A tribal tragedy Article from: The Daily Telegraph By Rebecca Wilson April 26, 2008 12:00am ONE of the great sporting tragedies has gradually unfolded before our eyes in recent years. It is one of those things that happened before we realised how terrible it was and now there is no way it can be fixed without a great deal of pain. The whole hideous scenario came to a head at ANZ Stadium (the former Olympic/Telstra stadium) in Sydney yesterday. A match that for many years has been held at the Sydney Football Stadium in the inner city (with great success) was moved to the cavernous former Olympic Stadium. To put this into perspective, let's have a look at what has unfolded over recent seasons. A large number of AFL and NRL clubs have moved from their traditional ovals and parks to massive arenas that seat up to 100,000 people. Melbourne led the way and, thanks to what is a great footy venue, has largely succeeded in transplanting half a dozen AFL clubs from their home grounds to Telstra Dome. The fact that AFL attracts crowds of more than 40,000 to matches makes the home ground sacrifice for clubs a lot more palatable. But what is happening in the NRL is nothing short of disgraceful and tragic. St George Illawarra and South Sydney have entered into a venture with the former Olympic Stadium that will see them play most of their home games at a venue that is around 50km from where most of their fans live. Yesterday's match featured two teams from the south and east of the city playing in the heart of Sydney's west before a crowd of people who feel like foreigners sitting there. They have done this because ANZ Stadium offers huge financial incentives to embattled clubs struggling to break even. Rugby league insiders question how on earth the stadium management finds the money to pay so many teams so much. While the clubs claim their bottom line looks a little more healthy in the short term, the result is that teams are now playing before very low crowds in a stadium that really needs to seat 60,000 before it feels like you are at the footy. Leading NRL commentator Matty Johns says ANZ stadium "stinks''. Players and commentators hate the place. St George, Wests Tigers, South Sydney and the Canterbury Bulldogs have all given up home ground advantages because club bosses lacked the vision to fix their home grounds rather than make the move. They saw the money, they ran and they forgot about what really matters in football - tribalism. These blokes have taken the quick fix and ignored the damage they have caused their clubs, the fans and the game. If they had spent more time promoting the game in their local districts, they would never have become so desperate for cash in the first place. The AFL can quite gleefully look for a second team in the Sydney market because they see so many rugby league clubs struggling to attract crowds. ANZ is tailor-made for Aussie rules. While league teams are like fish out of water there, the Aussie rules boys will be lapping it up in front of huge crowds. If the clubs who have made the ridiculous move to the city's worst football stadium had thought it through, the solution was at their own front door. Restoring home grounds in suburban Sydney satisfies a footy fan's need to feel like part of a football community. Home grounds that seat around 20,000 give all teams a home ground advantage that players reckon is worth up to 10 points a game. It is no coincidence that the teams that have sold themselves to ANZ are wallowing at the bottom of the NRL ladder. They no longer actually have games on familiar turf in front of a big home crowd. Nothing good can come of clubs who up stumps from established league communities for the sake of a lousy dollar. The AFL model has worked because Telstra Dome is easy to access, spectators are close to the action on the field and AFL crowds are always big. A small bunch of league lovers will travel with their binoculars a long way to watch their footy team in a bad stadium. A large majority won't. League fans traditionally want to enjoy their fortnightly footy game at the end of their street. The beauty of the rundown home ground and its closeness to the action has been unbelievably under-rated. These football bosses will learn the hard way that a financial quick fix will end up stuffing their clubs and sending thousands of fans away in the process. By the time the AFL juggernaut lands another team in Sydney, their demise will be complete and the Sydney football market will be dominated by those who live south of the border.