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If only they would be bottom feeders
It is hard to think of a football club that has had a more sustained history of failure than Parramatta despite having all the ingredients to be a success. Aside from a brief period of success in the 1980s, it has always been anchored on the bottom of the ladder, irrespective of the quality of players on its list.
The club was established in 1947 to represent what had once been a penal outpost but which was becoming the geographic centre of Sydney. Like most rugby league clubs, Parramatta initially showed little interest in branding but fans affectionately referred to the club as the fruit pickers. It was a name that suggested the club would have talent at selecting fine produce, but it truth, its preference was for under ripe stock or stock that had gone bad. Parramatta became synonymous with the wooden spoon, and the club with turning good players into jam.
Parramatta’s prospects seemed to turn around in the 1970s after the late sports reporter Peter Frilingos pointed out that the aboriginal meaning of the word 'Parramatta' was ‘the place where the eels lie down'. Indeed Parramatta players had laid down far too often, but eels were also migratory, slippery and could go through a hole so potentially such a name could signal a club on the move.
In 1976 Parramatta made its first grand final, where it met Manly. Both clubs had entered the league at the same time and their meeting marked the beginning of what is arguably Parramatta’s strongest rivalry. More grand final meetings occurred in 82 and 83 as both clubs set their sights on being the team of the 80s.
On field success also provided the impetus to redevelop Parramatta’s home ground of Cumberland Oval into a proper rugby league stadium. This resulted in the club moving to neighbouring Belmore, home of Canterbury, from 1982 to 1985. Sharing turf with Canterbury seemed to further fuel a rivalry and a team that everyone used to laugh at suddenly had some enemies.
Once its home stadium was complete, Parramatta seemed set to become the undisputed power club of the league. Significant gentrification of the inner city had resulted in rugby league fans moving out west. Clubs such as the Balmain Tigers were hit particularly hard and they tried to adapt by playing home games at Parramatta’s stadium, which was envisaged to become the Mecca of Sydney football.
For reasons that can be debated, Parramatta never kicked on from the 80s. Ground rationalisation never eventuated as clubs like Balmain moved back to their suburban grounds. Meanwhile, Parramatta’s players seemed determined to hold onto their wooden spoon tradition. Rather than be likened to eels, they were likened to centipedes as they had 26 legs but couldn’t climb ladders.
As for fans, it would be nice to be able to use fishing terminology and say that, like their eel moniker, they are bottom feeders. Unfortunately, the bottom feeder label belongs to Canterbury fans. Parramatta fans are usually of the generic, middle-class variety; predominantly mullet with the occasional bream. Attending Parramatta games is indeed a depressing experience. There is a distinct lack of toothless grins, mullets, facial hair, tattoos and beer guts. Instead, there is an oversupply of short back and side hairstyles. No character in these fish.
Roy Morgan research
2004- when compared to other NRL supporters
2006 - When compared to other NRL supporters
Teams which are always rubbish struggle to develop rivalries because other teams pity them, rather than take pride in defeating them, and so it is with Parramatta. In the 80s, it played in a few grand finals against Manly and Canterbury, and for the old Parra hands, memories of these days fuel the pleasure of defeating Manly and Canterbury. As for their opponents, they have mostly moved on.
Why kind of country has four codes of "football"?