How much ownership talk can the Gold Coast Bear?

Alex Roar Rookie

45 Have your say

    We are in the midst of finals footy there is a lot of chatter about results, crowd numbers and the refs. But there is one other story that is bubbling away in the background that has piqued the interest of a niche group of rugby league fans – the sale of the Gold Coast Titans.

    Of course the Gold Coast locals are watching with interest, with a bumpy ten years behind them, the GC contingent will be hoping for a solid consortium to help steady the ship and ensure a long and prosperous future.

    The other group whose ears have pricked up are the old North Sydney faithful. For those that aren’t familiar with the news to date, word is that the Bears, combined with a big financial backing are making a play for the licence.

    Now let it be known off the bat that I would love to see the Bears back. Seeing the red and black playing in the top tier would be a dream, and am all for this even though they have stated they are fully committed to the Gold Coast region. As a Sydney-based fan, one home game at NSO versus Manly would be huge, and let’s be honest, with 8-9 ‘away’ games in Sydney anyway, I’d have plenty of opportunities to see them play.

    However I’m not writing this to say why the NRL should pick the Bears over the Titans, or why the GC should get behind the team – Billy Moore is doing that already. Why I am writing this is that I’ve noticed a lot of people who oppose the bid define the club by the fact their last premiership was in 1922, or that they were a ‘failed’ club that went broke.

    Billy Moore: Origin Legend

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Yes it’s true, 1922 was their last premiership. However there is a lot more to the club than most people realise, or that is even widely published. Which is why despite an almost 20-year exodus people still get fire in the belly when talk of them coming back surfaces.

    Whether people like it or not, the Bears form a significant part of the history of rugby league in Australia. While there is debate, many league historians believe that North Sydney was the first club officially registered by NSWRL for the 1908 competition.

    When the league was established the majority of clubs adopted the colours of the local rugby union team, North Sydney were the only club to break that trend, rejecting the local union strip and instead opted to don the red and black we are still familiar with.

    The Bears lay claim to having the first Australian player ever to score a try against Great Britain in Jimmy Devereaux and may have also been the first club to have an indigenous captain, when they bestowed George Green, the first Indigenous rugby league player, with the captaincy in 1916. Bears stalwart Ken Irvine still to this day holds the league record of 212 tries in his career.

    In addition to this the Bears were the first team to ever draw 40,000 spectators against Easts in 1921, and in 1943 they were the first club to draw a 60,000+ crowd figure against Newtown. Even as late as 1991 and 1994, the Bears were Sydney’s most supported team, only trailing behind Brisbane and Newcastle.

    north sydney bears

    They were also the first ever rugby league team to have their match televised in Australia, playing against Balmain.

    All significant milestones.

    While the Bears still operate a successful junior RL district and team in the Intrust Super Premiership, their 109-year journey hasn’t been without its hurdles. These obstacles started straight from their inception with the Bears having no consistent home ground for the first two years of their existence, with the local council refusing to let them play at North Sydney Oval in order to preference rugby union.

    Their catchment area was cut down significantly, twice. Firstly, in 1922, the NSWRL took Ryde, North Ryde, Hunters Hill and Gladesville from the Norths District and gave it to Balmain. Secondly in 1947, the Northern beaches were taken away when Manly-Warringah entered the premiership.

    The Bears lost 33 grade players from this split, however it is a testament to the character of the club that they voted in favour of MW having their own team to grow the game, despite it being against their interests.

    The growth of Sydney has also given the Bears a number of challenges, after winning two premierships, construction of the Harbour Bridge commenced in 1923 which resulted in 500 working class homes from the area removed. Later in the late ’60s, the development of the Warringah freeway removed further homes and prevented the Bears from building their own purpose built stadium and also prevented the expansion of their Leagues club.

    Despite this, the Bears continued to build themselves better and stronger, with their last decade in first grade being one of their best, reaching four prelims and winning four reserve grade premierships in five years.

    Hardships aside, the Bears have always gone above to support the community and help grow rugby league as a whole.

    During the First World War, attendance for the club was low and the club like many others was struggling, yet an initiative was set up and gate taking were collected and went to the ‘Belgium Fund’ war effort.

    In the ’30s during the Great Depression, despite significant decline in finances, they continued to meet all their financial obligations as a club while continuing to fundraise for the districts unemployed. In WW2, again the Bears took a lead in helping fundraise for various donations, and North Sydney Oval was even used by the National Emergency Services.

    The Bears also have a history of going outside of their own domain to help grow the game for the greater good. In 1926 North’s Paddy Boland helped expand RL to rural NSW. As mentioned earlier in 1946, Norths voted in favour of their catchment area splitting to set up Manly. In 1994 the Bears also set up a twin club in Fiji that still exists today – the Fiji Army Bears, they provided financial support and kit, as well as provided additional support through coaching equipment and personnel.

    A lot of other clubs can also indirectly thank the Bears for their main sources of income. In 1951, North Sydney Member of Parliament and avid Bears supporter Jim Geraghty, spearheaded a royal commission into the liquor industry which resulted in recommendations that sporting and non-sporting clubs should be the recipients of new liquor licenses. This spurned in the birth of Leagues clubs, ensuring increased finances and the growth of rugby league as a whole.

    While the Bears haven’t tasted many premierships, the club was not without its successes. The Bears won a number of other titles including City Cups and the Challenge Cup. They remained undefeated at home for three consecutive years in the 60s, between 89-93 they won four reserve grade titles in five years and countless legends and household names have donned the red and black since its inception.

    Should the Central Coast Bears have a look-in during expansion talks?

    But on-field success doesn’t define the club and Bears fans know that. They stand for so much more. Despite a ‘bear’ trophy cabinet and almost 20 years away from the NRL, those on the North Shore still would rather not follow a team than pull on the maroon and white of their neighbours.

    The Bears over their history have made a number of choices, sure they are a club that have always strived for success and survival and their 91 years in the top tier is a testament to that – but it becomes evident that the choices that were made always had an ethical backing, they chose never to trample over others to get that success.

    They are a club that always oozed loyalty and character and never sold their soul for a title. The fans knew that and to this day they pay that loyalty back in turn.

    They also know deep down that the Bears will not be in hibernation forever. Whether or not that is misguided faith or whether or not it will be on the Gold Coast time will tell.

    I do understand that Gold Coast fans have reservations about an outside entity coming in to buy their club. It makes sense, I’d feel the same. But it history is any barometer, then if the Bears are successful, all signs point to the fact they will do everything they can to make rugby league thrive on the Gold Coast.

    No club can guarantee on-field success, but what the Gold Coast could expect is a club that embraces the community and a club that any fan can truly be proud of. The Bears mascot has also been part of the GC league community since 1935 in their Burleigh, but whether or not they are ready to see that moniker represent them on the national stage is yet to be seen.

    All I know is if it happens, the GC would be lucky to have them.

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    The Crowd Says (45)

    • Roar Guru

      September 12th 2017 @ 6:49am
      Rabbitz said | September 12th 2017 @ 6:49am | ! Report

      “Stand Aside,
      Here come the Mighty Bears,
      Stand Aside”

      • September 12th 2017 @ 10:28am
        Peter Phelps said | September 12th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

        No problem with the Bears as long as we get no increase in clubs in Sydney. The GCT/Bears have to remain on the GC or go elsewhere in Australia but NOT NSW.

    • September 12th 2017 @ 8:13am
      Adam Bagnall said | September 12th 2017 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      I’d love to see the Bears return, but it can only happen out of North Sydney, playing one token game at NSO is an insult to their fans and they shouldn’t call themselves the Bears if that happens. I always liked the Gold Coast Dolphins name but some reserve grade team had a whinge and that was the end of that.

      • September 12th 2017 @ 8:54am
        Alex said | September 12th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

        Is it an insult though? I know lots of people in South Melbourne who still barrack for the Swans and they get no home games in Melbourne. The fact is the NRL will never allow another team to set up in Sydney. Some people will say they would rather have no team that a relocated team, I firmly disagree, bit that’s my opinion. The Bears meant so much to me growing up and I just think depriving the future generation of that feeling, just because of stubbornness is selfish. The North Sydney Bears will always exist in the NSW Cup and below, it’s just time for the red and black to re-enter the NRL.

      • September 20th 2017 @ 3:51pm
        Scott said | September 20th 2017 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

        Gold Coast Dolphins was the original plan. But Redcliffe Dolphins objected as they had a bold plan to become Brisbane’s 2nd team at the time which is yet to eventuate.

        • September 23rd 2017 @ 9:13am
          Col said | September 23rd 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

          I think Redcliffe still have plans to become Brisbanes second team .they have the money and also building their stadium.half built already and a highly successsgul club

    • September 12th 2017 @ 9:19am
      MagpieRugby said | September 12th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      “When the league was established the majority of clubs adopted the colours of the local rugby union team, North Sydney were the only club to break that trend, rejecting the local union strip and instead opted to don the red and black we are still familiar with.”

      Hang on, What? Have you seen the Northern Suburbs jersey? Its Red and Black, and has been since 1900. 8 years before RL started.

      • September 12th 2017 @ 9:31am
        Alex said | September 12th 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

        Hi MagpieRugby, will double check this tonight. I do know originally the local Rugby Union club wore all black as their strip and my understanding was that was still the case when the Bears were set up. If my understanding is incorrect then I apologise but will double check.

      • September 12th 2017 @ 8:38pm
        Alex said | September 12th 2017 @ 8:38pm | ! Report

        Hi MagpieRugby just double checked. The Pirates who were the Rugby Union club on the north shore originally wore black with a skull and crossbones. When the rugby union comp was reorganised into districts in 1900, the Pirates merged with the Wallaroos to form the North Sydney team, but at that time wore the colours of cardinal green and gold.

        • September 26th 2017 @ 9:32am
          Col said | September 26th 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

          Actually I have seen an old Norths rugby union team photo and the colours were red and black.i think the team photo was1906 ..maybe check with Norths Rugby at St Leonard’s office and they can verify they have lots of old team photos there

    • September 12th 2017 @ 10:00am
      Hansie said | September 12th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      Excellent article.

    • September 12th 2017 @ 10:16am
      Rob9 said | September 12th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      Interesting history lesson on the Bears.

      However looking at the here and now, I’m afraid for the Gold Coast at least, this concept of the ‘Gold Coast Bears’ is a really bad fit. And that seems to be the consensus up here.

      You’ve scratched the surface of it right here: “I do understand that Gold Coast fans have reservations about an outside entity coming in to buy their club. It makes sense, I’d feel the same.”

      Having a club in the national league is something exciting and is supposed to unite the community behind it. How do you build a successful club when your foundation are effectively as you’ve stated above eg; a fan base with reservations about an outside entity coming in.

      And it’s not just any outside entity, it’s a former Sydney club with all it’s roots and history established south of the border. The disdain for anything Mexican when it comes to their rugby league up here cannot be understated. As a former Sydney boy, relocated to the Coast, I have a good sense of this.

      I’d love to see the Bears back, but not on this Coast. On the Central Coast where the fit is far more appropriate. I’d say the license will be sold to the Kelly/Frizelle consortium and they will be in the best position to make a professional rugby league presence on the coast prosper.

      • September 12th 2017 @ 11:04am
        Alex said | September 12th 2017 @ 11:04am | ! Report

        It’s a fair point Rob9, and yes Kelly and Frizelle will be the front runners. However let me propose a hypothetical. If the Bears manage to put together a proposal, plan and investment strategy that would blow K&Fs out of the water and ensure the longevity and success of Rugby League on the Gold Coast. Do you turn it down and stick with Kelly and Frizelle?

        The reason I ask this is because the NRL wouldn’t want to change branding if they don’t have to and would only consider the Bears is if their offer is considerably better.

        • September 12th 2017 @ 11:43am
          Rob9 said | September 12th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

          Hi Alex, I don’t see too much point in hypothetical’s in this regard and prefer dealing with what we have in front of us- and I guess that’s difficult because neither of us are privy to all of the detail that will be presented to the NRL.

          The fact of the matter is, the NRL wants a sustainable presence on the Gold Coast moving forward. They know that the best way of achieving this is having a brand that can establish a strong and meaningful connection with the local community. Looking at this objectively; carrying on the Titans vs having a recognised Sydney brand that will not only transplant itself on the Gold Coast community but share the team with its historical fan base south of the border and some 1000km away, I think most would agree the former has a better chance engraining itself within the local landscape.

          And although the Titans have navigated through some rough seas in recent times, the strength and foundation of the Titan’s brand that has been built over 10 years now on the Gold Coast cannot be discounted. Although the Titans had some very successful years off the field in their first couple of seasons which uncovered the potential for professional rugby league on the Gold Coast, there was always going to be some considerable challenges post honeymoon period. Like me, most of us on the Coast are from somewhere else and follow another team but slowly this phenomenon is changing. The Gold Coast now has a considerable population base of young families and in just over another 10 years time there will be parents of new young families who grew up with the Titans. I work in education on the Gold Coast and even those in high school only effectively know a world with the Titans and although they might be their parent’s no. 2 team, there’s strong support for the Titans in schools.

          Why would the NRL risk pulling out these foundations to start back at square 1 with a concept that given its ties to Sydney, is on the nose with the public?

          I know it’s probably easy to look at the Titans as a basketcase that could be pulled overnight and nobody would bat an eyelid, but that’s not necessarily the case. They have done a lot of good. At the end of the day, despite the horror on/off field season they’ve had, their average home attendance trumped another 7 clubs in the league. There is support for the Titans on the Gold Coast and bar existing Bears fans on the Gold Coast (who could be counted on fingers and toes), I don’t see the Gold Coast Bears concept being a good fit for anyone else here.

          • September 12th 2017 @ 9:20pm
            Alex said | September 12th 2017 @ 9:20pm | ! Report

            Thanks for your insight Rob9, much appreciated. Another question however, again a hypothetical I’m afraid. The local QCup team is of course the Burleigh Bears, if Burleigh were part of the GC Bears bid does that change anything? I’m not saying they are, I can’t imagine they’d have the financial backing. But I’d be curious to know would that impact your opinion?

            The reason I ask is I remember reading a while ago that after the Super League rationalisation, apparently East Tigers proposed a merger with Balmain with games split. That arrangement obviously seemed to suit a well established BRL team.

            • September 12th 2017 @ 11:33pm
              Rob9 said | September 12th 2017 @ 11:33pm | ! Report

              In my opinion, involving the already established Burleigh Bears brand isn’t going to do a whole heap for driving a Gold Coast Bears entity into the hearts and minds of Gold Coasters. I’d dare say you’d capture existing fans of the Burleigh Bears. And obviously we’re talking about an Intrust Super Cup team which doesn’t provide anything like the numbers required to sustain a professional club. So although you might pick up that very niche following, you still have the original issues associated with being a club with Sydney roots which makes building upon that miniscule base incredibly challenging.

              Although the Burleigh Bears are effectively the Gold Coast’s representation in the Intrust Super Cup, their following doesn’t go far beyond their local catchment. At this level closer to the grassroots, people associate with their local club – not one that might be on the other side of town just because they play in the Queensland Cup.

              Yes, Burleigh is a big local rugby league club on the Gold Coast but jumping into bed with them by no means endears your club to the entire Gold Coast market. Just the Burleigh’s which isn’t that significant.

              The effect of the Bears buying the license with Burleigh wouldn’t be to dissimilar to what might happen if the West Tigers relocated to the Gold Coast and built as association with the Southport Tigers. It’s just my opinion but that effect would be not a lot.

              At the end of the day, it’s still a Sydney team and as the saying goes if it quacks like a duck. Hey if it were my Sharks, I could get on board but beyond the few hundred Sharks fans on the Gold Coast we’d be pushing it up hill.

              The one hypothetical where it might work is jumping into the time machine prior to the Titans existence but as suggested, that whole ‘bringing a Sydney brand up to the part of the world’ thing cannot be understated as a massive risk in a sport like rugby league where those state battle lines are as clear as day.

              • September 26th 2017 @ 9:42am
                Col said | September 26th 2017 @ 9:42am | ! Report

                But if the Bears did relocate and purchase the licence it would have those old Bears fans in Sydney to go watch them play and boost the crowds .. this has worked successfully with 2 foundation clubs in the AFL South Melbourne Swans and Fitzroy Lions both clubs have great followings in Sydney and Brisbane plus still hold older fans from their original heartland and the AFL capitalise on this wholeheartedly ..

    • Roar Guru

      September 12th 2017 @ 10:32am
      Rellum said | September 12th 2017 @ 10:32am | ! Report

      South Brisbane Magpies have just as long of a history, and they are just a big closer, are also a QLD team, maybe we should think about buying the Coasts License?

      Or maybe the Coast should stay as it is. I know what North Sydney fans feel, Souths haven’t been in the top flight for nearly 30 years, but the game has moved on and I very much enjoy their spot in the landscape.

      • September 12th 2017 @ 10:48am
        Alex said | September 12th 2017 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        If they have the money behind them to do so, then why not throw their hat in the ring? The NRL have been saying they are going to sell the Titans for the last two years so I’d assume the Magpies can’t or won’t. I’m not saying the Bears have more of a right to own the Titans than other QLD teams, unfortunately when it comes down to buying a club finances are important, and the Bears have it. If they could, I would also find the prospect of a team like Souths-Logan buying them more interesting than Kelly and Frizelle continuing to stumble along as the Titans. Kelly has also said he plans to retire soon as well so he can’t be their white knight forever.

        Also when or if, expansion ever happens. I would love to see Brisbane 2 be a franchise that has history rather than another terrible entity like the Titans or proposed Bombers.

        • Roar Guru

          September 12th 2017 @ 11:21am
          Rellum said | September 12th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

          Yes I would rather Redcliffe or Brothers get into the NRL, it won’t be Souths as they have no money.

          I just used Souths to show there are other teams not in the NRL who have history going back to 1908 and that isn’t enough of a reason to give Norths a team.

          As someone who lives between the Coast and Brissy I can say from all who I talk too there is no interest in supporting a Sydney team, and that is what a Norths take over will be be to them. That is anecdotal of course but given QLD is such a parochial place it is not a leap to suggest that is a wide spread. That will just lead to lower crowds on the coast, not bigger ones.

          And what ever business case Norths come up with they are still talking about taking games away from QLD to Sydney, and given the current climate that seems a very bad move, even if it is one game a year.

          The coast’s crowds are not bad, could be better and if there is mismanagement at the coast I would rather see that fixed up. They centre of excellence seemed to set them back a long way as well as Hayne. These are mistakes though, things that all clubs make. Re-branding as a solution for every troubled time is not the answer.

        • September 26th 2017 @ 9:47am
          Col said | September 26th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

          “If” expansion ever happens ..you’d think a club like Redcliffe Dolphins would be a better option for a 2nd Brisbane team they have the history,they have the Fan base and most of all they have the money.they are the wealthiest club and have completed half their stadium last year and about to finish the other half this year to look similar to Central Coast stadium

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