By MITCHELL DALE
SAWTELL Panthers rugby league club officials have gone to extraordinary lengths to eliminate the yobbo factor from Rex Hardaker Oval this season.
The club is desperate to ensure the violent crowd behaviour which marred the end of last season's Group 2 preliminary final at Rex Hardaker Oval will not occur again.
In an effort to make the Panthers' home ground as safe as possible for all footy fans, the club has enforced official conditions of entry for Rex Hardaker Oval and has taken the unprecedented step of employing crowd control staff.
The Panthers had little option but to enforce the strict new guidelines after Group 2 officials and Coffs City Council threatened to take all Sawtell home games to Coffs Harbour International Stadium if crowd behaviour remained a problem this year.
"We were told by Group 2 and Council that Sawtell Panthers would lose Rex Hardaker Oval if there was a repeat of last year's fighting," club president Kerry Hales confirmed.
Hales said the crowd fights after fulltime in last year's final had a damaging affect to the Panthers' image.
"It certainly didn't do us any good at all," he said.
"We have tried very hard to build our image up and it was blown away in one fell swoop."
However, Hales maintained his club was innocent.
"We were initially called at fault, but I don't believe it was our club or supporters," Hales said.
He also claimed the fights were pre-planned.
"We found pieces of bamboo that were at least one-and-a-half metres long," he said.
"We don't grow bamboo anywhere at the ground.
"I feel it was pre-orchestrated ... people came to the place to upset things."
Under the new conditions of entry, all baggage can be searched for objects that could be used as weapons.
Hales hopes the presence of crowd control staff and the conditions of entry will make Rex Hardaker Oval one of the safest venues to watch local rugby league.
"I certainly hope so, but you can only put these rules in place," he says.
"We have done everything in our power to ensure it is a safe venue." Some of the key conditions of entry under the new act are:
- No alcohol or glass bottles permitted into the ground;
- Any baggage can be searched;
- All vehicles entering the ground will be inspected for permitted objects;
- Any person under the influence of alcohol, using offensive language or behaving in an offensive manner will be escorted from the ground;
- Such behaviour could result in the offender being issued with a $550 infringement notice from the police.