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Saturday Serve

Knights' woes all too familiar in capital

First they go bust and then the love starts to flow - it's hard to resist the romance of reviving a dead sporting team in Canberra.

Their ashes are spread across the capital - the Comets, the Cannons, the Bushrangers, the Cosmos and the Arrows.

But as the Canberra Knights fight for an ice-hockey resurrection and chase $50,000 in public support, do thoughts of a nostalgic revival cloud the reality?

The walking dead in the capital's sporting graveyard have always refused to give up hope of one day being brought back to life.

The Knights have until Monday to prove to officials they are financially stable and can compete in the Australian Ice Hockey League this year. But are we dreaming big? Or will Canberra jump on board - through the good and bad times - to avoid the sports cemetery.

I've never been to a Knights game. I know only three people who have been to the Phillip ice rink to watch the Knights toil away in the national league.


You wouldn't know it given the support the Knights have had since announcing their demise.

Stories on their situation have rated highly on The Canberra Times website and I'm told fans would line up for 45 minutes before the start of games just to get a ticket to their games last season.

In just three days, the Knights were boosted by donations of close to $10,000, including one anonymous $5000 cheque.

It's as if money is appearing like magic. Where was it when the Knights players were paying their registration fees and airport transfers to games around Australia?

Simple - if you're a team in the capital you either need to win or be on the brink of disappearing before the support starts to build.

News of a potential Canberra Cannons NBL comeback had the capital's basketball community abuzz with excitement.

People haven't forgotten that the Cannons collapsed in 2003. They had financial woes, battled with small crowds and struggled with sponsorship. There were the glory years as well - the championships and the sold-out Palace to watch superstars of the game.

But when it comes to a potential comeback, we remember the good times - the days when Herb ''The Snake'' McEachin would get free McDonald's because he played for the Cannons and would sign so many autographs his ice-cream would melt.

At the ACT Brumbies game a week ago - a big Australian conference derby with the Queensland Reds - just 13,670 fans turned up.

It was a dismal turnout for the first match in Canberra since the Brumbies made the Super Rugby final last season.

Officials were hoping for a crowd closer to 17,000. The real test will come when the Brumbies play traditional arch rivals the NSW Waratahs on March 15. If they don't get almost 20,000 fans for the ACT-NSW battle, crowds this season could be a disaster.

The Brumbies run on a tight budget and admitted they were almost broke last year.

Their first home semi-final since 2004 attracted just 13,000.

But not even an outstanding last season, warm weather, an Australian rival and a club legend, Stephen Larkham, returning as coach, could fill the stands for the Reds clash.

In the NRL, the Canberra Raiders have one of the lowest memberships in top-level league.

Premiership-winning halfback Ricky Stuart has taken the coaching reins, but the fans will vote with their feet.

The Green Machine has a hardcore following of about 7000 fans. But extending their reach beyond that has become a stumbling block.

Canberra needs winning teams to draw crowds. Big crowds.

The Knights have until Monday to prove they are financially viable, they can field a competitive team and that they have an agreement to train and play at a rink.

They might get their dream figure of $50,000, but if they want to hang around, they need that sort of money every year.

It's impossible to compare the Knights with the Raiders and the Brumbies.

For starters, the Knights players have to pay a $750 registration fee for their season. That's right, they pay to play.

But the issue of defunct Canberra sporting teams runs deeper than the Knights, the Cannons and the National Soccer League reject Cosmos.

Maybe we take teams for granted.

Canberra pride kicks in about the same time teams are getting kicked out or killed off. Or when they're in the finals.

The Knights are one of Canberra's longest-running national sport teams.

They started in 1981 and while their success has been limited, they've been involved in every season.

Their plan to raise funds for this season is audacious, but it's possible.

But sustaining that support beyond the nostalgia and romance this season will be the biggest hurdle.