BY CURTIS WOODWARD
Current Campbelltown councillor and former mayor Paul Lake has taken aim at the Wests Tigers, Wests Ashfield and club officials saying they have little interest in the Macarthur region with the councillor inviting the South Sydney Rabitohs to play more games out of the stadium in the coming years.
Lake has told The81stMinute that local council are preparing to build a multi-million dollar sports centre of excellence at the Western Sydney University and have set aside room for Wests Tigers with access to state-of-the-art medical facilities – a monumental upgrade from the dilapidated Concord Oval precinct.
Frustrated fans are at tipping point with no apparent end in sight as the club pushes forward with plans to build its own centre of excellence at Concord.
“The problem as I see it is the Wests Tigers are missing an opportunity,” Lake told us.
“For some unknown reason, with Wests Ashfield now controlling it, they want to stay in there at Concord. They keep saying “we’ve got to look after the corporate people because most of our corporate money comes from the inner city area”. And they like to play at ANZ (Stadium) and have good facilities.
“Well you’re not going to get good facilities at Campbelltown unless you’ve got an anchor, unless you’ve got a club based there. It’s like Penrith. And like Manly. They haven’t been travelling all that well. Have a look at Manly’s figures a while back. Their figures were right down in their attendances. They (fans) sit at Manly, they sit at Penrith. They’ve got a local team. They’ve got locals that will follow them. We’ve got no local team. We’ve got a visiting team. And when you look at it, Wests Tigers, their board, if they were smart enough and sat down… I’ve met their board and I’ve told them when I was mayor about our sports centre of excellence that we’re going to do. They had the opportunity to be part of that and set up a whole training base and all their operations out here.
“When you consider that Campbelltown is a regional city which will probably be the capital of Macarthur and will be in the years ahead… it will have in the region Campbelltown, Camden, Wollondilly and even part of Liverpool and we’ll eventually have a million people living here.
“What better base would you want to expand your operations?
“I’m sorry, I just don’t get them. I’ve said it to them time and time again. I’ve spoken to Simon Cook, the CEO of Wests Ashfield, I’ve spoken to different people on the board and it’s like talking to a brick wall. “Oh no we’ve got contractual obligations with ANZ”. Yeah okay but that’s changed. ANZ has been taken back by the government. What I can’t work out is, our stadium at Campbelltown isn’t like ANZ or the Sydney Cricket Ground but you give us $100 million and we’ll make it a 25,000 seat stadium – all undercover – and with great facilities. We can do that.
“If you did a survey asking what football stadium has access to a train station and, we are closer than Homebush, what stadium has parking on both sides of the railway line which is all free, what stadium is only a stone’s throw from the M7, M5, M4 and down to the southern highlands. It’s Campbelltown Stadium.
The longer Wests tigers continue to try being an inner city club & refuse to base to base themselves in Campbelltown, the sooner they die.— MagpieT (@MagpieT7) June 27, 2017
“You look at the growth out here; we’re also talking about Camden and south towards Appin. You’re talking a million people and that’s got to be at least 250,000 kids.”
Lake also revealed just how serious the Rabbitohs are about the Macarthur region as their membership numbers soar in the South West corridor with the NRL’s most famous club even considering playing future premiership games out of Campbelltown Stadium.
“I’ll tell you one organisation that has shown an interest here in Campbelltown and that is South Sydney. They were out here last year, they played a trial here. They told me they were going to try and do an NRL game here as well. All we need is somebody, it may not be league, it may be soccer. They’ve only got two teams in Sydney at the moment and they’re always talking about an extra team. Whoever comes here first is going to be best dressed because council aren’t going to sit back and wait on Wests Tigers ten years down the track. I can tell you for a fact. Council aren’t twiddling their thumbs.”
The councillor also told The81stMinute about an embarrassing moment for the club at last year’s local Christmas Carols where the Rabbitohs had more players on hand than the Wests Tigers.
“We had our Christmas Carols here last year. South Sydney had an arrangement with council to do some community work to build up their supporter base because their biggest supporter base is in the South West. That’s why they’re concentrating on this area. If Souths came out here, if the CEO of Souths said “we want to play at Campbelltown, we’re still going to train at Redfern but we also want to set up a training base at the university – at the centre of excellence”, I reckon councillors would say “you’re on”.
“Council told Wests Tigers about the Christmas Carols and they said they probably wouldn’t be able to provide any players. But when we mentioned Souths would be there, next minute we had Wests Tigers there. But how many Wests Tigers players did we have there? We got one from Wests and we had five from Souths. They don’t seem to be proactive about the whole thing.”
Old factions between the Magpies and Balmain continue to drag the new franchise into the abyss despite Wests Tigers’ new generation of supporters not having any allegiance to Western Suburbs or Balmain.
“When kids want to play, they want to play for Wests Tigers. This club has been around for 18 years now. These kids don’t care about Magpies and Balmain.
“Wests Tigers think, I believe, they think they’re doing do us a big favour playing four games each year at Campbelltown.”
But Lake says that’s not enough and Wests Tigers continue to refuse to embrace the region.
“They keep telling us they’re not coming out here. (Justin) Pascoe has made it quite clear they’re staying at Concord, he’s only the CEO, Wests Ashfield make the decisions. They’re not really connecting with the area; they’re not connecting with Wests Juniors or the Group 6 people. They have an attitude, “Campbelltown? Out that far?”
“The centre of excellence will be finished by 2019 or 2020. There’s an area put aside for them to develop three levels, there’s playing fields there. They’ve got the stadium. It’s got great lights, great drainage on the field. Yes we know the stadium needs upgrading and if we’ve got an anchor team we can always go and get the funds to fix it right up, if we had that anchor team.
Much has been made about the guaranteed money Wests Tigers and other NRL teams make by taking games to Homebush and the costs to the club of playing home matches at Campbelltown and Leichhardt Oval. But Councillor Lake says Wests Tigers would not be disadvantaged by venue hire if they shifted their operation to the South West.
“All we’re asking is that they base themselves here, their office and their training, we’re not asking for the players to live here because we all travel to work. If they came out here and used the stadium, even if it was eight games a year, and we had the stadium upgraded to 25,000, council would work out an arrangement where they would not be at a disadvantage.
“What they want is ANZ Stadium which is guaranteed money; it doesn’t matter to them if you’ve got 5000 people in the ground or 20,000.
“You’re going to have a million people out here. Wests Tigers keep on talking about corporate dollars and bums on seats. Corporate dollars aren’t going to put bums on seats. The ones they need are the kids, the mums and dads.
“I’d like Souths to tell us they want to play four games out here next year and run the training sessions and invite all the kids and be active in the area.
“I think the response would be unreal.”