No matter the football code, truly supporting a team is all about emotion. You commit to a team and you stick, thick or thin, good times or bad.
And when it comes to Eels supporters, we’re the NRL equivalent of superglue. With only wooden spoons added to the trophy cabinet over the last 32 years, the bonds have been tested but never broken. How many other clubs consistently grow their membership base after season upon season of failure?
Players come and go. We develop favourites, cheer a little louder for them, and when their time is up, we get a little emotional and then find another to urge on. After more than 50 years supporting the Eels, I’ve been down that road more times than I care to count.
To be fair, the club was blessed during the 1980s. There was a collection of premiership players whose first grade careers began and ended in the Blue and Gold jersey.
Sterling, Kenny, Ella, Grothe, Price, Cronin, Taylor, Sharp, Hilditch – the names were synonymous with the club. There were offers for players to move on, and some took their opportunity to play off seasons in England, but as supporters we never faced that eventuality with the big names. Most of the players held down full time jobs. Footy was a game to be played with your mates and mostly provided a second income.
When the club hit the better years in the late 90s and early 2000s, the likes of Hindmarsh, Burt and Cayless took up the one club mantle. Their names will also only ever be associated with Parra. But times had changed. The Super League had put salaries into the stratosphere and the one club players were scarce.
In a further reminder, Parramatta coach, Brian Smith introduced Eels supporters to the business side of football careers. I lost track of the number of players moved on during his tenure – there were many that experienced success with the club and whose departures left us scratching our heads. As an exercise, try naming a spine during Smith’s ten year reign – the turnover of halves, hookers and fullbacks over that period was absurd.
But what the 80s and the noughties have in common, is that for all of those that stayed, and all of those that moved on, none had their contract talks subjected to the media scrutiny and obsession that exists in 2019.
Back in the golden era of the 80s we had little idea of contract negotiations, and social media was decades away. Ray Price advising team mates that it wasn’t in their best interests to play against him was about as far as media reports would dig.
Present day media coverage seems to be more about the story behind the game than the game itself. And, as fans, our passion is probably only providing more water in the well for the journos to drink from.
We all know how agents play contract negotiations out in the media – especially when it comes to the Parramatta Eels. There’s two major rules:
Rule 1 – when trying to raise the price of contract offers to your client, tell a journo that the Eels have expressed interest.
Rule 2 – when dealing with Eels players, reference the player testing their worth on the open market.
Cue supporter reaction.
In the past, you could add club reaction too. Right now, the club has attempted to block out any outside noise.
But this post is not about the negotiation process. Whether this current approach proves to be successful will be determined down the track.
What has become evident over recent weeks is that there are many supporters venting their spleen at the players who have yet to accept contract offers from the club.
Whilst we all want to believe that the players are as loyal to the club as we are, it’s living in fantasy land to suggest that any player won’t try to maximise their offer from their employer. Would anyone not do the same in their career? I bet there’s plenty of us who have undertaken industrial action or had “chats” with other employers without leaving our jobs.
This is where we as fans need to take a step back and take a deep breath.
Not one player has signed elsewhere as yet. I’m not suggesting that players won’t move on – with so many off-contract it seems a certainty. However, at the moment there are people expressing offence that a player hasn’t accepted an offer and yet the offers being made may or may not be final ones. We don’t know, nor are we entitled to know.
Accusations about a player like Gutherson being selfish are ludicrous in the extreme. This is a bloke who busts a gut for his team, from the training paddock to match day. I’ve watched him fight off all challengers in conditioning tests, then go back to run with stragglers to ensure that they meet the standards. The young players in the team aspire to compete like him. He plays the game at an energy level unmatched by any team mate. He’s done that since he arrived at the Eels.
For what it’s worth, I believe that the negotiations with Gutherson and Moses will lead to both players re-signing. It takes a lot for a player to decide to change clubs. If the current club is in the ballpark with their financial offer, a player weighs up factors outside of money when making their decision.
When it comes to Gutherson and Parramatta, both parties are beneficial to each other. For Parramatta, it would be difficult to find another Gutho on the open market or even within their ranks. To let him go would mean leaving a hole in the roster. For Gutherson, his style of play, leadership and personality suits the Eels dynamic. There would be question marks as to whether he would hold a similar status elsewhere.
As for Moses, remaining with the Eels provides him with the best opportunity to prove his chops as an elite half. Likewise, there are not many halves on the market that the Eels could recruit that could prove a suitable replacement.
In other words, in each negotiation, both parties want to remain together, and it’s in the best interest for both to remain together. The only part that isn’t currently agreed upon is the terms of the contract.
Supporters shouldn’t suppress their passion or emotion for the Eels, but I hope that everyone can take a step back during this media frenzy about contracts. The process might be taking longer than we want, and having it play out in the media is undesirable, but the last thing that we should be doing is firing insults or accusations at players who are wearing the jersey for this season and are likely to be doing so going forward.
This is an important year for our club as we bounce back from the disaster that was 2018. Starting this Sunday, the Eels players need our support to help them get home against the Dragons.
I hope we can see a repeat of the atmosphere from the opening match at the stadium. That’s who we are.