Robert Dillon: Sporting Declaration

By , 25/04/2020 19:37

OUR HOUSE: Newcastle players embrace as the jubilant 23,516-strong crowd celebrate Mitchell Pearce’s match-winning field goal against Manly. Picture: Max Mason-HubersIT’S been a long timesince Newcastle football fans had so much to celebrate in such a short space of time.

Having barely returned from cloud nine after the 10-man Jets’ giant-killing 2-1 triumph against A-League leaders Sydney FC two Saturdays ago, the Novocastrian faithful were again in raptures after the Knights’ season-opening, golden-pointvictory over traditional rivals Manly.

Two inspiring games, six days apart, which drew a combined tally of 41,772 spectators through the turnstiles at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Not a bad week for Our Town’s teams, who, incidentally, have between them collected five of the past six wooden spoons on offer in their respective competitions.

It was a reminder that, no matter how bleakthings have been in recent years, Newcastle folk are as loyal and parochial as any sports supporters on the planet.

Now that the tide has apparently turned, for both teams,a collective tsunami of excitement is building.

All of which left Sporting Declaration pondering a concept from a bygone era.

I had vague memories that it was former Jets owner Con Constantine who hatched the idea, but according to the Newcastle Herald’s archives, it was actually Steve Burraston, the then Knights chief executive.

As Burraston told the Sun-Herald in 2008, he was investigating the possibility of staging a Knights-Jets double-header at their shared home ground.

Read more: Why Kalyn Ponga has fond memories of Canberra

“It’s something that could be attractive to the people of Newcastle,”Burro said at the time.

“It’s something we’ve thought about. I know the fields are differentandthere are logistical problems, but it’s a possibility.

“The only difficulty is the fieldandit comes down to the grass –soccer is played on different grass to rugby league. It could certainly be attractive if we could work out how we could cater for the two fields on the same day, it may be something there is a will for.

“There are smarter minds than mine that can work out a way to do that.”

Ten years down the track, what seemed like a good idea at the time has never progressed beyond a blueprint that was long agoconsigned to the too-hard basket.

Obviously there are myriadlogistical challengesthat would need to be unravelled.

There is the ground signage, the field markings, the goalposts, and of course corporate boxes and season-ticket seating arrangements.

But instead of immediately declaring it’s impractical and impossible, I’d ratherconsider what a unique opportunity it would be to createhistory and simultaneously promoteboth teams and the region in general.

Given Newcastle’s proudrecord of turning out in big numbers for major events, I have no doubt McDonald Jones Stadium would be bursting at the seams for both games.

Just imagine the publicity this would generate, both nationally and perhaps even abroad. It would be the perfect advertisementfor our teams, our community, and ourstadium.

Fans of Perth Glory, or Melbourne Storm, or North Queensland Cowboys might suddenly start checking their fixture lists, and booking flights to Newcastle for the next time their teams play here.

Moreover, there would potentiallybe some cross-pollination of supporters. Rugby league diehards who have never been to a Jets game might suddenly develop an interest in the round-ball code, and vice versa. A win-win for both clubs.

It would also be an opportunity to create a carnival atmosphere outside the stadium.

Anintermission between the two games would naturally be required, as ground staff change the goalposts and markings, followed bythe pre-match warm-up before the second fixture.

Why not convert part of the car park into a market-style precinct that features gourmet food and coffee outlets, along withtemporary bars serving craft beer and Hunter Valley wines? Toss in a sideshow alley for the kids, and maybe some live music, and fans would be able to relax and refuel before part two of the double-header.

To entertain those who prefer to stay in the stadium, perhaps grand final replays could be shown on the big screens –the Jets at one end, the Knights at the other.

There would presumably be some juggling of members’ seatsand corporate boxes, but surely nothing insurmountable.

The end result would be a landmark occasion. One of those rare events that people feel compelled to attend, if for no other reason than to say: “I was there.”

And it need not necessarily be a one-off. If it provedas successful as this columnist is suggesting, our two footballing flagships could make it an annual showpiece.

No doubt the governing bodies of both codes would be quick to find reasons why it’s not feasible.

I’d preferto think Wests Group/Knights CEO Phil Gardner and his Jets counterpart, Lawrie McKinna, are can-do guys willing to think outside the square, and Newcastle City Council is always eager for tourism/marketing opportunities.

The weekend of April 6 (Jets v Glory) and April 7 (Knights v Broncos) could be easily re-scheduled.

Short notice? Who cares.

It’s time to move the goalposts, literally, and create something truly special.

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