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The Long and winding road back to Belmore

By Luke Brailey
Back to Belmore Inc. President

April 13, 2009

Meeting of the minds: Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg (left) and Back to Belmore Inc. President Luke Brailey (right)

"It is not possible [to return to Belmore] even if we wanted to - which we don't"
–Malcolm Noad, former Bulldogs CEO [The Torch; November 2 2005] 

"At the moment we are focused on returning our full-time training and offices to Belmore. That could happen in time for the 2010 pre-season. We'd love to get to the stage where there's enough funding to redevelop Belmore to play a trial match and then, possibly, a couple of NRL games down the track."
–Todd Greenberg, Bulldogs CEO [The Daily Telegraph, April 10 2009]

Two blokes, two very different goals. Same issue, different positions. How can that be? After almost 4 years of heavy campaigning, Back to Belmore is finally on track. By the beginning of 2010, Bulldogs' administration and training facilities could be moved back to its rightful home, Belmore Sports Ground. From 2015, the year of the Bulldogs' 80th Anniversary, our spiritual kennel could resume hosting NRL matches again for the first time in the new millennium. With the help of Back to Belmore Inc., Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg is the visionary behind this push. He is the man I believe understands the fans, understands the club and most importantly understands tradition.

In a recent meeting I had with Mr Greenberg, we had a 'meeting of the minds' with a view of working together constructively to forge strong and workable solutions for Belmore Sports Ground. For once we had a breakthrough, someone who would listen and understand, take note and put to action the desires of not only Back to Belmore but the Bulldogs' support base. After our meeting, Mr Greenberg pushed our desires upon the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and finally we now have the beginnings of what could possibly be a dream return to our spiritual homeground.

If the Bulldogs were to have completely abandoned Belmore because the football club administration and supporters believed we would've been better off at Homebush as a consequence, then so be it. That wouldn't have been a judgement that I would've advocated or that I believed on a proper analysis of the arguments should've been accepted. However, it would've at least had the merit of a decision taken for the right reason.

According to a Daily Telegraph online poll, a whopping 91% of respondents believed the Bulldogs should go back to Belmore. I believe that this question is not difficult for people because most Bulldogs' fans who think about it immediately support Belmore because it comes from their sentiment, their background, their views of the future of the Bulldogs, their loyalties and their aspirations for the club.

Back to Belmore Inc. strongly supports maintaining the historic links with our spiritual kennel; it has served us well in the past and has provided a great deal of stability for the Bulldogs over seven decades. That being said, it does not cut across the need for the Bulldogs to greatly broaden its appeal outside of its traditional support base. However, if we are to sever ties with the Canterbury-Bankstown district because we misguidedly think it will broaden our support base, we will not only be mistaken but our decision will be regarded with disdain and contempt by rugby league supporters and other clubs in the NRL.

As a Bulldogs supporter, I totally accepted and respected the right of fellow Bulldogs supporters to advocate a move to Homebush. However, their advocacy should've been upon the basis that the football club would've been better off by severing our ties with Belmore. I fully accept that a respectable intellectual and emotional case can be made for staging certain matches at Homebush. However, the anti-Belmore support base who advocated a total abandonment of our spiritual home shouldn't have been allowed to escape with the furphy that the Bulldogs have outgrown Belmore. Clearly, they have not. The Bulldogs should be proud to be associated with the Canterbury-Bankstown area.

So why couldn't Mr Greenberg's dream materialise in Mr Noad's mind? Which numbers and figures couldn't quite fit under the Noad regime, which seem fairly simplistic in the present? The way in which Malcolm Noad went about relocating the club to Homebush without consultation was unsavoury.

The previous administration chose not to act on Belmore Sports Ground, they were “very quick to dismiss the attempt to look at every opportunity to restore Belmore Sportsground to an acceptable level to still hold games and remain a fulltime presence at Belmore,” revealed a former Bulldogs employee. “I am well aware Belmore Sportsground is in an awful condition but when you look at Kogarah Oval (OKI), Leichhardt Oval, WIN Stadium etc. one should be prepared to fight for funding for Belmore Sportsground. These grounds were in the same position as Belmore and their clubs all fought hard to save their existence.”

While other NRL clubs fought tooth and nail to have grants approved to upgrade their home grounds, the recalcitrant Noad administration felt it quite acceptable to let the issue slide past. Upgrading the Bulldogs' spiritual home ground issue was shamelessly relegated to the too-hard basket, the Bulldogs' tradition thrown into the 'who cares' basket. It was so much simpler for Noad to step on toes, to use his business prowess to sign a 15-year deal with the Homebush venue at the expense of every blue-and-white-blooded supporter. The most appalling thing is that his strategy worked, it was easy for his closest colleagues to say 'yes', bereft of any free-thinking or problem solving.

The former administration certainly missed the 'Belmore' train. They stubbornly allowed their opposition to the concept of the Bulldogs returning to their spiritual homeground to become so entrenched that to change position probably would've provoked suspicion among ‘Doggies supporters. Evidently, the Belmore debate has now well and truly moved on, leaving the deposed mob behind. It has become clear that they have little relevance, except in a negative sense, to one of the most important issues facing the Bulldogs.

Those who wanted the Belmore issue dealt with now acknowledge that it would not happen while Noad was CEO. The former administration was a roadblock to progress on Belmore. They needed to be tossed out before anything significant could take place. Will Malcolm Noad ever come to regret missing the opportunity to be the 'top dog' who brought the Bulldogs back to Belmore? Will he also regret his failure to take action on Belmore?

New Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg has made a significant jump forward; progress finally in the right direction. In the not-too-distant future, we can all once again do what we'd done for decades, taking that stroll through the Cotter Entrance to the western turnstiles, just the way it is supposed to be. Kids and aspiring rugby league players could once again learn the Bulldogs' spirit at Belmore Sports Ground.

However, until at least 2015, Back to Belmore will not rest. Unfortunately, just as Noad's nightmare turned into Todd Greenberg's dream, everything can still turn sour. It is Back to Belmore Inc.'s prerogative to ensure that these early steps are not just faint words, empty rhetoric or political point scoring. We are determined that these are the first baby steps to a prolonged and sustained stay at Belmore Sports Ground for the Bulldogs' NRL team.

Back to Belmore is truly committed to staying in contact with the Bulldogs' administration team to keep up to date with progress. The Back to Belmore committee and the Bulldogs' administration clearly share a deep commitment to returning to Belmore. From this basis, I am truly confident that my committee and I will enjoy a friendly and warm co-operation in our relationship with Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg and his team. It is a source of confidence and optimism that we will be able to discuss the various issues surrounding Belmore Sports Ground and the many matters of common interest and importance to the Bulldogs and all its supporters on the basis of close and personal dialogue and consultation that exists between us. Our committee looks forward to working constructively with Mr Greenberg and the Bulldogs in the interests of the club, its supporters and our spiritual kennel.

On behalf of the Back to Belmore Inc. committee, I want to thank the many supporters and volunteers of the Back to Belmore movement for your tireless work and backing over the past four years. The cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die. However, we can't let the dog off the leash just yet; we are only 5 minutes into the first half and this game is still far from over.

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