A couple of years ago, my grandfather turned 70 years old.
My entire family got together to celebrate this tremendous milestone and my grandfather was very lucky to be surrounded on the day by the people who loved him the most – his wife, his daughters, his grandchildren and the rest of his extended family.
As we stood together and watched my grandfather blow out the candles on his ice cream cake, I took a very brief moment to look at the people around him and reflect on how much impact my grandfather had had in those 70 years.
In those 70 years my grandfather achieved a great deal. He boarded a boat with a wife and two young daughters, left his family, language and homeland behind all with a dream of forging a better life in Australia. My grandfather worked hard - the scars on his hands are reminders of the years of manual labour he did to support his family and give his daughters every opportunity he possibly could to lead a successful life.
He helped to raise two strong, talented women who then went on to start families of their own. Those families grew and grew and grew so that not only did he have two daughters and two sons-in-law to love, but six grandchildren to love even more. He had the opportunity to watch his six grandchildren grow up and become accountants, lawyers and teachers – with so much to look forward to in life partly because of the tremendous sacrifice he made all those years ago.
The reason I share this with all of you is because thinking about my grandfather and his 70 years helped me put in perspective another special milestone that was celebrated this week.
This week, the Parramatta Eels football club celebrated its 70th birthday.
On April 12 1947, the Parramatta Eels played their first match against the Newtown Bluebags at Cumberland Oval. Unfortunately, Parramatta lost that game 32-12 in front of 6,000 people – but that didn’t matter. That was the very beginning for a football club that would become one of the most traditional, most loved and most well-supported football clubs in Sydney.
The Eels may have been around for 70 years, but I certainly have not been. I have supported the Eels since 1998 and so only have 19 years of memories – but in those 19 years there have been so many favourite players and so many special moments.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch players like Clinton Schifcofske, Brad Drew, Dean Pay, PJ Marsh, Tim Smith, Nathan Hindmarsh, Ben Smith, Todd Lowrie, David Gower, Jarryd Hayne and Clinton Gutherson wear the blue and gold. Each one of these players, no matter the length of time they stayed at the club is etched into its history.
Special moments have included my first game at Parramatta Stadium as a chubby, rosy-cheeked eight-year-old girl where I watched the Eels beat the North Sydney Bears 25-12 in a preliminary final, only to have all hope shattered the following week in a game against the Canterbury Bulldogs. The 2001 Grand Final is another moment that stands out, as well as Tim Smith’s debut year, the 2009 run to the Grand Final and in 2016, watching a squad teach their community about the importance of togetherness, resilience and mateship despite the most trying of circumstances.
I’ve watched the Eels shine off the field too through relationships with organisations like Ronald McDonald House, Westmead Children’s Hospital and Life Education and take a stand for important issues in the community, being the first club in the NRL to have a Domestic Violence Action Plan.
And these are only my memories from the last 19 years.
Imagine how many other stories have been passed down, lives changed, friendships forged and history witnessed all because of an association with the Parramatta Eels.
It truly speaks to the power of sport and its capacity to bring people together in a way that nothing else can. When I take my seat on Monday afternoon, many of the people sitting around me will come from a different background, will be in a different profession and will be at a different stage of their life, but we are all bonded together through a sense of community created through a football club. No matter our differences, when Clint Gutherson makes a line break or Nathan Brown makes a strong run, we all cheer in solidarity as one group.
I’m expecting a crowd in excess of 40,000 people on Monday afternoon to watch the Eels take on the Wests Tigers. A milestone of this nature deserves nothing less. Not only is this a significant game for both teams as they attempt to break into the top eight, but it is also an opportunity to celebrate the club whose colours are blue and gold.
I hope that, just like my grandfather, the Parramatta Eels football club will be surrounded on Monday by the people that love it the most to celebrate a very special birthday and recognise the impact that this football club has had on an entire community over the last 70 years.
And to everyone who was or is a member of the Parramatta Eels family – thank you for everything you have done to make the first 70 years so memorable. I am already looking forward to the next 70 years and I’m hopeful that those 70 years will include at least one Parramatta Eels Premiership.
A very happy birthday to the football club that I am so proud to be part of and a very happy and safe Easter to all of you.