BY CURTIS WOODWARD
I excitedly walked into Bankwest Stadium with an open mind on Sunday, keeping my fingers crossed we wouldn’t see a repeat of what Parramatta did to Wests Tigers on opening day a few months back.
As predicted, many of the jerseys I saw streaming into the ground were blue and gold. Despite it being a “home” game for Wests Tigers, #OurJungle and all that, Parramatta were rightfully favourites playing in their own backyard.
It took your writer three trains from Campbelltown just to get to Parramatta. Not ideal. Bravo to any fans that made the journey. Repeat after me… Western Sydney is not South West Sydney.
But we digress.
On to #OurJungle and a walk down Church Street where Peter Wynn’s Score (his brother played for Western Suburbs, right?) heaved with Wests Tigers fans disguised in blue or yellow jerseys. Smart move guys. Safety first. Outside the ground, a banner waved in the win high above Victoria Road. Mitchell Moses peered back. He once played for Wests Tigers, yeah?
Your writer had been to Bankwest before but that was up in the media boxes.
This was with the people. The lifeblood of the game, Bankwest rugby league’s heart. Our Roman Colosseum. As the lifeblood pumped into its heart, it was immediately apparent the stadium had a very organic energy. It has it. A real cauldron, built for us.
Forget sitting down.
Instead, your writer spent the afternoon circling the game. Deeply entrenched from all angles. You not only feel on top of the players, you’re apart of the match.
Eels fans dominated the crowd.
Grizzled veterans toiled in reserve grade… just like the old days. Parramatta club legend Tim Mannah for Wentworthville. Russell Packer for Western Suburbs.
In the south-western corner, a pocket of Parramatta fans booed Benji, son in his arms, as he came out for his 300th game. Come on. You’re going to boo the bloke for playing 300 games?
Someone called Robbie Farah a ‘kebab’.
He’s Lebanese you see.
Ah footy. You are special.
As you follow the field back around to the eastern side, beer and food areas look more like a pop-up food festival. You’re in and out as quickly as you need to be.
Just on halfway, a pack of Wests Tigers fans. Standing. Riding every decision. There’s no old hill here but it’s close enough. You can slide in next to some old mate and crack open a conversation without ever looking at him.
A professional foul against the Eels?
Has to be!
Put him in the bin, ref!
Strangers, only minutes before, agree and become soul mates.
The eastern side of Bankwest is freezing underneath the stand. Far colder than anywhere else in the ground as the winter winds bombard fans.
Up the northern end, a Rodney Dangerfield wannabe is halfway through his shtick when I arrive. Worse still, his mates are cackling louder with every zinger.
”Give Luke Burt his jersey back!”
”Where’s Daniel Wagon?”
Not sure yet what team he supports.
”Give Brad Drew his jersey back!”
And then finally, the big reveal.
”Put Chee-Kam on, we’ll finish ya!”
The ’Parra’ chants go on. Sheepish Wests Tigers fans slide further into their seats. This jungle might be Wests Tigers for a day but the Amazon is a big place.
’Parra! Parra! Parra!’
In the distance, someone bemoans the price of beer. And it’s only mid-strength.
The members across in the west are living a different life.
Full strength beer, waiters, cosy lounge areas.
VB and Super Dry as far as the eye can see.
Nobody is getting turned away from the bar with twenty minutes to play over this side, either.
A gentleman in a Manly Sea Eagles jacket locks eyes with, unbelievably, another Eagles supporter. What are the chances? Only in the members.
You are no closer to the players than down below in the western stand.
Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma is barking something to his bench. The next second he’s whizzing down the sideline. You can hear the footsteps… even with 25,000 fans roaring feverishly.
Parramatta won the game.
Wests Tigers weren’t good enough.
I left the ground thinking that this place is as special as the old Sydney Football Stadium.
All those moments, yet to happen, that will become folklore.
Steve Jackson in the ’89 grand final, Mark Coyne’s ‘miracle’, Darren Albert, Michael O’Connor’s sideline conversion, Canterbury’s comeback in ’98.
What memories will we have in thirty years from this place?
Thanks Bankwest Stadium.
I’ll be back real soon.
Catch Curtis and The81stMinute Call Team this Sunday from midday on steelesports.com.au