TERRY Rowney is many things but marriage counsellor isn't on his CV, at least not officially. But the 70-year-old businessman, entrepreneur and fulltime Newtown Jets spruiker can claim partial credit for keeping the inner west's divorce rate down.
"This bloke in his 30s comes up to me at a game and says, 'you guys saved my marriage'," Rowney recalled. "I said 'what do you mean we saved your marriage?'
"He tells me 15 bucks gets him into Henson Park where he can let the kids run around like lunatics on the hill while he watches the footy and has a beer and sausage sanga. His mate does the same and at the end of the day they take the kids back to the in-laws fully worn out, throws them in the bath, grabs their wives and goes out to a local pub or restaurant.
"The Jets apparently saved his marriage."
The old Bluebags have rescued more than the odd marriage since forming in 1908 inside the Newtown Town Hall, showing a refusal to quit when the going gets tough. As the club spells out in its official history: "From the very beginning, Newtown became noted for its gritty, never-say-die spirit, and the ability to make the best of limited financial resources.
"Located in a rock-solid working-class district, Newtown was seen as the definitive battlers' team, and one associated with the best fighting qualities inherent in the Australian character."
That fighting spirit has never been more evident than in the past 30 years as the Jets, kicked out of the old NSWRL premiership in 1983, sought to re-invent themselves in rugby league's lower reaches, levels away from the prestige and money of the NRL.
They simply refused to go away, much to the chagrin of league officials of the day.
Men like Rowney, Barry Vining, ad man John Singleton, Frank Farrington, Jeff Gabriel, Col Murphy, Barry Cotter, current coach Greg Matterson and CEO Stuart McCarthy fought the good fight to ensure the game's oldest club would not fade from view.
"I love the joint to death and hate persecution and injustice. I couldn't give up on them ... none of us could," Rowney, a club director, explained. "Barry Vining played good cop and I played bad cop as we took on the authorities and many people put in many, many hours to ensure the flame kept flickering.
"A few of those old rugby league officials will come to my funeral just to make sure I'm dead."
The Jets fought for reinstatement for seven long years, finally receiving the green-light to return via the third-tier Metropolitan Cup in 1990. It would take a further 10 years before the men in blue made it to what is now known as the NSW Cup, one tier below the NRL.
"The first game we played [at Henson Park] - I think we played the Warriors - I'm standing next to the great [former player and coach] 'Chicka' Moore and I said, 'what have we done? We've come back here and you and I represent 20 per cent of the crowd. There's no-one here'."
How times have changed.
Newtown's home crowds occasionally dwarf the turn-up at NRL games, although the official attendance will always be announced as 8972 in reference to the number of people who watched the Jets' last NSWRL game in 1983.
Asked how this old school club is winning over a new generation of supporters, McCarthy said: "By being completely respectful to our history and tradition.
"It happened pretty organically as our 'new world' followers appreciate that the Henson Park game day experience is different to what you get at NRL level ... it's old school. They embrace and respect our history as a foundation club of the game. And while we endeavour to be a very good professional, second-tier rugby league club - and provide the best environment possible for our contracted players and those we get back from our NRL partners Cronulla - there's also a degree of self-deprecation where we also try to have some fun.
"We have footy soul and are still the people's club."
It may be one of Australia's most bohemian suburbs, but you still see plenty of Newtown's famous royal blue walking among the eclectic mix of cafes, multicultural restaurants, and independent boutiques situated a street or two away from the area's treasured terraced houses.
And chances are they picked up their supporters' gear from Newtown Jets Clothing (NJC), the family business run by the Rowney clan out of a warehouse in Marrickville's Carrington Road.
Daughter Elise and son Michael head-up the day-to-day operation, with Terry splitting his time between the inner west and business interests in NSW's central west. Elise remembers her father setting up clothes racks and flat tables full of Newtown gear on the footpath of busy King Street when she was at school. Motorists and truckies would toot or shout their encouragement, many finding a parking spot up the road to walk back and purchase a T-shirt, jersey or cap.
"When I was younger I used to avoid walking past it. I think they thought he [Terry] was some sort of crazy lunatic," Elise laughed. "He used to say it is the best portable billboard in Sydney. It tells people we are still alive. It was a big talking point in the area and for Dad I think it was a form of meditation. He's never happier than when he's talking about the Jets. It's a club that runs off that sort of passion, thanks to a fantastic team of volunteers."
NJC sells hundreds of jerseys, caps and T-shirts a year, catering to fans all around the world.
"I'll never forget Singo saying the most important thing is awareness, awareness, awareness," Terry said. "The jersey colour was the big one. Does Coca-Cola change its colours? Does McDonald's change its colours? No.
"You can be anywhere and people instantly recognise the blue of Newtown. People take great pride in wearing that jersey or T-shirt."
Newtown has had its fair share of characters over the years, stretching right back to the early days of last century. Some have enjoyed, shall we say, very colourful pasts. Today, the Jets fraternity is an odd mix of old-school Sydney types, inner west trendies and young working families. On the surface, it shouldn't work.
But it does.
The flock gathers on match days at Henson Park, where you can still drive your car up to the fence if you get in early enough or spread a blanket out on the vast hill. There's Mr Whippy vans, jumping castles and the enthusiastic Newtown mascot Jetman (think Duffman from The Simpsons) to entertain the kids, while the oldies can tuck into craft and domestic beer, barista-made coffee and a combination of traditional footy food and inner west delicacies.
Witty ground announcer John Lynch whips up enthusiasm from his microphone high up in the quaint King George V grandstand, while Jets tragic John Trad remains at the ready to ride his penny farthing - adorned with Newtown flags - around Henson's bike track each time the home side scores a try. Behind the scenes, dedicated media man Glen "Bumper" Dwyer is compiling match reports to keep the outside world updated on the Jets' progress.
Our players also embrace our fans on the hill after every game - win, lose or draw.- Stuart McCarthy
There are match-day imperfections but that only adds to the experience as fans are transported back to simpler times.
"It's a throwback to yesteryear," McCarthy declared. "It's $15 entry, kids under-16 are free, beverage and food prices are as low as we can afford them and you can bring your dog (as long as it's on a leash), park your car inside the ground and sit on the greatest hill of any sporting venue in Sydney (possibly the world?!).
"There's free entertainment for the kids and we have welcomed everyone onto the field to kick the footy at half-time and post-game since the early 2000s, long before it's become fashionable at some NRL and other sporting venues.
"Our players also embrace our fans on the hill after every game - win, lose or draw."
The Beer Footy Food Festival is the big day, a save-the-date affair for anyone connected to the Jets. The event combines the best of the inner west's food, beer and wine with off-field entertainment. The Jets provide the on-field action.
The BFFF was forced off the itinerary for two years due to COVID, but has returned in 2022 with two events, the second of which takes place on July 30 when Newtown host South Sydney. A crowd of around 10,000 is expected.
Matt Rule, whose company Music and Booze Co runs the BFFF in conjunction with the Jets, believes the two parties were made for each other. "You've got an original rugby league club, a ground that really lends itself to an event like this and Sydney's inner west is Australia's capital for craft brewing," he said. "It's a day that appeals to everyone."
You can have all the craft beer, bratwurst and jumping castles you like - but if you're not winning footy games then interest in a footy club can quickly wane.
Newtown sets out each season with two major goals: one is to compete for the NSW Cup premiership and two is to provide a strong base for NRL feeder club Cronulla. The Jets constantly have players arriving and departing from the full-time set-up at the Sharks and it's left to coach Greg Matterson to somehow pull it all together.
He's done a great job over the past 15 years, leading the club to two NSW Cup titles and several grand finals.
I definitely know the responsibility that comes with this role and the players definitely know they are playing for a famous old club- Greg Matterson
"We take a professional approach into what is a semi-professional environment," Matterson said. "We've got blokes who will be out scaffolding all day and then come to training for two or three hours and the coaches are also expected to put in similar hours to an NRL coach while also working during the day.
"Probably the thing that gives me the most pride is if you watch our games, it's impossible to tell the difference between our part-time players and our fulltime players."
The Jets sit second on the NSW Cup table with six rounds to go and are considered a genuine premiership threat. Matterson feels the expectation and pressure that comes with leading such a famous club.
"Everyone loves a winner. The beer tastes a lot better after a game for one thing," he laughed. "I definitely know the responsibility that comes with this role and the players definitely know they are playing for a famous old club. You are not going to win every week but all we demand is that when they pull on that blue jersey, they have a 100 per cent dig."
Newtown people don't know any other way.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is in no hurry to upgrade his Newtown Jets jumper made famous in an early morning photo days after his election win. Mr Albanese was snapped collecting the papers from the front of his Marrickville home, dressed in Newtown's famous blue strip complete with rabbit print pyjamas and Ugg boots.
Far from being embarrassed by his breakfast-time attire, the PM happily embraced the look.
Asked by the Inner West Review if we could expect further showings of support for his second favourite footy team, Albo told us: "Absolutely. It was a very old Newtown Jets jumper and I have a cap to match. I'm sure you'll catch me in one or both again soon."
Unlike the Prime Minister he replaced, no-one has ever questioned Mr Albanese's rugby league bona fides. He's a diehard Rabbitohs fan but spent plenty of time at Henson Park as he was growing up in Sydney's inner west before becoming the local member for Grayndler.
"I didn't miss many Newtown v South Sydney games on the hill at Henson Park," he said. "One of the great experiences was playing school and junior football at Henson Park. This ground has been a part of inner west life and culture for almost 80 years.
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"Hundreds of people fit into the King George V stand and there were always thousands standing around or sitting on the grass watching rugby league when the Jets had a home game.
"They are a part of the history of Newtown and the games at historic Henson Park have become a community gathering place. For many inner west kids, rolling down the grass hill is a rite of passage."
Time is running out on season 2022 - and the Prime Minister's schedule is tight - but Mr Albanese hopes to be walking, not rolling, onto that hill "whenever possible".
"Heading to Henson Park for a game is its own reward," he said. "There's an unmatched energy on game day as 8972 people gather to share a beer and a sausage sizzle and watch the Jets play.
"The Jets have always been more than a team to our community."
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