The Cumberland Throw

Editorial – Farewelling Bernie Gurr

The final whistle in Sunday’s Canterbury Cup decider brought a full stop to the Wenty Magpies spectacular late season surge, and in doing so it concluded the Parramatta Eels 2019 football program.

Significantly, it also brought us closer to the end of Bernie Gurr’s tenure as Parramatta Eels CEO. Make no mistake, having such a highly credentialed individual in charge of our club has been critical in both righting the ship and establishing the platform for the Eels future.

In acknowledging Gurr’s contribution to the Eels, I wanted to begin with a personal reflection.

I first met Bernie Gurr towards the end of 2016. It was at an open venue event at ANZ Stadium. Eels members had been invited to tour the stadium to check out their seats for the upcoming two seasons at the temporary home ground.

I was just one of many people with questions for the former Roosters chief, from why he had accepted the role with the Eels to his opinion on a range of football topics.

It would be the first of countless occasions that would see him available for interaction with supporters.

Such occasions weren’t accompanied by any announcements or fanfare. If the Eels were involved he’d simply be there.

I would soon bump into Bernie at a day of junior rep trials at St Pats, Blacktown. With multiple trials against our Panthers neighbours, and two fields in action, this event typically attracts crowds that would be the envy of the Titans NRL team.

That day, Bernie had positioned himself in a throng of people trying to watch two games at once. Despite the sun glasses and casual attire, it was impossible to miss the new head honcho, and again he answered a plethora of questions from the Eels faithful who had spotted him.

Bernie Gurr

From there I can barely think of a junior rep match day or lower grade event at which I didn’t see him. He most probably missed those that clashed with Eels NRL matches, but then again, all of us would.

Awards evenings, corporate events, selected training sessions, open days and fan events, NRL match days – you’d expect to see him there and of course you would.

Sometimes I’d express a strong opinion to him. Other times we might just talk about the game we were watching. We didn’t necessarily see eye to eye on everything – after all, a supporter and an administrator see things from different perspectives.

However, and this was important to me, I usually felt that I had a better understanding of other considerations after speaking with him. And one more thing, I was left in no doubt about his love of rugby league and his passion about his role.

Over the course of his tenure, Bernie sat down for comprehensive interviews with TCT. He didn’t hesitate when asked. You can find those here and here. We had questions that we wanted to put forward on behalf of supporters and were afforded extended time with him.

And so to his achievements.

Gurr at the COE media announcement

Bernie Gurr became Eels CEO at what was a difficult time in Parramatta’s history. At the recent Ken Thornett Medal, Eels Football Board Chairman, Sean McElduff, paid tribute to Gurr being the right CEO to meet the challenges faced by the club. The turmoils of 2016 had exposed the lack of stability and professionalism in the club and the consequent lack of trust from corporate partners, members and supporters.

That changed after Bernie’s arrival.

As McElduff later communicated to supporters, Gurr’s “contribution was not only vital to achieving the platform we have today but I am sure will be viewed even more favourably as we head towards a period of growth for our Club.”

Consider where the club is heading via Bernie, the Football Board and a Strategic Plan.

We need to begin with the phenomenal turn around in operational costs.

Back in 2016 the club was haemorrhaging money. Operational losses stood at $12.6 million. By 2017, these had been reduced to $9.8 million, and by 2018 they had dropped to $3.6 million. The 2019 figures are not yet available but the improvements during Gurr’s administration are staggering.

Obviously, the most crucial consideration for supporters is premiership performance. On that front, we now have a football team which has reached the finals for two of the last three years.

Gurr made the point of acknowledging the strengths of the football program when he arrived, but the stability has since proved crucial. When things went south in 2018, the club stayed calm. The support of Arthur, and the review into how performance could be improved, were both critical in returning to finals footy in 2019.

Besides facing the multitude of challenges resulting from the salary cap dramas of 2016, and the impact of having the League’s Club placed in the hands of an administrator, I consider one of the greatest achievements of Gurr’s administration to be a logistical one.

The near seamless transition to Bankwest Stadium was a truly remarkable achievement for Gurr and his management team. From the temporary transition of membership tickets to ANZ Stadium, and the subsequent transfer and allocation of seats back at the new Bankwest Stadium, it was a monumental task.

There were always going to be issues surrounding the design of Bankwest, with the corporate facilities displacing Thornett Stand patrons from their long held seats. That change was completely out of the club’s hands but the record crowds and corporate hospitality revenue are testimony to how the club has made the changes work.

And on the subject of crowds, the continued growth of memberships to record numbers during such turmoil has been an another success story.

An artist’s impression of the Centre of Excellence

The future? A new $35million Centre Of Excellence at Kellyville is part of the exciting platform which has been provided for the team. The players, from the NRL to elite juniors, will be preparing in state of the art facilities, a far cry from Richie Benaud Oval and a significant step up from the demountable sheds at Old Saleyards.

I hope that Bernie Gurr looks back on his time at the Parramatta Eels with great fondness and tremendous pride.

When he first took on the CEO role, Gurr had a strong vision about the potential of the club. He leaves his position with key metrics – finances, facilities, corporate support, memberships, attendances, junior development and team performance – indicating that the Eels are firmly on the path to becoming a rugby league powerhouse.

Thank you Bernie Gurr. I know that you will give credit to the people in your management team, but when all is said and done, the Parramatta Eels have been the beneficiaries of your preeminent administration.

May you enjoy great personal and professional success in your future.

Eels forever!

Sixties

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Fletch
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Fletch

Hear, hear.
Well said Sixties.

Shelley
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Shelley

Well said all round. He has displayed many good qualities but his ability to pick the right time to address things has been wonderful. For example, he knew when to bring the Bankwest stadium contract to the media forefront, just before an election and he knew when and how to communicate to fans, ignoring media pressure. Being CEO at Parra and not letting the media dictate or pressure you is no mean feat. But for me his biggest achievement has been installing a professional approach in and around our club. From simple things like the way players/staff present themselves on… Read more »

BDon
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BDon

Competency has gone a long way in a short time here, well done Bernie.
On BankWest/Broncos semi final day I stood in the shade of trees around the back watching some cricket, when I wandered back to the stadium a guy was getting out of his car and he nodded and said gd’day. I didn’t at first realise it was Bernie. He just seemed engaging and connected in that moment and that goes with what you’ve said sixties.

John Eel
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John Eel

BDon I would like to echo your sentiments. Found him friendly and accessible whenever you came across him.

I was talking to him one day at Wyong and he was full of praise for Hollis and Hughes. He was quite proud of how the club had helped develop such quality players.

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

A great article and report sixties, well done! There are many out there that cannot see beyond their noses as to their criticisms of Bernie, to which I would consider they could not see beyond their noses and realise just what Bernie brought to the club, will he be hard to replace? Maybe, maybe not, but his legacy will last for many years to come. Certainly the lift in the teams performances this year and a 2 out of 3 year record of being near the top, holding the club and team together despite adversities outside of his control prior… Read more »

Luke
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Luke

Really good article thanks. I know its been 3 years he has been in charge but any ideas what the catalyst for his leaving was? I understand there is a search on for the new CEO but was wondering when Parra are on the ascent, why you would leave after all the hard work is done? After all the years of management instability I, and suppose many other would have loved him to stick around for another 3 years.

Graz
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Graz

You have said it all Sixties. We Eels fans should be so grateful for what Bernie has done for our club.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

I attended all junior rep games this season and bernie gurr was present giving support and taking in knowledge of our upcoming juniors at them all , it will be interesting to see if his replacement does same .

MAX
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MAX

Sixties, absolutely well said mate, Bernie has shined through what has been a difficult time for the club and no doubt at times a difficult tenure. One thing that he said to me was that his wish was for this club to become the POWERHOUSE that it should be, he has set the foundations for that to happen.

Michael Formosa
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Michael Formosa

Well said Sixties, Bernie Gurr done an outstanding job but our next appointment is equally important. We can’t take a backwards step, Bernie and his team has set us up now we need someone to really drive us forward. I saw some clown on Twitter suggest to you we bring back Denis ‘The Emperor’ Fitzgerald, What a fool! But we do need someone strong.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Professional, smart businessman and forthright; that is how Bernie came across to me and I am somewhat sad he has left but he has done so leaving the club in a much positive way than when he arrived. Thanks Bernie and we wish you all the best in your next adventure in the business / sporting world.
Great read Sixties. Who is the next person to come on board….?

Jamie Terry Mountain
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Jamie Terry Mountain

Thank you berrine gurr for the great rebuild you have done for the eels fans and the players alike are greatful to u not your footy department wish you well in future work thak you again long eels fan

Parramatta Tragic
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Parramatta Tragic

The club needed strong, honest, intelligent and insightful leadership during an impossibly difficult period and a man with “The Right Stuff” appeared in the form of Bernie Gurr. The right man at the right place at the right time. It’s a very rare thing when someone who possesses high level management skill is also a people person. He will leave very big shoes to fill.

Rowdy
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Rowdy

Great read and a good wrap on a bloke who has managed to be open, available and a little aloof at the same time. Bernie was always looking for opportunities to obtain sponsors, large or small. He had a wonderfully optimistic view of the Parramatta club as having great potential to become a powerhouse sporting club in the center of Sydney and he promoted us as that to all who would listen through many forms of media even when we couldn’t expect some of our fans on social media to agree. Bernie’s attendance at just about every junior rep game… Read more »

Mark camman
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Mark camman

Grear read and great tribute to Bernie. I have followed the progress of rhe reforms that Gurr has been trying to introduce in terms of goverance, board membership, voting etc. My understanding is that these proposals were defeated by the narrowest of margins a couple of months ago
Where does this leave the club moving forward?
How do we prevent rhe resurgence of factional interests (Spaglino ?, Fitzgerald?)