These are the unequivocal numbers that should have Manly-Warringah fans hanging their heads in shame. After all the shouting, complaining and excuses about why Manly fans won’t travel across the bridge for finals footy, these crowd figures still leave us with more questions than answers.
It’s the annual event as sure as death and taxes. Despite having one of the great rosters of the modern game and dominating the month of September for almost a decade, Sea Eagles supporters have once again been hammered in the media for their inability to leave the cosy confines of the North Shore to support their team which just so happens to boast Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Jamie Lyon, Brett Stewart, Steve Matai and Anthony Watmough.
In recent years, Manly has struggled to pull a crowd for playoff matches held away from Brookvale Oval, including 13,972 and 16,678 against North Queensland in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and 23,837 against fellow Sydney club Cronulla last season.
You can’t blame the NRL for sweating bullets prior to the Melbourne Storm versus Canterbury Bulldogs game last weekend, where a Storm victory would have seen a Manly-Melbourne showdown at Allianz Stadium – garnering a crowd turnout that would have undoubtedly embarrassed the game.
Yet there was a time when Manly fans did travel and support their side, whether the game was at Brookvale Oval or Allianz Stadium. But that place is a distant memory, a time when mobile phones were as big as a brick, the internet was in its infancy and the only tweeting came from little yellow birds.
That time was the 1990’s, when the P & O Manly Sea Eagles and then the Pepsi Sea Eagles spent more time at the Sydney Football Stadium in September than almost any other side.
Forget all those Sydney derbies against Canterbury, North Sydney and St George. Let’s talk about those lost, mythological semi-finals at the SFS against out of town clubs like the Canberra Raiders, Brisbane Broncos and Newcastle Knights.
In 1990, Manly defeated the Balmain Tigers in front of 30,965 fans in the opening week of the finals. You could have expected a drop in attendance for the following week’s match with the Brisbane Broncos. But there wasn’t. Amazingly, the crowd spiked to 31,424. The following season at the same time of the year, the SFS had 34,707 people inside the ground to see Manly face another out-of-town team in the Raiders. The 1993 and 1994 seasons saw the Eagles come up against the Broncos twice in finals footy. What do you think the figure was for these games, around the 20,000 mark perhaps? Think again, because in 1993 alone 38,432 supporters trekked to Moore Park, while there were 34,891 in 1994.
Manly battled Newcastle in some classics throughout the 1995-1997 period, which also saw a crowd of 38,874 supporters on hand to see them square off at the preliminary finals stage in 1995.
Forget ancient history. How about recent history?
In 2007 and 2008, there were over 30,000 people at Allianz to see Manly play the Cowboys and the New Zealand Warriors in consecutive years respectively.
Manly crowds against non-Sydney clubs in the ’90s at Allianz alone averaged a tick over 34,000.
Why have the Sea Eagles faithful all of a sudden decided that a trip into the city is too much hard work?
Have they been saturated with so much success over the years that they think they don’t need to leave their armchairs or the prehistoric amenities of Brookie?
Speaking prior to Manly’s qualifying final shocker against South Sydney, superstar five-eighth Kieran Foran told The Sydney Morning Herald that the burden of travel wasn’t fair to his team’s supporters.
“[The game against Souths] should be played at Brookie in my eyes. It just means our fans have got to travel further,” he said.
“But there is nothing we can do about it. We’ve just got to get on with it and hope that our fans travel out there with us and give us the support that we need.”
They’ll need all the help they can get because Manly have a date with Canterbury on Saturday night, and you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be a cavalcade of blue-and-white jumpers heading toward Allianz from Bankstown.
Once again Manly will be outnumbered and again the players will be doing it alone.
Perhaps it will take the Eagles going out in straight sets for their fans to see just how lucky they’ve been to see their side play so much finals footy.
What’s that old saying?
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?
Follow Commentary Box Sports on Social Media!