While the world continues the search for missing Malaysian Air Flight MH370, The Public Apology is (typically) concerned with an irrelevant, esoteric search for the most deliciously ironic rugby league jersey of all time.
And much like the search for the missing airplane, TPA’s more trivial quest will span the four corners of the world, but instead of searching for a black box, we are searching in a black box – or, rather, inside every op-shop bin and grandparents’ closet – for that game-worn edition of the Western Reds jersey with ‘MacKay 13’ on the back.
An instant hit
Without trying to spoil the fun of this search so soon after it started, I am somewhat afraid to report that I may have already found the winner. And it’s in my closet.
The jersey in question is a 1995-96 Sydney Tigers jersey, and it ticks a number of boxes in the ironic stakes.
Firstly, the jersey was worn by the Tigers during arguably their leanest, most dire years. And for a club like Balmain which is always on the cusp of backruptcy or being punted to Brisbane, that’s a pretty big statement.
For those old enough to remember/young enough to use Wikipedia, 1995 and 1996 were the seasons where the Balmain Tigers changed their name to the Sydney Tigers and played their home games out of Parramatta Stadium. They did so in order to grow their geographical market share and get a better foothold into the western Sydney fanbase.
This plan was clearly flawed and over the two seasons only 6,565 people, on average, attended home games in Parramatta. It was a spectacular failure, but it happened during the height of the Super League wars, so it probably wouldn’t crack the top-10 of stupidest decisions made by rugby league adminstrators during that era.
Pretty much everything in the 90s was extreme
As part of the re-branding and re-location, the Tigers hierarchy made a slight change to the team’s traditional black and gold colours. As was the style at the time, they decided to add purple into the mix. Grimace from McDonald’s purple.
They did this because black and gold are the traditional colours of tigers – and because purple represents…. the future? Western Sydney? The Sydney Kings? I don’t know. It really makes no sense.
As a result of the new addition to the club’s colours, the Tigers’ jersey took on a dashing, thin, almost imperceptible purple horizontal stripe. For added measure, thick stripes of white were also added to the jersey. The end result was equal parts beautiful, ugly and awkward – kind of like the game of rugby league itself during these years.
As a wanker with a love of all things ironic, I searched far and wide for a replica Sydney Tigers jersey. It was not easy. It seems most fans had never purchased the jersey either in protest of the name change, or in protest of the horrendous purple stripe. Those who did buy it probably burnt their jerseys in order to banish the terrible memories of the Sydney Tigers.
Alas, after years of searching I finally found one on ebay, and $80 and a bidding frenzy later, I was the proud owner of a Sydney Tigers jersey. At first I was overjoyed that my search had finally come to an end – I would now get begrudging respect from other fans on the hill at Leichhardt Oval, for I would have the most deliciously ironic jersey in the ground! But after inspecting the jersey closely, I noticed a few red herrings.
Jersey seen here at rugby league networking function
While the jersey is most certainly authentic, with all the accoutrements – including the Triple M badge on the sleeve – it falls down in one major area. The club crest on the heart of the jersey is that of Balmain Tigers, and on the right side is the NSWRL logo.
So what does this mean for my jersey? Is it yet another faux-retro jersey, albeit a very convincing fraud? Or is it the jersey used by the Premier League Balmain Tigers side from the mid-90s era, and therefore not a first-grade jersey?
How could it ever fail?
I don’t know the answer, and I probably will never know. Is this the most deliciously ironic jersey of all time? Or is it a bastard child that does not deserve its emotionally distant father’s attention? You decide.
By Ben Shine