There has been a meme doing the rounds on social media in the last couple of weeks that read: “Some people hate Trump, some people hate Hilary but we all hate Manly.”
The Sea Eagles are not only mentioned in the same communication as one of the world’s most divisive leaders, it appears they will always be the club that unites rival fans in common hatred.
To ensure that this wasn’t just a one-off crusade by an old North Sydney Bears fan with an axe to grind, I messaged a few mates to see if they still felt the same way about the team from Sydney’s northern beaches as they did in in the 1980s.
In doing so, I suggested that maybe the Roosters had surpassed Manly on the list of clubs despised by other supporters due to their success, ability to recruit the best players, and balance the books with finesse.
The replies were universal in their confirmation of Manly’s position at the bottom of the NRL’s most liked other club meter. “Nah,” my friend Con, a St George Illawarra fan, said. “Manly will always be the Silvertails as far as I am concerned.”
Admittedly, my sample size was small and strongly skewed towards people of my generation – i.e. not young – but it is safe to say the Sea Eagles aren’t going to win popularity contests anytime soon.
Historically, Manly were seen as a wealthy and at times arrogant organisation that plundered poorer clubs, offering their best players lucrative salaries to move to the northern beaches.
In the late 1970s, Roy Masters, coach of the Western Suburbs Magpies – a club that suffered at the hands of the Sea Eagles’ recruitment initiatives as much as any – conjured up the term ‘Silvertails’ for Manly while dubbing the Magpies the ‘Fibros’.
It was a classic ‘us versus them’ scenario, initially used as a team motivator and quickly picked up by media and rugby league fans.
In the ’80s, you could readily buy a T-shirt with the slogan ‘I support (insert club) and any team playing Manly’. It appears that sentiment lives on in the noughties with memes.
As a supporter of another Sydney club, a successful season was not only measured by a finals berth but whether you could get one over the consistently powerful Sea Eagles team.
Apart from a reputation for buying premierships, Manly have offered up plenty of reasons to incur the wrath of other fans over the years. The perceived unfair and biased influence wielded by former secretary and ARL chairman Ken Arthurson, and club legend and former Kangaroos coach Bob Fulton didn’t sit well with many rugby league people.
The Northern Eagles debacle that eventually saw the North Sydney Bears out of the competition and Manly return as a standalone club in 2003 was another black mark against the club.
Admittedly, the passionate dislike for Manly never really crossed the border into Queensland. This may be due to an understandable lack of interest in Sydney demographics and personalities or because two Maroon icons in Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin and Chris ‘Choppy’ Close both spent time at the club.
Anyway, that’s all in the past. Let’s look at the here and now.
Going into a new season, apart from historical grievances, honestly what’s left to despise about Dessie Hasler’s men?
A tumultuous season in 2018 left them placed second last on the ladder and coach Trent Barrett standing down.
Barrett had plenty to say about training facilities, or lack thereof and the relatively small amount of money spent on the football department out at Brookvale.
The outgoing coach revealed he was forced to bring in his own backyard furniture for the players’ common room. It is a far cry from the glamour club that was once envied for its resources.
Manly’s home ground, Brookvale Oval, has been considered below NRL standard for some time.
The NSW State Government recently announced that it would pitch in $20 million for a $36 million centre of excellence at the ground. It was welcome news and desperately needed.
The club has endured turmoil as much as any club in recent times with ownership disputes, internal fighting, player divides, and off-field behaviour problems topping the list.
Manly has stuck solid to its local identity, staying faithful to Brookvale and not succumbing to the lure of the concrete stadiums in central and west Sydney. There is also a strong belief that their fans won’t travel away from the ‘insular peninsula’.
Locals recount stories of Jake and Tom Trbojevic spending free Sundays helping out back at their junior club, the Mona Vale Raiders. A nice touch from the popular brothers, who will most likely be joined in the top grade by younger sibling Ben in the near future.
A transformation of the organisation has occurred that in some ways has resulted in Manly becoming the club that it tried so hard not to be through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
There is a battling, working class, community feel about the Sea Eagles these days.
The club’s off-season player purchases were modest to say the least, with halfback Kane Elgey from the Titans the only recruit of note.
Indicators suggest that Manly Warringah will struggle to make the finals again this year.
After winning their last premiership in 2011, to be honest, it is hard to see where the next title will come from.
Perhaps instead of the ‘we must despise Manly’ mantra continuing to be passed down through the generations, fans should look for another team more deserving of the title.