Western Suburbs Rugby League Club: A History

“Sport is for those who are smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.”
Rugby League has always played an important part of my life. Some of the earliest memories I have with my Dad were chucking the footy around in the backyard or going to games with him. For me, sport had always been an escape from the challenges that life threw at me. It was a way to make new mates when school wasn’t going so great. It was a healthy distraction from the pressures of Year 12. In many ways, I had always kept footy separate from my academic work. If I’m being perfectly honest, I never thought it would be possible to combine my love of Rugby League with that of history. Surely histories of sport and leisure would make classical empiricists like Von Ranke turn in their grave! Over the years I had read plenty of autobiographies and histories of the game, not once thinking that I could perhaps add to the body of work.
I mean what kind of Professor seriously wants to read about footy?
I was lucky enough for that to change last semester. Whilst taking a course that centered on the history of Sydney, I decided to write an essay on the ways in which Rugby League contributed to Western Sydney Identity. Enter the Western Sydney Fibros and Northern Beaches Silvertails. This rivalry produced what can only be described as the most violent period of Rugby League history. Spawned through a unique form of territorial class warfare. If you have a spare hour on your hands I seriously recommend watching the documentary below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EuU0Fw8h9A
Wests Archives was an obvious choice of organization for my beyond the classroom project. Over the last few weeks I have been lucky enough to spend time with some of the stalwarts of the club. Club Director Rick Wayde has been especially helpful in gauging an idea for what I could do. Every ex player I seem to bump into at the League’s club reminds me that Rick is probably the expert on Wests history. Club archivist Neil Bennett has been an absolute champion. Over a coffee (or two….) he’s managed to show me the whole of their collection. I’m talking Jerseys, newspaper articles, stubbie holders, trophies….The list goes on.
During the mid 1990’s, media Mogul Rupert Murdoch took it upon himself to create a completely new Rugby League competition. Murdoch’s “Super League” began to rival the Australian Rugby League Competition that had been around since 1908. Players, teams and coaches swapped codes. Rivalries spawned. Court battles were won and lost. By 1997, both leagues signed a peace deal and the National Rugby League competition was born. Unfortunately for Wests, the financial constrains caused by the chaos of the years before meant that they could not enter the new competition alone. The first grade Wests side perished and merged with Balmain. Wests Magpies still compete as a sole entity at lower competition grades. Wests fans can be found at Ron Massey Cup and SC Ball Games. It is my understanding that the supporter group, aptly named “the Wests Fanatics” emerged through this tumultuous period. Rick and Neil would like me to write a history of the Wests Supporters Group after the mid 1990s.
In all honesty, I’m really excited to see where this project takes me. At the end of the day, I hope to be writing working class stories. From preliminary research and talks with Wests fans, it is apparent that the club holds a pretty special place in their hearts. We have read a lot about public history this semester. In saying that I have become even more aware of its limitations and restrictions. Oral histories that I find myself collecting will have to be reinforced with other primary evidence. I will need to understand that the project is going to take time. The club has made it clear what they want to do with my work, so I need to ensure it’s factually correct. Guest Lecturers like Louise and Michaela have showed that community groups have an uncanny ability to produce environments of inclusiveness and happiness. If I can capture that kind of sentiment, I will consider my project a success.
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One my early Club Presentations
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Me at the 2004 NRL Grand Final
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The Boots and Jersey I wore in my Final Year at School

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