Open letter to the Waratahs: end of a membership era

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    Waratahs player Berrick Barnes braces as he hits the line. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

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    I first gained an appreciation for rugby in 1991, staying up late in my HSC year for some unknown reason to watch the 1991 World Cup final against England (and managing to fall asleep for the second half).

    I had vague memories of David Campese and the Lions tour of 1989, and my high school played CHS rugby, but I had no reason to really become a rugby fan.

    My awareness slowly grew over the next few years, to the point I attended State of the Union against ACT at Concord (I think) in 1994, and Western Province in the Super 10 in 1995.

    I remember being part of a crowd of about 12,500 for the Western Province game, and thinking “this is a pretty good crowd for a state union game”.

    I was hooked. I managed to con three mates into season passes for the 1996 inaugural Super 12 season.

    Two of us renewed in 1997. 1998 saw me backpacking and no season pass, then starting work in 1999 (and which saw me finally play rugby for the mighty MacUni Beacons in subbies), and I saw infrequent NSW games over the years until 2002, where a bunch of mates and I watched every game.

    Sick of fighting for tickets in decent seats (these were the glory days of near sell-outs – oh how times have changed), and the carrot of guaranteed tickets to the semi if we signed up for season passes the next year, seven of us took season passes in 2003.

    The first game and we found our new seats. Bay 35, halfway line, three rows back. We joked we’d hand the seats down to our grandkids they were that good. Well within heckling distance.

    Over the years we were yellow carded by the ref, fired up Wendell enough to score a try for the Reds, had Joe Rokococko in stitches, and generally had a good time.

    The initial years saw the same faces around us and renewing. One of the best moments was when the family behind us brought along a cup cake with candle in it, because they had heard a couple of boys were having their birthday the game before.

    Unfortunately, those faces have disappeared as, year after year, disappointment got the better of them, and their support faded.

    My group of mates changed slightly, being as many as eight and as few as six with some blokes not renewing then coming back (one in protest at Wendell being signed, others because they went overseas).

    But with this season, three of the six marked our 10th consecutive season in the same seats, cheering on the Tahs.

    2013 won’t see us in those same seats. The end of an era.

    Maybe not for the Tahs, but certainly for my mates and I (and the poor lot that copped an ear bashing around us for the last 10 years).

    We ended 2012 wondering why we were paying top dollar for what, certainly, were among the best seats in the house, but when we could pay $20 each to get in, stand in the north end bar, and probably wander down and sit in our same seats anyway.

    We just couldn’t justify the money anymore, especially with crowds down to 1995 Super 10 levels (oh how far we’ve come, hey Tahs?). Part of the reason we had originally signed up being to secure good seats – signing up just wasn’t necessary anymore.

    We’ll be there for as many games as we can in 2013, and I’ve signed up for a Supporter Membership to get the merchandise and options of tickets next year, but the Tahs just lost several thousand dollars in my group.

    We aren’t the first over the last few years, and we won’t be the only ones not renewing in 2013.

    Why? My mates and I are about as rusted on as Tahs supporters can be. We’ve travelled to away games, deck ourselves out in new merchandise regularly, and support our team like crazy.

    But even we had to draw the line. Why would we pay more than we have to, to watch insipid rugby which no one else is?

    Oh, we’ll cheer on, heckle opponents and support the team, even with a team that seems to have lost all sense of how to play entertaining or running rugby, and be losing its way.

    But we won’t subsidise it. They’re not a charity, even if they don’t seem to operate like a business.

    So Tahs, here’s the line in the sand. Even the hard core rusted-on supporters are starting to drop off.

    Time to engage in some serious navel gazing, and work out what the hell you are doing. Because rugby in the state of NSW needs you lot to sort yourselves out, and quick smart.

    No quick fixes. No Link, Sonny Bill Williams, Blake trifecta wacky plans. No more backroom politics.

    Make us want to come back. Make us have to re-sign as season members and be kicking the door in.

    I want to. Can you make me? Jury’s out. Better not take too long.

    In a postscript, when I called the generic Super Rugby memberships phone line, administered by the ARU I suspect, my downgrade from Platinum double pass to single Supporter Membership wasn’t even questioned.

    Nobody asked “Why you leaving after 10 years?”

    Nobody asked “Any reason for not renewing?”

    Nice to feel valued. Perhaps he already knew the answers. But if no-one has suggested he even ask the question, that says a lot.

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