By Edmund Kirkwood
The future of the Tigers’ remains uncertain despite Balmain Leagues Club surviving an attempt by developers Rozelle Village to place it into receivership.
While the club’s operations in Five Dock and Flemington continue, there is growing doubt that it will ever return to its Balmain heartland. One of the founding NSWRL teams, the Balmain Tigers were born over 100 years ago at Birchgrove Oval and in 1999, merged with the Western Suburbs Magpies to create the Wests Tigers.
Local Tigers supporter Dave Fitzgerald lamented the potential loss of the club, and recalled its unique ability to foster a strong sense of club unity on game day.
“Particularly during big games, like the finals, if you’re not at the match the next best place to be is at the club with the other Tigers fans,” he said.
The club has also played a significant role in supporting junior rugby league by providing crucial funding to local teams. The uncertainty surrounding its future calls into question the funding for those junior teams.
“If the club goes, the funding to the Tigers goes,” said the club’s spokesperson, Danny Munk.
“But also, the journey from juniors, through reps and into Wests Tigers becomes disconnected. At the end of the day, this journey is where young people develop team behaviour, and learn their place as part of the community.”
Mr Munk described the club as a safe place where like-minded spirits have bonded for more than 50 years.
“It’s a place for people to meet, and to belong,” he said.
“It represents the heartland of Leichhardt and Balmain.”
Mr Munk urged supporters and members not to abandon the club and stressed that the Tigers are still functioning at Five Dock and Flemington. He encouraged members to use these facilities, as well as support the junior club by attending games.
“Please do not turn your back on the club,” he said.
“If you lose your heart, it becomes a lot harder to drive our brand.”
But Mr Fitzgerald is worried that off-field drama may damage on-field performance throughout the season, and wants to see it resolved as soon as possible.
“If financial troubles continue, and more questions about the future of the team are asked, that’s when problems might emerge on the field as well,” he said.
“As long as fans get behind the team and we have strong seasons going forward, the Tigers should be fine. Winning solves everything.”
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne recalled his early memories of the club and how important it was for members of the Balmain, Leichhardt and Rozelle communities.
“When my parents moved to Balmain in the 1960’s the place was considered a slum. People didn’t have much, but what they did have was their beloved Tigers,” he wrote.
“Since it opened, the leagues club has always been a social hub, where young families and older people could find a cheap meal, friendship and camaraderie.”