Back in good old days

Sitting among the supposedly 13,825 plastic bucket seats at Aurora Stadium for Saturday’s State League grand final could make an old traditionalist cry.

Or, at the very least, reflect on better times of yesteryear at good ol’ York Park.

Or were they better?

The wonderfully, historic gates located on the central Invermay Rd entrance are still a constant reminder to Aurora’s York Park heritage. 

Not that they were used in Saturday’s biggest grassroots game of the season.

Football grand finals, of any sort, are always a time for nostalgia because they are the once-in-a-lifetime memories that stick with you for the rest of your life.

Anyone who recently viewed on The Examiner website leading into not just the TSL decider but also the NTFA equivalent would gasp in wonderment at the black and white images from the old NTFA grand finals.

Back then there was no Rocherlea nor Bracknell in the pre-1986 competition, but instead the defunct City South (nowadays known as South Launceston, after a merger with East Launceston) and current State League participants, Launceston and North Launceston as the Robins.

The backdrops of the large crowds, standing shoulder to shoulder, many deep from the boundary fence, portray the popularity of Northern Tasmanian footy in those halcyon days.

Not that saying today’s revived NTFA competition from 1996 isn’t supported well enough in its own right.

But, by all accounts of those who witnessed the former association, the game of the day was a bigger crowd pull back then – and also better. 

The famous football names would often return to the North after stints in the former VFL (also pre-1986) and many Victorian notables would also follow.

Every club would have a star or two.

That was reflected in the regular crowd numbers. 

Research found that through the 1960s, average home-and-away crowds for one of the three eminent leagues in the state (along with the TANFL in Hobart and the NWFU in Devonport and Burnie) were around a healthy 4000 spectators.

Let alone the inflated crowd figures that would often push past 10,000 for NTFA grand finals.

The TANFL grand finals, exclusively played at North Hobart, even exceeded 20,000 (see table). 

Saturday’s official figure in an all-state, north-versus-south blockbuster and a grand final rematch was 6128 at Aurora Stadium.

Are we saying that is poor? Or just a reflection of changing times?

The biggest of the revived TSL after an eight-year recess is 7534 for the 2009 grand final between Glenorchy and Clarence at Bellerive Oval.

There are many reasons for sinking crowd numbers, but none more so than the expansion of the AFL.

Even though that is downgraded somewhat in Tasmania, restricted to only hosting seven games – four at Aurora Stadium and three at Bellerive Oval – the presence of AFL has never been bigger in the state.

The broadcast of nine AFL games a week ensures that.

The same television influence has also kept people away from the WAFL and SANFL competitions in Perth and Adelaide.

As a kid in Victoria, the SANFL telecasts were still a big deal and Football Park was always brimming to its near 50,000 capacity.

Same for Subiaco Oval for WAFL grand finals.

But sadly grand final crowds at both, more often than not, fell below 20,000 spectators – less than they would get for the poorest attended Fremantle or Port Adelaide AFL game. 

Nearly half – and I dare say judging by crowd noise probably more – of the spectators inside the ground on Saturday were Glenorchy fans travelling up from Hobart.

You couldn’t blame their enthusiasm to make the 200-kilometre journey in hope of their club’s first State League premiership since 1999. 

That may have left 3000 North Launceston diehards in the crowd.

But this year, at least, there was no excuse not to turn out for the grand occasion of Tasmanian football.

There were no live AFL matches on Saturday afternoon; no excuses, no further distractions.

Clearly, there has to be a real disconnect with grassroots fans.

See, South Launceston’s abandonment of the TSL straight after winning the 2013 premiership.

Not everyone will support North Launceston and bother to attend. No one has a “second” club – one for the NTFA, and one for the TSL.

Back in my day, Victorian suburban fans had a VFL/AFL club, like St Kilda, but also had a VFA/VFL club like Geelong West.

But that, of course, would appear sacrilegious in a game that remains very tribal in a city of less than 100,000 people. 

One thing is for sure: the best-standard Tasmanian match of the year deserves more than this. 

For the sake of the state. 

THE MODERN ERA: Supporters on Saturday trickle in to Aurora Stadium - a faded memory from the York Park days of last century - during the 2016 TSL grand final day involving home side North Launceston.

THE MODERN ERA: Supporters on Saturday trickle in to Aurora Stadium - a faded memory from the York Park days of last century - during the 2016 TSL grand final day involving home side North Launceston.

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