ANZ Stadium v Suburban Grounds

Filed in NRL by on April 21, 2014

Put up your hand if you were one of the 50, 668 fans who attended the game between the Wests Tigers and Parramatta Eels yesterday? If you were well done. I was so proud to be part of such a passionate, energetic and electric crowd. It was one of the best atmosphere’s for a game I have ever experienced (apart from Finals football).

The game will be discussed quite heavily over the next few days, particularly in respect of obstruction and a refereeing performance which many have labelled as subpar.

However, rather than focusing on the result, I want to express my delight at seeing such a tremendous crowd turn out to watch these two clubs play.

50, 668 – that’s massive. That crowd broke the record for the largest crowd for a home game (excluding Finals) for the Eels – something which both the Parramatta Eels and the Wests Tigers should take tremendous pride in.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you will know that I am an advocate for the importance of keeping suburban grounds. So how do my arguments sit up in the wake of what was a bumper crowd yesterday and one which Pirtek Stadium simply would not have been able to accommodate?

The answer of course, lies in taking a balanced approach.

For the Parramatta Eels, Pirtek Stadium is home. It is a suburban ground which holds just over 20,500 people. I love nothing more than attending Parramatta Stadium to watch the football – when the Stadium is at or near capacity, the atmosphere is absolutely electric. We as fans are close to the action and it is our fortress. Slowly, this year, Pirtek Stadium has again become a ground which opposition teams fear coming to and the Eels have a much better record at Pirtek Stadium than on the road… or even at our second home ground, ANZ Stadium, where Parramatta have now lost 12 of their last 13.

Obviously, yesterday’s crowd simply could not have been accommodated at Parramatta Stadium.

But it’s here that the Parramatta Eels and the NRL have the chance to make smart and informed decisions when it comes to determining where games should be played.

Firstly, Parramatta should take care when moving games to ANZ Stadium.

There are many things which I dislike about ANZ Stadium… including Parramatta’s woeful record there.

ANZ Stadium feels completely soulless to me. Because it is so big, it is extremely difficult to get a good atmosphere, because the Stadium always feels empty. The only time that ANZ Stadium absolutely erupts is when it is at capacity and that usually comes in September when Finals Football is on. The atmosphere at the Grand Final Qualifier between the Bulldogs and the Eels in 2009 was probably one of the best games I have ever been to. It is for games like this that ANZ Stadium is perfect.

However, yesterday was of course an exception to this. Why? Because it was a perfect game to move to ANZ Stadium.

As I have blogged before, there are a couple of teams in the competition whose fans really turn out when their team is doing well. These fans support teams like the Bulldogs, the Eels, the Tigers and the Dragons. It is no surprise that now that both the Eels and the Tigers are doing well, that a bumper crowd attended the football yesterday.

It was also perfect in terms of scheduling. It was a public holiday, a beautiful afternoon for football and early enough so that the kids could get to bed at a reasonable time after a sensational day out. Add to this the opportunity to go to the Easter Show before the game and you have all the ingredients for a massive crowd.

If the game had been played next weekend on a Friday night – the crowd would have been much, much less.

If Parramatta was still playing like they had last year and the game had been on a Monday night, the crowd would have been much less.

Games that should be moved to ANZ Stadium are games against traditional rivals, when both teams are performing and when scheduling is in favour of those that attend live games.

In any other circumstance, the suburban ground should remain king, until the NRL can show that they can consistently attract crowds of over 20,000.

Rugby League as a sport is tribal in nature – suburban grounds hold tradition and history. While the value of this cannot be measured in monetary terms, its value to fans cannot be understated. Suburban grounds hold fond memories particularly for people who have supported their team from birth until now. Each NRL supporter recalls tight games which their team has won/lost at their home ground. I particularly remember games where it pours with rain and you walk home soggy, wet and freezing after a good night at the Football (always made better by a Parramatta win).

While the larger stadiums have greater capacity, better facilities and more undercover seating – they are absolutely devoid of atmosphere. The Rabbitohs and the Bulldogs have been playing at ANZ Stadium for a couple of years now and have not seen crowds increase to a point where it seems legitimate to justify a movement away from suburban grounds – particularly when a crowd of 20,000 means that the larger stadiums are only one quarter full, compared to the capacity it would be at a suburban ground.

Perhaps instead of debating whether to abandon our suburban grounds, we should be moving the discussion to the ways that we can improve them or improve our scheduling so that when a blockbuster between two rivals is being played, as many fans as possible can attend.


Ladies who League

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