All league is local: a day of joy in Belmore
All league is local.
That’s what was forgotten 15 years ago, when the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs dropped the local area from its name and from its playing and training schedule.
In the last week we have seen the very best of how a local area can support a team, and even more importantly how a sporting team can uniquely support a local area. Before you accuse me of bias let me be clear, I am completely biased. It’s my local area and my local team. And I see both up close.
The Bulldogs are a multicultural team. And the suburbs that span through the Canterbury Bankstown area are some of the most multicultural parts of our nation. They are filled with ethnic, cultural, and religious differences which rarely cause division but also rarely unite the way they have this week.
If you were in Belmore on Sunday morning you might have mistakenly believed there were car hoons with cars decked out in blue and white blaring their horns and disrupting the peace.
I say mistakenly because I was driving one of the cars and enjoying the happiest traffic jams Belmore has ever seen.
The blue and white extended to family heritages across the globe. Greek families with colours matching the Greek flag, islander families in the jersey, women in blue and white hijabs, all celebrating.
As we walked down the main street you could hear a crowd clapping along to the Lebanese drum, the durbakke, while there was dancing in the streets. As we watched I heard one person remark with some trepidation, “Imagine how this street will be if we don’t win.”
On returning to our car the traffic jam was still moving at a snail’s pace. There in the car across the road was front rower Frank Pritchard with his family, in a jeep nearly as tough as himself, tooting the horn and celebrating with the community lining the streets.
The game was supported by a who’s who of Bulldogs greats: George Peponis with the League Club, Steve Mortimer welcoming the trophy, Hazem El Masri with his family in the stands, Terry Lamb straight to the players after the game, Andrew Ryan and Luke Patten with their old team mates at the club after.
And tens of thousands of loyal fans cheering and hanging on every word as Michael Ennis showed leadership and decency in his comments after the game, congratulating Storm and promising to return stronger next year.
After the game before returning to the club I walked back through Belmore to see the reaction. The drums were louder than ever. The place was packed. People were up on each other’s shoulders and dancing.
There was so much to celebrate.
The same community that television cameras rush to every time there’s a hint of ethnic tension was partying and dancing together.
After all this was the year the club turned full circle. With Ray Dibb as the new chair we began the season with a trial match at Belmore. The first time we had played there since a game 15 years earlier when I watched as a fan on the hill.
Returning to Belmore with a state of the art training facility meant the players were back in the local area every day. And of course, that facility had been among the positives that helped Todd Greenberg attract League’s best coach Des Hasler.
Returning the team to Belmore finally showed to the fans that the team was as proud of us as we are of them. Hopefully before too long we can play more than a trial match there.
Multicultural communities are at their strongest when there are events, colours and causes to unite behind and cheer on. The Bulldogs provide that for my community in a way government programs never could. It doesn’t discount the value of those events when individual groups celebrate their heritage. But there’s no replacing the days when everyone from every background, comes together and celebrates.
My strongest memory of Sunday remains watching one of the players tower over some young fans after the game and humbly say: “I’m sorry we didn’t win for you.”
The youngest of the fans, her face beaming, smiled back with the words: “It’s all right. You’ll win even better next year.”
And while it hurts to say it: Congratulations Storm.
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