Memories ... Leichhardt Oval was packed for the opening round of the season this year, but it has been suggested that Wests Tigers will abandon their spiritual home. Photo: Steve Christo
LEICHHARDT mayor Darcy Byrne has vowed to do all in his power - including a potential multimillion-dollar funding grant - to prevent the Wests Tigers abandoning their spiritual home at Leichhardt Oval.
Byrne on Monday will make contact with the Tigers after chief executive Stephen Humphreys yesterday told Fairfax Media the next season could well be the last time the Tigers play at the beloved suburban venue.
Byrne will put forward a case to play more, not fewer, games at Leichhardt, hoping to push the number of matches up from four to six each year.
''It would be a disaster if you had no more Tigers games at Leichhardt Oval,'' Byrne said. ''It would be a genuine tragedy for our local area and I'm not going to let that happen.
''Leichhardt Oval would lose its reason for being. You're talking about more than a century that this place has been at the very heart of our community. My old man wanted his ashes scattered at Leichhardt Oval, and he's not the only one. There are a lot of people like that. It's a place that is the very centre of what is special about living in the inner west. There's an enormous emotional significance for a huge number of local people.''
In a bid to save the ground from extinction, Byrne will put up a mayoral minute at the final council meeting of the year on Tuesday night, confident he'll receive the backing for a proposal to pump funds into the dilapidated ground.
In 2010 the federal government provided $3.5 million of funding to upgrade the ground's surface and the grandstand's corporate facilities.
The state government recently announced it would not be putting money into the refurbishment of suburban grounds, opting to maintain Allianz Stadium and ANZ Stadium, while leaving the door open for a potential new rectangular stadium in western Sydney.
Humphreys's main concern is that Leichhardt Oval doesn't provide spectators with a level of comfort and convenience that adheres with NRL standards.
But Byrne believes Humphreys has jumped the gun by labelling next year as potentially the ground's last season as an NRL venue and has urged the Tigers chief executive to listen to the supporters. ''Leichhardt Oval is the most popular and iconic rugby league venue in Australia,'' Byrne said.
''The idea that the Tigers should cease playing games there altogether is ludicrous. The four games played there at present is not enough. To be frank, the Tigers may have made the finals more often in recent years if they had played more games at their spiritual home.
''The club's members, fans and local residents overwhelmingly support more, not fewer, games being played at Leichhardt. The government, NRL and Wests Tigers need to listen to what the fans want and ensure that this famous ground is not abandoned. Council owns the ground and I will be inviting the club to sit down with me to discuss what is needed to keep the Tigers at Leichhardt.''