Many rugby league fans find a love and passion for the sport at a young age so it is no surprise that some of the most influential athletes in a fan’s life could in fact, no longer play. Unfortunately every player - fan favourite or not - has to retire eventually. Whether they played 359, 225 or even 50 games, they can’t play forever. As much as we may see them as superhuman, they are only human just with super rugby league powers. One of these players, who no longer laces up the boots or pulls on a jersey, is Jamie Lyon of the Manly Sea Eagles. When he did play however, he kicked, passed and ran his way into the heart of a young fan with a sparkling jersey, Ella Kasmar. Two years after his retirement, Ella is still a die hard Manly fan (while juggling her double university degree and work life) however, she credits an element of her passion in her heart to the man who once wore the number 3 on his back.
The support dates back to before Ella’s birth 18 years ago. Her family are extravagantly passionate for the boys in maroon and white, supporting them since the team came about in 1947, with her great uncle even playing in the first grade team in the 50s so there was no chance of little Ella supporting any team other than Manly. At only 8 weeks old they had her at her very first game, slightly bitter that she had been born in December so it couldn’t have been sooner. They would’ve had her at a game only hours after her birth if they could’ve but instead, they waited 8 weeks and a love for the game was formed.*
8 years after her first game and Ella had developed an impressive understanding of the game and with this knowledge, centred her focus on Jamie Lyon as a favourite player. While the other kids her age ran around the hill at Brookie Oval pretending to score tries like Brett “Snake” Stewart, Ella cheered for Jamie “Killer” Lyon. She cheered and celebrated alongside her family however it wasn’t until she got older that she got to truly respect her selection in favourite player. She was able to see just how talented Lyon was but also how humble he was and the leadership he provided for the club. As Lyon got older and became a senior player in the club, including his appointment of captaincy in 2010, Ella’s love grew more and more. In 2015 in fact, she won a Jamie Lyon fan competition providing her the unforgettable opportunity to meet him post-match. Although she crowns the competition success as a very memorable moment, it isn’t her most memorable. Her most memorable moment actually involves a different Lyon - his wife, Ellie Lyon.
Through the years of following the NRL, Ella formed an immense passion and talent for journalism. Her talent was hard to ignore and she was granted the endeavour of writing for her local newspaper which provided her access to press conferences as well as writing an article on Lyon and another passionate fan of his. She had made her mark in the journalism world and started her own blog. This gave her the opportunity to freely write about whatever she was passionate so when the time for Lyon to retire came around, she couldn’t miss the opportunity to put into words what he means to her. She wrote a story about Killer, detailing how incredible he was and how thankful she was for the impact he was leaving on her and the club. Everyone who read it loved it including Ellie Lyon. When the farewell game came around, Ella found herself placed near the tunnel to watch the players run out however, it was Mrs Lyon who approached Ella asking if she was the writer who wrote the beautiful story about her husband. She told Ella she had read the story, cried while reading it and assured she was going to make sure Jamie read it himself after the game because he wouldn’t have seen it since he was avoiding media in the lead up to his retirement. Ella may never know whether Jamie did actually read the story or not which is a part of life she has accepted however she can only hope he knows how much she has idolised him and is grateful for his leadership he has provided during his time playing.
18 years after her first game, 10 years after a love for Jamie Lyon was formed and after witnessing four grand final appearances with two premiership wins, Ella has loved her life as a rugby league fan and Sea Eagles member. Despite how selfish it may seem, she can’t help but hope to see many more grand final wins in her lifetime. She aches for the chance to celebrate all night long, tears in her eyes and a smile on her face with her parents at the leagues club unlike when she was younger and was forced to go home with her grandparents. She loves winning, but it’s about family too. She wants to share success with the people who instilled a love for the game in her heart. This game, is so much more than just a game. It brings her family together (her mum, dad, brother, grandparents, and uncle) and takes them high and far. They’ve crushed the stigma that Manly Sea Eagles fans don’t travel, venturing to New Zealand, Brisbane, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Canberra and even to Albury all to cheer on their boys. During those 80 minutes, memories are made and common interests are bloomed despite any age gap or life differences. As well as her blood family, over time, she has formed a footy family as extensions to her family tree. People who were once just fans are now so much more for her. It’s seriously so much more than just a game.
DISCLAIMER: Ella would like to state that even though she definitely will travel for her boys, she can’t help but to find crossing the Harbour Bridge troublesome. But hey, come on who doesn’t? There’s too many lanes! It gets confusing!
*In 8 week old Ella’s best interest, her parents did have cotton balls in her ears to protect her from the sound of the crowd and atmosphere. No stress, she was fine.