Whether I’m sitting in the stands at Penrith, or squeezed onto the hill, I hate the experience.
There is nothing romantic or nostalgic about sub-standard facilities. It is unacceptable to have to queue for over ten minutes to use a toilet, and that’s one hour before kick off and well before the ground was full. All of this while being crowded and pushed by other fans battling long lines to pay $12 for a plate of chips.
But all of that pales in comparison to the experience of families who have to sit or stand on a muddy hill surrounded by heavily-intoxicated, abusive men and teenagers who are downing beer by the truckload.
League identities and power brokers should try sitting in amongst it (in rival gear) to realise how embarrassing and damaging it is to the game to stage matches in a venue like that.
As a supporter taking a child to the game, I should not be confronted by drunk and abusive Penrith fans. It is a terrible blight on our code.
I grew up in Western Sydney. I have family that live there and relatives that play football in the Penrith junior league, so this is not about the district. However, it is everything about what happens around that club, and about the decisions made by the NRL hierarchy.
The repeated off field indiscretions of Penrith players is followed by the same refusals to acknowledge that they’ve done anything wrong. Why wouldn’t a section of their supporter base have no regard for other people.
There is an absolute arrogance from some of the Panthers players both on and off the field, and the excuses for anti-social behaviour and lack of accountability from the Penrith organisation or NRL are staggering.
From a football perspective, the Panthers team possesses outstanding skill and talent. But I don’t admire who they are, nor do I feel any rivalry with them.
In contrast, the rivalry with the Eagles and Bulldogs is authentic. No matter the ladder or team composition, the need to win against them is at the core of our existence as supporters. I think a significant part of that rivalry is based on respect from the contest, on and off the field.
Personally, I have never experienced harassment at other venues for doing nothing more than wearing the colours of my team. Sure there is banter between supporters but it is almost always good natured.
At Penrith Park, the abuse of my family on Friday night (and in past visits) by some fans was unrelenting. It was direct and vile and aimed at anyone wearing rival colours. I cannot remember the last time I attended a game at Penrith and did not have some member of my family targeted for being there in Blue and Gold.
On Friday night my niece and son were walking to get something to eat. They were yelled and sworn at by grown men, with some words I can’t repeat.
This abuse was directed at a child and teenage girl who were going to the canteen. These same men were not so brave when my husband and brothers fronted them about abusing their kids. But it shouldn’t get to that point.
The trouble was that the so-called security did nothing and let these men get more drinks. We are told to report anti-social behaviour at the game, but what was the point? We watched as the same people continued to hurl abuse at Parra fans whose only crime was to walk past in their Eels gear. Security did nothing to stop it.
The chant heard and directed at Parra supporters at Penrith games is pretty common and not too clever. “We hate Parra, go the **** home.” The uncomfortable truth for Penrith is that their wider supporter base would not want to be associated with this core group of abusive supporters, but those in charge don’t seem willing to do anything about it.
My niece has lived in Penrith all of her life. She was succinct in expressing her thoughts regarding these fans. “They are feral.”
So no, they are not rivals as there is no respect.
I doubt that things will change under the current NRL leadership. The decision to not immediately suspend Taylan May for an off field assault sent a very clear signal to these particular Penrith fans who embrace anti-social behaviour. Peter V’landys even doubled down by declaring he made his decision for Panthers supporters!
The AFL’s very good TV deal this last week highlights my fear about the current NRL leadership. The same league leaders who have done and will do the TV deals in the future are the same people who think the majority of supporters actually condone “cowardly” and “reprehensible” assaults.
These NRL leaders think that supporters want and look forward to the match day experiences at places like Penrith. We don’t!
I heard all the reasons why the game had to be played at Penrith. Yes we do need to reward minor premiers, but as long as we have a draw that is not even with everyone playing each other home and away, the ladder position at the end will always be unreliable and somewhat questionable.
One reason for playing home finals which gets discussed all the time is a stadium like Accor is not good with smaller crowds.
I am extremely confident that at least 30 000 Parra fans would turn up to a finals game at a larger venue. If the Panthers are not confident in matching those numbers to draw an attendance of 50-60k, in an era in which their team is consistently at the top of the table, maybe they need to ask why.
Consider this alternative to having matches staged at sub standard venues in Cronulla and Penrith that attracted a grand total of just over 30,000 people.
Imagine a Super Saturday finals edition to celebrate league and promote it. Four games could be staged at Accor Stadium, 2NRLW games and two NRL finals games involving three Sydney clubs in Penrith, Parra and the Sharks.
One entry price gets you four big games. The crowd would far exceed the combined attendance from Friday and Saturday night, and the opportunity for promotion to potential commercial partners would be far greater.
Instead the power brokers in suits who run our game tell us, all while they sit in the corporate boxes, to go sit in the mud, or stand on the hill surrounded shoulder to shoulder by drunk and intoxicated men and enjoy the “wonderful” match day experience. And while you’re at it, watch your child get abused by certain drunk fans as they line up to pay $12 for chips or a Dagwood Dog.
I am embarrassed for our great game that our leaders genuinely think this is good for the code.
Finally, on the match itself, Parra lost to Penrith because the Panthers played better, executed better and they are a fantastic team. Simple as that. There are no sour grapes about defeat.
The Eels must play to win. Our errors were far too costly and we didn’t have a positive mindset in attack. Parra footy means offloading and creating second phase play. It is the secret to our success in games.
There is no hiding from the fact that Parra needs to lift this coming week. The second chances are over.