IT’S been a long time since Newcastle football fans had so much to celebrate in such a short space of time.
Having barely returned from cloud nine after the 10-man Jets’ giant-killing 2-1 triumph against A-League leaders Sydney FC two Saturdays ago, the Novocastrian faithful were again in raptures after the Knights’ season-opening, golden-point victory over traditional rivals Manly.
Two inspiring games, six days apart, which drew a combined tally of 41,772 spectators through the turnstiles at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Not a bad week for Our Town’s teams, who, incidentally, have between them collected five of the past six wooden spoons on offer in their respective competitions.
It was a reminder that, no matter how bleak things have been in recent years, Newcastle folk are as loyal and parochial as any sports supporters on the planet.
Now that the tide has apparently turned, for both teams, a collective tsunami of excitement is building.
All of which left Sporting Declaration pondering a concept from a bygone era.
I had vague memories that it was former Jets owner Con Constantine who hatched the idea, but according to the Newcastle Herald’s archives, it was actually Steve Burraston, the then Knights chief executive.
As Burraston told the Sun-Herald in 2008, he was investigating the possibility of staging a Knights-Jets double-header at their shared home ground.
“It’s something that could be attractive to the people of Newcastle,” Burro said at the time.
“It’s something we've thought about. I know the fields are different and there are logistical problems, but it’s a possibility.
"The only difficulty is the field and it comes down to the grass – soccer is played on different grass to rugby league. It could certainly be attractive if we could work out how we could cater for the two fields on the same day, it may be something there is a will for.
“There are smarter minds than mine that can work out a way to do that.”
Ten years down the track, what seemed like a good idea at the time has never progressed beyond a blueprint that was long ago consigned to the too-hard basket.
Obviously there are myriad logistical challenges that would need to be unravelled.
There is the ground signage, the field markings, the goalposts, and of course corporate boxes and season-ticket seating arrangements.
But instead of immediately declaring it’s impractical and impossible, I’d rather consider what a unique opportunity it would be to create history and simultaneously promote both teams and the region in general.
Given Newcastle’s proud record of turning out in big numbers for major events, I have no doubt McDonald Jones Stadium would be bursting at the seams for both games.
Just imagine the publicity this would generate, both nationally and perhaps even abroad. It would be the perfect advertisement for our teams, our community, and our stadium.
Fans of Perth Glory, or Melbourne Storm, or North Queensland Cowboys might suddenly start checking their fixture lists, and booking flights to Newcastle for the next time their teams play here.
Moreover, there would potentially be some cross-pollination of supporters. Rugby league diehards who have never been to a Jets game might suddenly develop an interest in the round-ball code, and vice versa. A win-win for both clubs.
It would also be an opportunity to create a carnival atmosphere outside the stadium.
An intermission between the two games would naturally be required, as ground staff change the goalposts and markings, followed by the pre-match warm-up before the second fixture.
Why not convert part of the car park into a market-style precinct that features gourmet food and coffee outlets, along with temporary bars serving craft beer and Hunter Valley wines? Toss in a sideshow alley for the kids, and maybe some live music, and fans would be able to relax and refuel before part two of the double-header.
To entertain those who prefer to stay in the stadium, perhaps grand final replays could be shown on the big screens – the Jets at one end, the Knights at the other.
There would presumably be some juggling of members’ seats and corporate boxes, but surely nothing insurmountable.
The end result would be a landmark occasion. One of those rare events that people feel compelled to attend, if for no other reason than to say: “I was there.”
And it need not necessarily be a one-off. If it proved as successful as this columnist is suggesting, our two footballing flagships could make it an annual showpiece.
No doubt the governing bodies of both codes would be quick to find reasons why it’s not feasible.
I’d prefer to think Wests Group/Knights CEO Phil Gardner and his Jets counterpart, Lawrie McKinna, are can-do guys willing to think outside the square, and Newcastle City Council is always eager for tourism/marketing opportunities.
The weekend of April 6 (Jets v Glory) and April 7 (Knights v Broncos) could be easily re-scheduled.
Short notice? Who cares.
It’s time to move the goalposts, literally, and create something truly special.
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