Now that the football finals have come around again, every fan knows the anguish felt when your team gets knocked out. After all that effort, now you have to wait another six months before the season starts again.
It’s tough. But spare a thought for the fans of those teams that get knocked out and don’t come back –the relegated.
The Rugby League competition started in Sydney in 1908 with nine teams, most from inner city working class suburbs and one from Newcastle. The teams drew huge local crowds, passionate and parochial supporters. It was not uncommon for fights to occur on the field and off the field amongst the fans. But loyalty of the fans and even success on the field was not always enough to save a team. Since 1908 12 teams have been knocked out.
The first to go was Annandale. In 1920 they were voted out by the league. They had never reached a final and had struggled since the First World War had depleted their club of players. Their players were snapped up by their neighbours Glebe, Balmain, West’s and Newtown. Annandale’s place was taken by a new team, St George.
In 1929 the next club relegated was Glebe, one of the foundation clubs (indeed the first club) with a proud history and a fanatical fan base. Glebe had also struggled since the war and drew on a small population base for players (unlike today, players had to live inside set boundaries to be allowed to play for particular clubs). Unlike Annandale however, Glebe was not going quietly and rallied its supporters, including other clubs who wanted them in, behind the cause. Through 1929 the newspapers were full of reports of meetings at the NSW Rugby League over Glebes fate.
Petitions were gathered with up to 4000 signatures calling for their inclusion. Many supporters felt that the team was being targeted because of its working class background but even that didn’t help and they were ousted and their fans went with them.
Most people don’t remember Glebe or Annandale being in the comp at all. One team they do remember though is Newtown, the mighty Jets. Newtown was also a foundation club, and although they had at times struggled, they had a proud history producing some the games greats and won the premiership three times. The team was built on loyalty to the point where the players had helped build their home ground, Henson Park in the 1930s.
But as Glebe had discovered in the 1920s, Rugby League was as much a business as a game. With dwindling finances one solution was a merger with a minor team at Campbelltown. This wasn’t popular with anybody. Newtown was forced to sell their club house to pay debts. They were relegated at the end of 1983. But unlike Glebe and Annandale, Newtown, after a hiatus, re-emerged in 1991 in the Metropolitan Cup and continue to play. In fact they are in the finals this year and retain a strong and loyal fan base.