Hooray! Perth has once again become rugby league relevant with the WARL’s John Sackson announcing the franchise’s intention to rejoin the NRL at the next expansion date. It will be great to see the red, gold and black jerseys of the old red roo resurrected in the west as the… Wait, I’m sorry. Did he just say West Coast Pirates?
Yarr that is correct! The Pirates are set to replace the Reds as Western Australia’s rugby league identity. And in one dredging announcement they have joined the ever-growing culprit list of Australian franchises with an uninspiring knack for the adoption of Americanised team names.
Sure, the Pirate mascot has an evident upside in its potential for crowd participation but much like the sight of an eyeliner-wearing, fake plastic sword-wielding grown man, the existence of an Australian pirate-themed football team is a novelty that borders on complete joke.
What was wrong with the red kangaroo anyway? The image of that great thumping marsupial had a connection to the deserts of the west that oozed locative relevance and cultural embrace. As far as mascot potential is concerned, the kangaroo is as abundantly unique to the west as the shark is to its coast – relocating the Cronulla Sharks here may not be a good idea due to the understandably sensitive issue concerning shark attacks out west.
However the point remains valid. For names sake! Pick something with relevance!
A rugby league team’s name is intrinsically special to its supporters; a sacred connection between a city or suburb and its people.
Please, no more of this insipid American influenced nonsense. In the 1980s Brisbane Rugby League missed the chance to put the brumby on their emblem, instead opting for the Australia-absent bronco. An opportunistic ACT Rugby Union would later scoop up the vacant brumby. So why did Brisbane pass on what seems to be a perfect fit for a name? Alliteration was not going to be a problem. The rhythm of the Bs bouncing off double syllable words would have worked just as well and the chance of a supporter seeing a brumby was at least realistic.
One would hope that the broncos moniker comes from something more than an idolisation of an American football brand in the snowy state of Colorado.
And one would truly hope that the christening of the North Queensland Cowboys in the mid 90s was not of the same approach. Apparently there is a pretty successful and well-known team in Dallas with the same name. You may have heard of them.
It wasn’t always like this though. There was a time when rugby league teams would select their names for purposes outside of marketing. Purposes based on locative, historic and social factors, not advertising.
You don’t have to go far to find some good examples. The Rabbitohs of South Sydney is a social reflection of the days when the poorer classes of the area would engage in the trade of dead rabbits for food. The catch cry ‘Rabbit-Oh,’ was a commonly spruiked mark of the vendors. As for Parramatta, well the Eels found their name through the direct indigenous translation of their suburb. Parramatta being ‘the place where the eels lie down.’
Traditional teams just got it right. But hold on a moment, I can already hear the counter-arguments. Some will sharply point out that the closest thing to a tiger in Balmain would be a house cat, or that the panther is a creature of Asia, Africa and the Americas, certainly not Penrith. This information may be correct but to challenge these names would disrespectfully show a lack of understanding of the areas. In the case of Penrith, legend has it that a giant panther lies at the foot of the mountains. Whether it actually exists or not is irrelevant, what is important is that there is a link between the Penrith suburb and their iconic mascot. And those who argue there are no dragons in St. George are clearly unfamiliar with one of the great fables of the eleventh century. The connection between the suburb and the mascot is quite obvious.
These are just a few examples of many steeped in tradition. Rugby League is rich with history but it should also be strong in cultural identity. I am not suggesting the traditional name is always the best one. In fact, I am probably in the minority with my disdain for the West Coast Pirates. Furthermore, my opinion may amount to nothing when I admit to thinking the Canterbury Berries was cleverly fantastic.
However, I will not be excited by the emergence of the new Western Australian football team. Rather than being on board with the Pirates I will likely be bored dead by the Pirates.
Relevance is everything to a rugby league team’s identity, and with expansion a big issue on the rugby league agenda, I just hope I am not around the day that the Darwin Penguins take on the Adelaide Snowmen.