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New book details enduring Newtown spirit as Jets gear up for festival

While the Newtown Jets haven't competed at premiership level since 1983, the foundation club is very much alive.

Now playing in the Canterbury Cup as Cronulla's feeder side, community engagement and adaptability have helped Newtown survive, with the fabled Jets logo representing more than a football team.

The book Taking It To The Streets – The Second Life Of the Newtown RLFC by club media officer Glen Dwyer, to be released on Monday, details how the Jets have reinvented themselves.

"It's a story worth telling because there aren't many examples around the world of teams who've played at the top and then disappeared for money reasons or whatever, who re-emerge at any respectable level," Dwyer said.

Newtown's home matches at the iconic Henson Park in Marrickville have become an inner-city social hub, where rusted-on supporters, new fans and casual observers watch the Bluebags and soak in the buzzing atmosphere.

"It's an experience like no other in, I think, world sport," Jets director David Ray told NRL.com.

"The idea that you go to a place where you can bring your kids, your pram, your dog, you can kick around on the field before the game and at half-time, is part of the joy at Henson Park.

Fans bathe in the sunshine on the Henson Park hill.
Fans bathe in the sunshine on the Henson Park hill. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"And recognising that you're watching elite sport … it's unlike any other [game] that you're going to see."

After being suspended from the NSW Rugby League Premiership in '83 due to financial troubles, the Jets did not play at senior level again until 1991 when they entered the third-tier Metropolitan Cup.

In 2000, Newtown gained a place in the second-tier state competition where they've remained.

The forward-thinking Jets board abide by the motto "go where society is", buying into the trends and ideals of the Newtown area.

Special events on game days in recent years have drawn a younger demographic.

Newtown host hipster rounds, where anyone who boasts a bushy beard gets into the ground free, and the club held its first Pride and Diversity Day earlier this season celebrating the LGBTIQ community.

But the crown jewel on the Jets' calendar is the annual Beer, Footy and Food Festival.

Established in 2016, the festival has a plethora of boutique food and beverage options and kids activities including inflatable courses and petting zoos, as well as the entertainment of the football.

Ray estimates 1500 people attended the inaugural Beer, Footy and Food Festival. Roughly 7000 came last year.

The fourth edition takes place when Newtown play the Bulldogs at Henson Park on Saturday and Dwyer anticipates another success.

Thirty brewers from around the country and 15 food trucks will set up on the Henson hill, with free entry for kids under 16.

"If we go past 7000 people you're getting into a level that Newtown drew in their first grade games," Dwyer said.

Ray hopes this year's total is exactly 8972, of course.

"We'd love to hit that magic number," Ray said, referencing a long-running gag started by ground announcer John Lynch on a day the Jets drew a low crowd in the 90s.

Dwyer said a portion of the festival attendees aren't usually rugby league fans but the experience gives them an affinity for the Jets.

"It's a social phenomenon in its own way. The great majority are coming for the breweries and interesting food outlets," he said.

"The rugby league is almost like a Roman circus that just happens to be in front of them. Some of them have never seen a game live.

"A day at Henson Park has become an event in itself. We don't mind that because they keep coming ... If they're asked which rugby league team do they follow, they'd probably say Newtown."

Ray believes 111 years of history and working-class roots make Newtown so endearing.

"The Jets jersey, it's not just about a footy club; it's almost like [wearing a shirt of] your favourite band," he said.

"You're aware of this sense of pride and there's a style about the royal blue colouring and our logo that people really get into.

"It goes beyond footy to almost be like a sign of community."

 

Tickets are available for the Beer, Footy and Food Festival.