It has been a very strange season to be a Canterbury Bulldogs supporter.
Coming into the start of the year Bulldogs fans had every right to be confident. They club lost the 2012 Grand Final but was expected to take a bit step forward in 2013. Des Hasler’s second season with the club, new signings, and the 2012 Dally M Medalist in Ben Barba….things were looking up!
While the club remained tight lipped, Bulldogs supporters supported Ben Barba without reservation. They were being him 100%! I saw many occasions in which Bulldogs supporters defended Ben Barba and the club. They were unwavering in their support, and it was to be admired.
When Ben Barba came back a few weeks later, I wrote about it. I questioned the speed of Barba’s “recovery” in the face of the teams poor start to the season. Bulldogs supporters attacked me for it. Once again, they supported Ben Barba and the club 100%.
A few weeks later rumours started to surface that Ben Barba wanted to leave the Bulldogs. It was mentioned that his partner wanted to move back to Queensland and Barba, being the ultimate family man, could not face the prospect of living in Sydney away from his young family. The rumours dragged on and on, to the point where I wrote that Barba needed to sack up and make a decision.
Through all of this Bulldogs supporters were extremely understanding. They club and Ben Barba couldn’t have asked for any more support. It was amazing to see Bulldogs supporters openly talking about doing what ever was best for Ben Barba and his family. Even when it was made official that Barba would leave the Bulldogs to play for the Brisbane Broncos next season, Bulldogs fans were pretty cool about it considering everything that had happened this season.
It didn’t take very long for that all to change though…
Almost as soon as it was made official that Ben Barba was leaving the club allegations surfaced that there were issues with domestic violence. Pictures and text messages that outlined the alleged abuse surfaced in the media. There were allegations of a cover up by the club and the NRL Integrity Unit started to investigate the situation.
This seems to have been the straw the broke the camels back with Bulldogs fans. The reaction from the supporter base was varied. many were just fed up with the whole Ben Barba saga. Many felt as though they had been lied to by their own club. Bulldogs supporters started to question the club and Barba himself. They had pledged their support every step of the way, and now Bulldogs supporters started to question whether they had been played for fools all along.
I can’t blame Bulldogs fans for being angry, and its heartening to see that their support of the club is not unconditional. Bulldogs fans for the most part feel as though something wrong has been going on at their club, and because of that, their support for the people involved has changed. Now Bulldogs fans want answers from the club. They want facts. They want to know what was going on this season and whether the club has lied to them this whole time.
It is a strange position for any supporter to find themselves in. I have seen die hard supporters who have said they don’t want Ben Barba playing for the club again this season. I have read Tweets and Facebook posts from Bulldogs fans who have said they would rather have a poor finals series without Ben Barba in the side than win a premiership with him in the lineup.
When supporters start airing opinions like that, clubs should start to listen. This is beyond football results for many Bulldogs supporters. This whole issues goes back to the clubs direction, its integrity and the moral code that every club should abide by.
The supporter base of the Bulldogs has set a standard that they believe the club should meet. It is now up to the club to take that on board and listen to its supporter base.
I’m not a Bulldogs supporter but I can’t help but admire the way the supporter base has carried itself this season. Supporters can only go on the information the club gives them. If the Bulldogs have broken the trust of their supporter base they will find it is hard to win it back. Bulldogs fans are loyal, but above everything else they want to see the club do the right thing.
Now it is up to the Bulldogs to do what is right. The supporter base is watching, and their support is conditional on the club doing the right thing.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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