TWO rugby league players of days gone by are sad to see the demise of the home of the sport – Carlaw Park.TWO rugby league players of days gone by are sad to see the demise of the home of the sport – Carlaw Park.
As the demolition team tears down the old stand, ex Kiwi Neville Ramsay and club player Karl Andersen reminisce about the game they love and its heyday at Stanley St.
Before the wreckers moved in, the 85-year-old grandstand was a metre-high in weeds, broken glass, graffiti and home to some of Auckland’s impoverished population. It was a sad end to a once proud club grounds, says Neville.
Carlaw Park stadium was built in 1916 and became the home of Auckland Rugby League from 1921. It held Rugby World Cups and large union stop-work meetings before being closed in 2002 for health and safety reasons.
It was briefly considered as a possible venue for the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, but now the property developers are moving in and the site will become a retirement village, hotel, carpark and commercial buildings.
Neville says the grounds most popular days were during Fox Memorial club games. This was the major tournament for club league. “The stands would be packed with thousands just turning up for the club semi-finals.”
Now working as a recycler at Envirowaste, Neville played a short stint with the Kiwis before going overseas to play professionally with several teams in England. When he returned in the late 1990’s everything had changed and the Warriors had just been established.
He still plays club league for Northcote, but says while the more popular games used to get 7,000 spectators you’d only get 200-300 today. “In those days when I played for City Newton, there would be 6,000 to see first grade league. It used to be absolutely packed.”
He believes professionalism has taken the focus
away from clubs. “Everyone’s working too much and the interest just isn’t there as much anymore. You don’t have to come down to the game any more because you can see it on TV.
NDU Transport/Energy/Stores secretary Karl Andersen played rugby league at Carlaw Park every Saturday and Sunday for 20 years.
He says participation in league and other sports and the difficulty in getting coaches is because of the advent of the seven-day working week.
“When I was a kid playing league everyone’s mums and dad were there because hardly anyone worked weekends, but now lots of people have to. It’s hard to get referees and coaches and kids drop out because they’ve got to work at a certain age.”
Neville played his first Auckland game at Carlaw
Park in the 1980’s when he played with Carlton Fields, the Bells and Wrights in the Manukau Magpies. The Kiwi trials were also held there.
“Many league players had their best games of their careers against Australia and England at the park. The highlight of my career was at Carlaw Park when we were the first provincial Auckland team to ever beat the Aussies.”
He is nostalgic for the atmosphere generated at the stadium. “The atmosphere was electric for those on and off field because the field was close to the stand. You could almost tackle the crowd. Mt Smart doesn’t even compare.”
Karl’s father, the late Bill Andersen, who was the president of the NDU was also the president of the City-Newton league club.
Bill was an advocate for keeping Carlaw Park as the home of rugby league and opposed the privatisation of the Warriors.
Karl says league was always a more working class game with its roots in the mining towns in the north of England. “Rugby was always for King’s College. They wouldn’t have a league team.”
Karl says league and unions have a long history together. “Dad had contacts with rugby league and had been involved with the sport all his life. He knew a lot of people there. It played a part in the use of the stands and fields for union meetings.” As big stop work meetings became a thing of the past Carlaw Park was used less and less by unions.
The union movement and rugby league had a lot in common in days gone by. A lot of unionists were involved in league, says Karl. “In the old days there used to be games between different organisations, like the old city council. We had a league team that used to play the wharfies and a lot of unions had teams.”
Karl says the connection between unions and rugby league in Australia remains strong.
The Construction, Forestry, Manufacturing and Energy Union (CFMEU) recently became the major sponsor of the Canberra Raiders. Karl says that it isn’t uncommon for rugby league presidents to support union disputes and even join picket lines.
By Allison and Simon Oosterman