Memories of have-nots Newcastle move pioneer to open up
Thursday March 31, 2011
HE was just a face in the crowd. Sitting on his own, taking it all in.But of all the estimated 800 Newcastle Knights members and supporters at Nathan Tinkler's information meeting at Newcastle Panthers on Monday night, few would have had a better understanding of the disparity between rugby league's haves and have-nots than Allan Bell.Bell is one of the unsung heroes in the Newcastle Knights' history.When the club kicked off in 1988, former international Allan McMahon was their head coach and public face but behind the scenes Bell was McMahon's right-hand man.Bell, a former assistant coach to Warren Ryan at Newtown, filled the same role for McMahon and his successor, David Waite.When Waite parted company with the Knights at the end of 1994, Canberra's Tim Sheens was quick to tap into Bell's reservoir of knowledge.To this day, Sheens continues to employ Bell's expertise part-time.The game may have changed over the years but one thing remains constant.As Bell noted on Monday: "Warren Ryan said years ago, success is a combination of brains and money. If you look at the teams that have won competitions, they've tended to have plenty of asset backing."Those pioneering Newcastle Knights had the brains.Money was another matter entirely.Assets were a pipedream.All they had was the debt incurred when they converted the Newcastle International Sports Centre from an oval to a stadium."We had nothing," Bell recalled. "We'd be playing against Manly and we knew that someone like Michael O'Connor earned more than our whole backline."Likewise, the Knights had no amenities and lived a nomadic existence, training at venues from Nelson Bay to Dudley, depending on what grounds were available.For trips away they would stay in scout hall-type accommodation and do their own catering.They were a team of blue-collar battlers who constantly punched above their weight and the town loved them because of it.But at times they wondered whether their Cinderella story would have a fairytale finish."That was always dreamed about and discussed even in those days," Bell said."Kerry Packer spent a lot of time in the Upper Hunter and we used to think how good it would be to get him involved."Kerry Packer is dead and buried but in Tinkler the Knights have discovered his modern-day counterpart."The bottom line for me is that it [private ownership] is the right formula," Bell said."If they've got the money and it's run well, they'll be successful."
- November