Without question, I dedicate too much of my life to the Eels.
I’m fairly certain I can blame my father for starting it. Going with him to Cumberland in the 1960s as a very young kid was ground zero. I don’t remember too much about specific matches, but there must have been something about that broken down old ground and the team that commenced this addiction.
Living nearby at Northmead meant I could walk to the ground. I didn’t have to cross Windsor Road, and because life seemed simpler and safer back then, my parents had no dramas with me walking to Cumberland on my own or with a friend. If I was broke and patient, waiting till half time in those days meant getting in for free as the exit gates would be opened. Then again, circa 72-74, there were a few games when people were more concerned about leaving than entering when the first half ended!
The Eels eventually became winners from that decrepit old venue. My brother and I watched the 1976 Grand Final parade along Church St and I still feel the chills when I think of Ray Higgs leading an Eels chant when his float stopped under the railway bridge.
We trekked with excitement to the SCG for consecutive Grand Finals and even the sting of defeat couldn’t diminish the pride. Something was building.
My first job was as a bar man at Parra Leagues in 1980. When a new stadium was proposed and designed, it seemed like we were entering a bold modern era for the club. It was an American style stadium with a capacity for fifty thousand people. Friends of Parramatta Park objected and the battle became long and protracted. We wore “Let’s Build Parramatta Stadium” t-shirts on our shifts at the club.
When Premiership glory came in 1981, we yelled ourselves hoarse on the SCG Hill, then made our way back to the Leagues Club for the celebrations. I “drank in” the winning feeling from inside the auditorium, while my brother watched the Cumberland Oval bonfire. The old girl was no more. Worse still, there was no replacement.
The Eels took up SCG frequent flyer membership and so did I during the years of nomadic existence, training at Granville and playing at Belmore. The moment that the Welcome Home banner was unveiled on the opening day of the new Parramatta Stadium in 1986 put tears in my eyes. The 36 to 6 victory over the Dragons put the cheer in my throat. That wonderful new venue played host to an average crowd of just on twenty thousand faithful that year and the Eels responded with another premiership.
It seemed surreal when Paul McCartney performed at the stadium in 1993. The Beatles and the Eels were the colour of my childhood. If someone had told me I could watch the Fab Four at Cumberland Oval I would have laughed myself stupid. The gig was incredibly close to that vision coming true. Cumberland – Parra Stadium. Goodbye – Hello.
The final match at Parramatta Stadium in 2017 was personally bitter sweet. I was excited about the prospect of a new modern stadium and proud that I wrote a feature article for the official program. But saying goodbye to a place that was like a second home for around 30 years was not easy. We farewelled the ground in style with an emphatic victory over the Dragons. Hello – Goodbye.
Today I know that the Eels will be welcoming a long term new home. The superb BankWest Stadium was designed to serve the community for 50 years. I’m not being grim or alone when I say that such a life span will far exceed the time I have left! So as far as I’m concerned, this is now our only home.
I can’t guarantee that I’ll be as emotional today as I was back in 1986, but I’ll be there in my new season ticket seat. We can’t predict what the future holds for our beloved Eels, but I have the feeling that special times await. Again.