Watching her beloved Parramatta Eels cement a top four NRL spot wasn’t the only proud moment for Lyndal Johns at ANZ Stadium last Friday night.
The original Eels cheerleading coach travelled to Sydney with her Toowoomba City Cheerleaders squad, which was part of the half-time entertainment.
“The Eels cheerleading coach Monique (Carroll) was one of my girls in 1980s, who invited us down,” Ms Johns said. “And now, her daughters are in the Eels squad. One of my former girls drove me around Parramatta while I was down here. I was amazed at how much it has changed.”
Now 71, the former Rydalmere and Westmead resident has dedicated more than a half a century to cheerleading. She formed the first Eels cheerleading squad in 1975 after being inspired by Penrith Panthers marching girls.
“We were the original Cumberland Cowgirls,” Ms Johns told the Sun.
“There was no better atmosphere than at a packed, sun-drenched Cumberland Oval on a Sunday afternoon.”
She then went to the North Sydney Bears and moved to Queensland, where she coached squads for the now defunct South Queensland Crushers, Brisbane Broncos, North Queensland Cowboys, the Brisbane Bullets in the National Basketball League and the Brisbane Strikers in the former National Soccer League. She was also a choreographer at the 2000 Olympics.
“I’m the matriarch of cheerleading,” Ms Johns said.
“My girls did 14 State of Origins and 11 rugby league grand final presentations. But my heart will always belong to Parramatta. I can’t help but jump up and down and scream when I’m watching a game. I really do love my football. No one decorates the town like Parramatta – you have to wear blue and gold there. When the Eels won their first ever premiership in 1981, the fans burnt down the Cumberland Oval grandstand.”
She’s disappointed some clubs no longer have cheerleaders, including last week’s opponents South Sydney.
“The public want more than just the game,” Ms Johns said. “Everyone looks to the cheerleaders to get the crowd going.”
Don’t get Ms Johns started on the public misconceptions of cheerleaders.
“Without a doubt, the biggest myth is that cheerleaders are ditzy blondes, which makes me cross,” she said.
“So many of my girls have become doctors, teachers, policewomen, even world-leading scientists.”
Will the Eels break a 31-year premiership drought? “It would be nice if they could win it,” she said. “We’ve already got one record this year with Semi Radradra’s try in the first 11 seconds of the game a few weeks ago. I’d like to see another team beat that!”