had been to our national teams in basketball, cricket, hockey, soccer, netball, softball, lacrosse, baseball and so on? I couldn’t wait.

    So the WAFL’s gone as an urban Perth cultural feature, the Western Reds are gone and RL with it. Now my favourite sport has gone too, how long before the Spirit are removed from the NRC without the Force there to feed? This is a tremendous disappointment. Yes, I’m thankful for the Perth Scorchers, the Glory and the Wildcats, but this one really hurts, especially considering the player base over here and mine and their love of the game.

    The whole affair is nonsensical. I still can’t believe there was no contingency plan by the ARU to keep the game alive here. It has been mentioned how South Africa “honoured their part of the deal” by cutting two teams as opposed to us cutting only one. But that is untrue, both of those provinces will continue to play in BOTH the Currie Cup and the Pro14. WA, on the other hand, is now dead in the water, there is no “shifting of the Force to another competition” as has happened in South Africa.

    I can only hope this is a temporary short-sightedness; because for the good of the Australian game, we need our sport to grow, and grow it did, here in Western Australia. A top-level team needs to exist in WA, by hook or by crook, otherwise this is ineptitude of the highest order, to deliberately shrink your sport, that’s the opposite of what a national body should be doing.

    SANZAAR needs to take a good long look at itself. It’s taken the greatest rugby competition to ever exist and ruined it. It’s watched two of its foundation member nations flounder out of the top three, the two original members with the largest populations and potential for growth and revenue. All the while proclaiming to ensure the health of southern hemisphere rugby.

    (Hopefully this time my comment won’t be deleted as spam either)

    • Who?

      Spirit? End of this season, apparently……….. :-(
      Come on WAR – get the legal processes underway!!! Every true Rugby fan is behind you!

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