Almanac Rugby League – Storm fans need another Lazarus moment

Rugby league isn’t my game of choice. In fact, I can honestly say I’ve never been to one solitary game in any of my 33 years. My first real sense of association with it was at an unlikely event on a glorious spring day in 1999. North Melbourne had won the flag the day before, and I joined a mass of Brunswick-street-festival punters at the Rose Hotel in Fitzroy where, for the very first time, we spontaneously rode the ebb and flow of the Melbourne Storm bandwagon.  It was an unusual but real sense of parochial excitement as we watched Glenn Lazarus (and Molly Meldrum) lead the Melbourne Storm in Sin City and win an extraordinary flag in their second year.

Since that fateful day, I’ve followed the fortunes (and now rather large misfortunes) of the Storm from a distance, focusing most of my sporting energy on the competing Victorian code. Being a Geelong fan my football life has, for the last three years in particular, seemed to run in parallel with that of a Storm supporter. We are both ‘one club’ towns. We were both 2007 premiers. In 2008 we were unlikely losers. In 2009 we found sweet, sweet redemption. These are tenuous links, but there’s a bond all the same.

So it was, after hearing of the recent and now infamous spanking handed out by David Gallop, that I felt genuine sympathy for Storm supporters. They are, after all, the real losers. Storm fans are a hardy breed. They live and thrive in an NRL frontier town, drawing the wrath of parochially anti-Victorian opposition clubs. They draw little support from fellow AFL-obsessed Melbournians, but invest precious time, money, blood, sweat and tears in their beloved club. All this. Only to find that, at the end of the day, it’s all become, well, ‘unofficial’. I can only imagine how one would feel in their current predicament. Hollow is one word that springs to mind. Angry is another.

It was then, heading west on the Williamstown line last Saturday afternoon, that I was compelled to strike up a conversation with a random Storm couple. They were returning from the supporters’ day at their new home ground, AAMI Park. Both were adorned with an array of Storm merchandise. It left me in no doubt that they were proudly supportive of their struggling club and defiant in this time of need. But how did it feel to lose two premierships in one cruel and foul blow? What did they think of the punishment? Was it fair? Where to from here? The responses were to be expected. He channeled internal anger but directed it towards the NRL and Gallop. The punishment too harsh, his intentions ill-directed. Interestingly, he was particularly scathing about the fact Gallop was formerly a legal eagle with Super League, the News Corp body that was largely responsible for the bitter and protracted legal battle that almost destroyed the game. She was a more pragmatic voice of reason, questioning the Storm perpetrators’ motivations for such an absurd rort. But, ultimately, they were both gutted. And they were going to the game the following day. “You’ve still got the memories”, I remarked. They agreed. “Yes, we’ve still got the memories”. But both looked forward and were pragmatic about the future. They clung to the hope that the players would hold together and the club would live to see another day.

I read an article by Patrick Smith where he commented that a premiership in 2011 would be the ultimate redemption. That it would be. But it’s a long road back for any club supporter, let alone one that has lost three years of hard-earned success and respect. I for one, as a Geelong supporter, will watch their journey with great interest. Their supporters deserve some support and renewed success as reward for their service, to say the least. If the Storm has ever needed another Lazarus moment, now is the time.

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