Phil Gould wrote an article on the weekend about junior Rugby League in western Sydney that basically went along the lines of, the AFL is a juggernaught, we are doing nothing to stop them, we need to spend more money, the sky is falling…..you get the picture.
It has caused a lot of headlines and once again has seen the AFL get free publicity that it wasn’t getting before.
I think Gould probably felt like this was the only way to get things to happen, and I think he was probably right. He made the point that, there isn’t really anyone to go to who can make decisions on things like junior funding and development. He pointed out that, no one is actually in charge or Rugby League right now in Australia.
So Gould decided to vent in his weekly article and thats fair enough.
I feel like its my place to look at this from a more level headed position though.
The AFL is spending a lot of money trying to set up in western Sydney. I mainly know the area between Blacktown and Penrith and can tell you, they are very good at what they do.
I don’t known if they buy the space, but every local paper carries AFL news of some kind. I remember reading a story once about an old man that used to live in Melbourne and moved to Sydney years ago, but kept following his Melbourne AFL team. Now he was going to be a Giants fan.
Really…..that is the type of news they come up with!
You see article about some junior teams (usually the same one or two of them) or about some appearance or Indigenous Program that AFL is doing that isn’t even in the area. The basic thing is though, they are getting this news into local papers out here whether it is relevant or not to the area.
The are also getting into schools in a huge way. A lot of schools now have weekly AFL lessons for all classes in all grade. They show kids how to play the game and give them t shirts and football, posters, all sorts of things.
Now from what I’ve been told, the kids are a big bemused by this and use the football given to them to play Rugby League with, but hey, the AFL is trying.
From the same people I am constantly hearing how unreliable Rugby League is with helping school out. Many just don’t bother and more, and the Penrith Panthers are the worst of the lot.
Basically, the AFL is greasing the wheels and giving the kids the option to play their game. Good luck to them.
Is it working?
I’ve got to say I’m yet to see any kids or even adults playing AFL in western Sydney….ever! As a club the Giants will be playing and training at Homebush Bay, so why would anyone west of Parramatta care about that?
The AFL is looking for generational change….and let me tell you, they are right on track for that because no one right now give a rate arse!
They are trying though!
In western Sydney at a junior sport level, there is one undisputed king.
Western Sydney has more soccer players than any other place in Australia. As we all know, parents see Soccer as the safer alternative to Rugby League, and that is understandable.
When I was a youngster, I grew loving Rugby League but at times, I wanted to be a Socceroo. I remember being excited about a young bloke called Ned Zelic, who I knew one day would play for Australia. Mark Bosnich is another young player who I knew about and knew was a good youngster….and keep in mind, this is in the 1980’s when Soccer hardly had any profile at all!
As I grew older, Rugby League took over, as it does for most kids in Western Sydney. By the time in was 10, Soccer was fun and we played it every day in the playground, but Rugby League was the sport we loved.
I find it funny to think that us lot in western Sydney live in a bubble and therefore have been immune to the overtures by the AFL in the past.
We watch the same TV channels as the rest of Sydney. We but the Telegraph and the Herald. Its the same radio stations….we live in the same city as everyone else!
The Swans have been in Sydney for 30 odd years, and how much of an impact have they made on Sydney? Their TV ratings are terrible. They have hardly inspired a generation to play AFL….and they have had millions of dollars spent on them as far as marketing goes.
So why is western Sydney now supposed to be different from the rest of Sydney?
Parents can push their kids away from Rugby League all they like, hell my Mum didn’t want me playing the game either. Did it stop me playing the game and living and breathing the sport? Of course not.
As soon as kids make a decision on what sports they do and do not like…thats its! As the parents that take their kids to Karate or pay for Guitar or Piano lessons. There comes an age where every kid says “Mum, Dad….I don’t wanna go any more, I want to do this”.
Traditionally that age has been where you see a drop off in Soccer numbers and a rise in the number of kids playing Rugby League. Throw AFL as an option in there that parents have pushed their kids into…..why are the kids of western Sydney not going to make their own minds up about that sport as well?
I made a point to someone on Twitter earlier today that, Rugby Union has been in western Sydney for a century. It has so many more REAL juniors than AFL that a comparison is unfair. Hell, its even a game thats basics are as close to Rugby League as any other sport you could find!
Yet, in western Sydney, rugby union has zero profile. Its playing numbers are tiny. Hell the ARU’s big trump card, Kurtley Beale, who is from Mount Druitt, was signed over when he was spotted at a junior Rugby League game!
The AFL is pushing for generational change out here. I hear a lot of opinions about what is happening in western Sydney from people that have never even been here.
I live here and I’m telling you that, when it comes down to it, the AFL is background noise with a lot of other sports that are all well behind Rugby League in western Sydney.
Does that mean Rugby League out here is well run? Of course not. Money does need to be spent, we do need a focus on the junior game, on making the game more accessible to kids and keeping it fun through the different divisions and age groups.None of that can happen until who ever is in charge gets off their arse and see’s these things need to be done.
That, at the end of the day, is what Phil Goulds message was. He saw an issue Rugby League needed to fix, he raised the flag on it, it lit a fire using the “AFL Invasion” as fuel and he put the agenda on the map.
Good luck to him in that sense, but one thing does need to be confronted.
If money is spend on improving junior Rugby League in the Penrith district, and Rugby League in this area improves through the extra funding and players, who will benefit most from that investment?
The Sanyo Panthers.