What do we want? Old footy ground names. When do we want it? Now!

It’s an embarrassing thing to confess. First week of January and Cricket Australia was still days away from giving up the rest of the summer to rugby codes to the power of seven, nine and 10. Six-hole golf and four-game tennis were light bulbs yet to go off. Football was being played around the country, but fans that week were workshopping their next brilliant tifo​. It was Test cricket’s time to shine.
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And yet, entering the Sydney Cricket Ground precinct, Fairfax Media’s legs were drawing it inexorably towards the footy stadium. The Philip Cox-designed roof, the phantom sniff of liniment, the ghosts of Chicka Ferguson and Joey Johns and the Mark Coyne try. Or just a bog-standard Sunday afternoon in winter, sitting in the rain with both of Easts’ fans. The siren song of rugby league! Fairfax Media’s brain was saying one thing, but the legs were doing another.

As an impulse to civil disobedience, the moment passed. Ultimately, the visceral hunger for rugby league is not satisfied by trying to break into an empty stadium. Nor is it quite satisfied by the Auckland Nines, the Indigenous All Stars Game or the Charity Shield. Nor – and this is the curious part – is it really satisfied by the start of the season proper, or the playing of that season.

Taunted and tantalised, league hunger is sometimes only satisfied in that moment after a grand final when the last minute of the season has been the most gut-wrenching minute of anything Fairfax Media has ever seen. And then the hunger starts up again …

But if Fairfax Media had to toe the line and stay with the cricket, there was another act of personal civil disobedience that would have to do. The cricket was at the Sydney Cricket Ground: Sydney’s big ground where cricket is played. Easy to understand. Right next to it is a big ground where football is played, and Fairfax Media refuses to call the sister ground anything other than the footy stadium.

Or SFS in a nod to modernity. Or Sydney Sports Ground when Fairfax Media is feeling ornery. Whatever used-car dealer or major bank’s insurance division has the naming rights to it now, it was not called Whatsie Fluffers Field when Chicka stepped, stepped again, and stepped a third defender to tie the 1989 grand final. It was not called Punters’ Park when Coyne scored that try in the 1994 Origin. It was the SFS, and in Fairfax Media’s heart it remains sacred ground. It’s the Sydney Sports Ground, where Laurie Monaghan kicked that field goal from the sideline to sink mighty Wales.

When names disappear, so does the past. If the past is not another country and not even the past, then nor are the true names of football grounds. It is not just history that is flogged off when a sponsor buys naming rights to a ground; it is the present, too, because in sport, where so many of us live in the past, there is no difference.

More and more, that humble fan is the custodian of that past-in-the-present, because every other interest is ganging up against us. T.G. Millner Field, site of the immortal “Up The Jumper” try by NSW Country in 1975 amongst a zillion blood-soaked Saturday afternoons, is being sold off. It’s bad enough when the actual territory passes into the hands of property developers, but the so-called compromise of flogging naming rights sales is little better.

For round one of this year’s NRL competition, Parramatta will be visiting Manly at a place that sounds like a cross between a theme park, a bingo hall and a 1920s Los Angeles land speculation. For the rest of us, it’s Brookvale Oval, aka Brookie. The jokes that will stem from Brookie’s new name, which Fairfax Media refuses to utter, are predictable. Like Brookie’s most recent nickname – “The Fortress”, in direct contradiction of the Sea Eagles’ porous recent record there – the new name is not a masterpiece of irony (for which rugby league is little known), but an act of soulless expediency (with which rugby league is synonymous).

For fellow conscientious objectors, here is a guide to the real names of other NRL grounds:

Cronulla: Endeavour Field or, if you must, Shark Park.

Penrith: Penrith Park or, if you must, Panthers Stadium.

Parramatta: Parramatta Stadium, funeral pyre of Cumberland Oval.

Canberra: Bruce Stadium.

Brisbane: Lang Park.

South Sydney, Canterbury, St George-Illawarra, Wests-Balmain: Olympic Stadium, or just Homebush, albeit risking confusion about what train station to get off at.

Newcastle: Hunter International Sports Centre.

Eastern Suburbs: Footy Stadium, SFS or Sydney Sports Ground.

Auckland: Mount Smart Stadium.

Melbourne, North Queensland, Gold Coast: Don’t know, let them decide.

Returning to grounds their true, old-school names is not just a matter of giving voice to your inner curmudgeon. Or, in Fairfax Media’s case, their outer curmudgeon. The footy ground is a battleground, in the struggle between communities and corporations, and it needs the fans’ voices. Or, to be precise, their silence.

There is an alternative view: that he who pays the piper calls the tune, and if someone stumps up the money they can call whatever they want whatever they like. It’s not culture, it’s commerce.

But not even the corporations, who use the language of community and people, will own up to that brute fact. They can only feel good by disguising it. They haven’t bought out team names that are off limits in Australia, if not elsewhere. Fairfax Media can remember, as a child, imagining the exotic glamour of the great Zaheer Abbas amassing runs for Pakistan International Airways against the poor bowlers of Habib Bank in domestic cricket.

You could even see Zaheer in a PIA pilot’s uniform. Companies owning and naming cricket teams seemed less of a concern than the possibility that Zaheer, with his bulletproof-thickness glasses, could have passed the seeing test to fly a passenger aircraft. It seemed snazzy and jetset in those days, but eventually, the Indian Premier League having teams named after a whiskey and a newspaper took the gloss off, and made the whole racket as classy as Geelong footballer Garry Hocking renaming himself as cat food.

Grounds have never been offered the same protection as clubs and players, which, after all, instead of selling their names to corporations, turn themselves into corporations. People can look after themselves. Why should the turf, the soil, the sacred earth, have no right of self-defence?

Only because it, unlike the clubs and the individuals, has no voice? It’s up to the fan to take up the cause of that voiceless soil, and call it by its true name. Fairfax Media – oh hell, you see how annoying it is for the piper to take the name of he who pays – I reject the corporate dispossession of our land and refuse to yield.

Someone please plant me a gum tree on T.G. Millner so that I may chain myself to it. And someone please link arms with me and march on Brookvale where we can, in the spirit of Reagan’s plea to Gorbachev, “Tear down that sign”.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.