People often ask me where my interest in rugby league began.
I grew up in a house with two brothers and a dad – all of them sport crazy. After the Konstantopoulos kids played sport on a Saturday morning, sport would be on the television screen, whether it was cricket, rugby, AFL, the Olympics or horse racing. But the most common sport to grace our television screens was rugby league.
When I was eight years old, I remember wanting to spend more time with my dad and brothers on the weekend. I would see them sitting together on the lounge to watch the footy together so thought that might be a good place to start.
I would curl up next to dad, pretend to be interested and try to make comments which would suggest to the rest of my family that I knew what I was talking about.
At first, I was bored. The men that played the game were merely giants to me and I didn’t understand what was going on. But slowly, I started to learn the rules. My comments about what was happening on the field started to become insightful. I learnt the names of the players (Clinton Schifcofske was my first ever favourite player) and learnt to boo teams like Manly and the Bulldogs.
The signs were all there early and, of course, like the rest of my family, I adopted the Parramatta Eels as my team – there was no other option – and it was all over from there.
From then, I was a Parramatta fan first and a rugby league fan second. (Click to Tweet)
Parramatta Stadium was the first ground I ever watched a game of live football at. I don’t remember much about that first game, but I remember that that occasion turned into a family ritual.
Dad would bundle us all into the car. We would park 15 minutes away from the stadium (so dad could get free parking) and walk through the backstreets of Parramatta. If we were lucky we would see the famous sausage sizzle man on our way to the ground and if dad was in a really good mood, we would each get a sausage sizzle with ‘tomato sauce please’ on the way.
We would always sit in the Ken Thornett stand and my favourite things to do were to wave my flag whenever an Eel scored, to giggle at the silly things people yelled out while they were watching the game and to stand on my seat at the end of the game and sing the Eels song if the boys posted a win.
If we won, my brothers and I would then beg and plead with my dad to take us ‘hooning’ around Parramatta. This essentially involved us driving up and down the main streets with us yelling ‘go Parra’ out the window to any Parramatta fans we saw, while dad honked his horn repeatedly. If we lost, we would all sulk all the way home and tell mum ‘not to talk to us’ when we got ack.
Slowly, over the years, Parramatta Stadium (now named Pirtek Stadium) became somewhere very familiar to me – like a second home. Over time, a lot changed. I am no longer a cheeky 8-year-old that wears blue and gold ribbons in my hair but have become a scarf-wearing 27-year-old who loves the Eels even more than the frizzy haired 8-year-old I once was.
Last night, the Parramatta Eels and 13,553 people said one last goodbye to Pirtek Stadium. The game against the Dragons was the Eels final home game of the season and the last time the Eels will run onto that hallowed turf before the stadium is knocked down and redeveloped into a 30,000-seat rectangular venue set to be opened in 2019.
I was not the only one feeling emotional last night. For so many of us, Pirtek Stadium was the first place we were ever taken to watch a game of football. It is where we have been given the opportunity to witness incredible footballing feats and watch the careers of men like Dean Pay, Jarryd Hayne, Nathan Cayless, Luke Burt and Peter Sterling flourish.
Players have come and gone and there have been some remarkable highs and award-winning lows, but I will always remember that stadium as one of the places that helped turn me into a fully-fledged rugby league lunatic.
When I looked around last night I saw young and old, male and female and people from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. There were rugby league fans in all shapes and sizes – people yelling things at referee’s, people cheering for their favourite players (guilty as charged!) and people who have to have a pie every time they go to the footy.
I’m not sure how much I have in common with these people, but I do know that the Eels have brought us together and no matter what our differences are, when we walk through those turnstiles we are all Eels fans first.
Rugby league is a game built on tribalism, tradition and history.
Places like Pirtek Stadium have history seeping through them. It is a similar feel when you head to Belmore Sports Ground, Leichardt Oval or WIN Stadium.
And while some of that history will be lost when the redevelopment begins, I know that our new stadium is the start of a new journey and a place where plenty of new memories will be made.
While the stadium I grew up in as a little girl will no longer remain, the memories always will and I very much look forward to eventually taking my children or my nieces and nephews to the new stadium so that they too can start their very own rugby league journey (but of course, only as Parramatta Eels fans).
Farewell Pirtek Stadium and season 2016. Thanks for the memories.
This is @mary__kaye from @ladieswholeague