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Needs more cheer

On Sunday night, I set off to ANZ Stadium for the annual pre-season fixture, the Charity Shield, played between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and St George Illawarra Dragons. It was a pretty alright game for a trial, with the Dragons proving to be far too strong in the end, finishing up victors 32-10.

As the sides made their way out onto the pitch, I noticed something. Lining each side of the main tunnel was a group of women, each holding what I could make out to be balls of streamers, or something similar. I was initially confused and greatly concerned.

“Who are these women, and why are they here, holding those?!” I began to ask. Thankfully, a wise fan of many years was sitting nearby. He knew who they were, and why they were there. He told me they are ‘cheerleaders’, and much like their title suggests, their purpose at the ground is to lead the crowd in celebration after their team scores a try or needs encouraging. He also said they dance and occasionally do flips.

“Well, they sound great, but they’re supporting the Dragons… Why don’t we have any?” I questioned further. He explained to me how they were banished from the club, to be replaced by a team of drummers. The drum band soon met the same fate, replaced by music and video packages on the big screen. I thanked him for his time, and we continued watching the game.

——-

OK, so that series of events may or may not have taken place, but at least part of that was true. I was at the Charity Shield. That was the full time score. And, most importantly (to this blog post at least), I really noticed the absence of the South Sydney cheerleaders.

The cheerleaders’ services were no longer required as of season 2007. In an article from the time, Souths co-owner Russell Crowe describes why the decision was made:

“Our focus is to re-establish rugby league and women.

“The focus on game day should be a positive experience for the crowd.

“We feel they (cheerleaders) made a lot of people uncomfortable.

“We examined game day and wanted to contemporise and make the focus football…”

Let me just get one thing out of the way here. This is no way intended to be an attack on Crowe himself or anyone at the club. I’m simply going to be reflecting on my own experiences, and what I’ve observed at games.

So, the cheerleaders were axed and replaced with drummers, right? They were soon given the flick as well, and we currently have videos and music playing instead. The decision to replace the cheerleaders seemed to be based around the observation that they made everyone attending games feel “uncomfortable”. While I do not doubt that there are some who may feel such a way, from what I’ve read and seen with my own eyes, there seems to be many who have no problem whatsoever with cheerleaders, and would like to see them return. Women in particular were mentioned as those who would rather be without. From what I saw, quite the opposite. A little girl sitting a row in front of me (who was actually real, as opposed the man mentioned in the opening) asked her Mum why St George Illawarra had cheerleaders, and Souths did not. She said they looked “pretty” and really seemed to enjoy them on the sideline. An uncomfortable moment? Not from what I could tell.

Male fans? Since when have males been uncomfortable around cheerleaders? They’re professional dancers. Some Souths fans sitting at ground level seemed quite enthusiastic- the lads even stopped the Dragons girls to get a picture with them. See, cheerleaders even break down the divisions between opposing fans! Is there anything they can’t do?

In all seriousness though, the St George cheerleaders added something to the game. The fans went nuts every time their team scored (remember, this is just a trial game). The giant flag was waved, and the girls got up and did their thing. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it was more of a spectacle with them there.

I propose we bring back the Souths cheerleaders- after all, poor Reggie Rabbit has been whipping up support from the crowd since 1952, someone needs to give that guy a hand!

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