Not many kids remember the Western Suburbs Magpies. Not many kids know their history. When the Magpies merged with the Balmain Tigers in late 1999, the only thing Magpies supporters could keep was their memories and the chance to support a new competitive side in the National Rugby League. Now that’s gone too.
In the late 1990’s, rugby league was changing. It was a necessity that clubs evolved from the dark ages and move forward together. That meant Sydney clubs like North Sydney, Manly, South Sydney, St George, Balmain and the Magpies had to make some harsh business decisions to survive.
The Magpies had to decide between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Tigers. One of these teams would be their new partners in a merger. It was thought that going with the Bulldogs would be a death sentence as the cashed up Bulldogs simply wanted the Macarthur region. The Tigers were also considering an offer from the Parramatta Eels but Balmain too thought a takeover was inevitable from Dennis Fitzgerald and the Eels.
The Wests Tigers were born. Two foundation clubs built on heart and spirit. This thing could work. It would be a long process but it could work.
But 2012 will be the final season of senior footy for the Magpies. A decision made by Wests Tigers chief executive Stephen Humphreys will see only a Balmain side entered into the NSW Cup from 2013. The Magpies are dead.
“In my opinion Wests, Balmain and Wests Tigers spend an inordinate amount of time, money and effort on the NSW Cup, and I believe we’d all be far better off if some of that time, effort and money was redirected into the junior leagues and junior development programs” he said.
“I’ve expressed that view to the Wests Tigers directors.”
The Balmain takeover began with the subtlest of moves. A decision was made last year to drop fringe first graders only to the Balmain NSW Cup side.
The least Humphreys and the Wests Tigers could do is field the NSW Cup side as the Wests Tigers in a predominant black strip.
Magpies chairman Paul Dillon is fuming.
“We’re very disappointed with the Wests Tigers, and what should have been a wonderful celebration has come to this” Dillon said.
“The agreement was the Wests Tigers be the NRL side, and Wests and Balmain remain in the NSW Cup. We offered to the Tigers to play in the NSW Cup with a Magpies jersey and stick a Tiger on the sleeve but they said no.”
People will probably tell me to stop whingeing and get over it. To move with the times and accept the Magpies fate.
But those people weren’t there in ‘99 when the Magpies played their last game against the Auckland Warriors. I was there with the other fans that never gave up. Twelve years old and sitting by myself, crying and chanting for 80 horrid minutes while the Warriors thrashed a hapless Wests side.
As an eight year old I sat at the Sydney Cricket Ground watching a Sheffield Shield game with my father and brother when I realised Andrew Leeds was sitting directly behind me. I was such a fan of Leeds I couldn’t bare talk to him and went and hid for three hours until he was gone.
The very same kid who would cry with joy when the Magpies would win a rare game.
Then came the merger and the dawning of a new era. I remember their very first game like it was yesterday. A 24-24 draw against the Brisbane Broncos was a good start. But it was the crowd that stuck with me that day. One side of Campbelltown Stadium chanted “Tigers” while the other side chanted “Wests”.
Eventually the Wests chants died out and people accepted this new team. But that doesn’t mean you can forget history and respect.
They might as well call themselves Balmain again. The Wests Tigers doesn’t work without the Wests Magpies.
Passion and loyalty are things you don’t associate with modern day rugby league. The last piece of loyalty left dies with the Magpies.