It was very cold last night at the Stockade. It was cold, and it was sad. It was sad, not so much because we lost, but because there would be no next game to look forward to.
As the players mingled with their fans, kids kicked balls on the pitch, as the fireworks went off to summons the end of the Melbourne Rebels’ inaugural season, no-one really wanted it to end.
Sporting success is generally associated with on-field success, of champions taking all before them, and of soaring victories. Success on-field has alluded the Rebels this year. We played well sometimes. We played appallingly badly, too. But – and here’s the thing – we were playing.
Having been to a school that for a time played rugby, then lived in Canberra and Wellington, and then Canberra again, rugby to me is more than a contest on the field – it is about values. Rah rah values stuff? No. Values like respect, honesty and integrity are important. That the Rebels have publicly tried to clearly link ‘Rebels’ with Respect, Excellence, Balance, Ethos and Leadership, combined with the focus on engaging with community, schools, clubs, business, and charities consistently underlines this.
I love rugby for not only the wonderful game that it is – but what it also can mean.
And as the scarf gets packed away until next year, here are five off-field reasons in no particular order why the Rebels in my view have been a success.
- There are supporters, and then there are Rebels fans – and the Rebel Army. Much has been written and many thanks offered by the Club about the passion and rugby-savvy of the fans. A friend of mine who came to the rugby earlier in the season commented how loud the crowd is. Add in a very parochial but not over the top ground announcer and the ever-loud, always proud Rebel Army – and the atmosphere of the crowd at the games this year has been great.
- AAMI Park is a purpose-built stadium and it works, especially when the crowd starts chanting ‘Rebels, Rebels’. Acoustically it is made for 20,000-ish crowds who love to yell. Yes, the MCG may be bigger, but listen to the noise that the crowd can generate – someone with an ear for good sport designed this stadium. Another plus – you can smell the pitch – that slightly dewy, muddy smell that screams rugby. Wonderful.
- Connection with the fans. Yes, the Club is a franchise, and no, as supporters, we’re not members as AFL clubs’ members are. Despite that, I’ve been impressed with the Rebels’ focus on the fans. Has it been a mantra behind the scenes? Does it really matter? – we have been communicated well with, we get newsletters and often texts with videos in them talking about the game just played. I paid a fair bit as a Platinum Member and expected a fair bit in return – the seats are superb; but it’s more than that, more than the cushion or the keyring offered. Social media-wise the Club’s been on its game, and the spectacle of the kids each week in the marching drum band, a refrain of Les Mis, and the ground announcer geeing up the crowd points to some thought at Rebels HQ in terms of the narrative they are trying to offer. Sport is a package these days, and the Rebels found a good midpoint between being true to the sport and not niche marketing themselves to a specific demographic. Witness the players last night signing autographs, posing for photos after the game, players’ kids running about – it was Club family day and that so many people stayed, clapped and in their own way said thank you to the players is a testimony to the connection between Club and supporter.
- Personalising the Rebels: Adam Freier to me has been a hit on Offsiders this year – and if this calibre of thoughtful, insightful player is one of the faces of the Club, then all power to the powers that be. He is in the same mould as a Stuart (NSW cricketer) Clark – anchored, considered, aware.
- The Army: I noted above the crowd, but really, we’re led in our chants and our yelling by the Rebel Army. I like their humour, their ‘this is who we are and we’re a bunch of rugby fans’ attitude, and I love how they love their rugby – and how, clearly, rugby loves them. They’ve taken the passion of the Victorian sporting-mad supporter and made AAMI Park aka the Stockade come alive. Bravo guys.
Apparently 2012 memberships will be emailed next month. Sign me up. Bring it on.
What a great first season.
I’m proud to be a Rebels fan.