Misplaced sentimentality?

It’s a little strange to feel sentimental about a stadium that is barely over a decade old.

I tend to get lost within the sameness of Etihad Stadium.  Signs aside, I can’t really tell the difference between the Lockett or Coventry end, or whether I’m facing north or south.  The food and merchandise concession stands inside are generic, and repeat with the frequency that brings to mind an early Simpsons cartoon – that of the repeating background (it’s the one where Bart and Lisa wrote their own Itchy and Scratchy episode). I somehow end up exiting at the end facing the harbour when I’m actually trying to get to Southern Cross Station.  Maybe I’m just directionally challenged.

So I’m as surprised as anyone that it has stirred feelings of nostalgia – and it happens to be over something as simple as the walk to the ground from the train station.

I was lucky enough to grow up watching Carlton during the 1980s, where most games were played at either a close to full Princes Park, or at the MCG.  Both grounds had their own quirks adding to the experience, but in each case there was a sense of anticipation as you approached the ground.

For a Princes Park game, Dad and I would be making our way across one of the nearby ovals after he’d parked the car.  As we dodged the puddles and mud, you could see the familiar wave pattern of the Hawthorn Stand from a distance. If we were getting there a little late – maybe at the start of the last quarter in the seconds – you could hear the crowd inside roar as you went, cheering on a young Silvagni or Ratten, or even a Majerczak or Poursanidis – as they projected their future performance in the ones.  The excitement would build as you could see the ground getting closer. If it was a clash against fellow tenant Hawthorn or a traditional rival there was even a hop in the step.

The walk to the MCG brought a similar excitement. Perhaps it was because it was usually a big clash if we were fixtured to play there. As we wandered down the hill from the Fitzroy Gardens, the ‘G stood like a huge monolith on the horizon; my Uluru, if you will.  You couldn’t take your eyes off it, it became more and more imposing as you got closer – and I would get more and more nervous as the ground approached.

I didn’t notice it until just the other day, but I used to get that same feeling as I walked from Southern Cross Station, across the windswept overpass, through to Etihad Stadium.  The walk was now with my kids and my Dad, but I could still feel the same sense of anticipation, which would only grow as we made our way over the bridge and the stadium beckoned.

That sense of excitement has now been replaced – with a towering block of office space or flats. The construction site now completely blocks the view of the stadium as you make the journey to the ground from the station.  The ground now almost seems hidden as an afterthought.

“Oh, hang-on; we’re already here?”

I’m not anti-development, and given the land is in the city, it’s hard to suggest that it isn’t appropriate for that type of project.  It’s also probably not owned by either the AFL or Etihad Stadium, so I understand there’s not really much they could do to change things (even if they thought that was appropriate).

But it does seem a shame that the bit of Etihad Stadium that stirred those emotions for me is no longer there.

Maybe I need to catch the tram along Spencer Street and head across the LaTrobe Street overpass instead, to keep the feeling alive.

Comments

  1. Stephanie Holt says:

    Lovely piece and completely agree with you about the magic of moving ever closer to a looming stadium. That’s one thing that makes the G the wonder it is, and will surely never change – that it must be approached from a distance, visible well before it is reached, and the gathering of the masses as they make their way there just heightens the drama and excitement and anticipation.

  2. John Harms says:

    Most enjoyable James. I love the spokes of the paths at the MCG. I always get the feeling that I am getting close to the heart of things walking along them. I especially felt that when I lived in Brisbane and would come to Melbourne to watch football.

    I had the same feeling walking from the tube (Metro Line) at Wembley.

    And at the Eagle Farm racecourse which is magnificently Queensland.

    Lots of places really.

    I very much enjoyed your observations. Thanks.

  3. Andrew Starkie says:

    James, I dislike Etihad for a list of reasons, the main ones being it’s sameness, lack of character and hollow atmosphere. You can’t smell the air or grass. What’s happening with the new development has added another to the list.

    Etihad’s one redeeming factor was that you used to be able to see it from afar. A sports stadium makes any city scape attractive. Even the Docklands. Now you can’t see the stadium until you’re literally inside it. And when you’re inside, it’s so dark and dank.

    Don’t know what Melbourne’s urban planners are thinking. Wonder what Mayor Doyle thinks.

  4. Brad Carr says:

    I think you’ve captured the good and the bad of the Docklands Stadium – in a cold, clinical sense, it’s a great stadium (well designed for viewing angles,good facilities), but it has that artificial feeling. It’s not helped by the sense of the contrived – James, like you, I have no idea which is the Lockett or Coventry End; to me, they are the Bourke St and La Trobe St Ends.

    One of the best initiatives the city could do in this precinct is to cover/build over the rail yards between the stadium and the Spencer St outlet shopping centre – cover the railway eyesore, and create a wide, landscaped promenade space on the city side of the stadium.

  5. Thanks for this post. And for drawing my attention to what I have also experienced, the walk to the Docklands now feels shorter, there is less general space for the buskers and the Salvation Army Collectors and the expanse, as others have written, where you can see the gathering of the tribes. Perhaps it will improve once construction is over and the protection for the pedestrians is removed, but perhaps not. Because it feels more hemmed in, it feels more crowded and smaller. The Saints old homeground at Moorabbin, could only be seen in the suburban street so there wasn’t the anticipation there either. It is a lovely interplay, the walking to the game, between the visual impact and the experience and expectation. Now we are just being impacted in a more compacted way.

    I will take more notice next time.

    Yvette

  6. James Paterson says:

    Thanks for reading and for the comments guys – the almanac is quite a community.

    I love the vista of the stadium in the distance – clearly, given the piece! Of the new stadiums, I think it’s been done well for AAMI stadium near the old Olympic Park, which I think is a great addition to the skyline. From the comments it’s also clear that we all have our own memories and rituals of getting to the game – those used to heading to Arden St, or Lulie St or to Windy Hill (in addition to Yvette’s Moorabbin) no doubt had their own sight triggers which helped in getting excited about a big clash. I guess my thoughts were as much about that, as they were about the stadium itself.

    I had the pleasure of taking some interstate guests to the ‘G on Friday night just gone, and to see my friends experience it for the first time just reminded me of how lucky we are to have it at our doorstep.

  7. Chris Weaver says:

    A mate involved in construction law is adamant that Etihad Stadium will be sold for commercial developments once the AFL gets the freehold in 2025. The more the new developments encroach on the stadium’s rim, the more prescient I think his prediction is. I envy you, James – I can’t imagine ever feeling nostalgic about any part of the Docklands experience.

    Waverley Park was a strange match day ritual. You’d walk forever, the stadium never actually appearing any closer until the exact moment you got to the grass foothills outside the ground. A legacy, it seemed, of a car-park the size of a small Commonwealth nation and stands set 30 feet into the earth.

    I loved the approach to old suburban grounds. Like English football stadiums, they were hidden until the last moment. You followed your way through suburban streets, guided by small groups with scarves and scuffed footballs.

  8. Great article James. Maybe it’ll inspire Paul Kelly to write a sequel to Leaps And Bounds?
    Instead of “I’m high on the hill, looking over the bridge, to the MCG”
    It could start “I’m at Southern Cross, walking over the concrete, to E-ti-had.”
    Quite catchy.

  9. James Paterson says:

    Thanks Tails – great revenue raiser for Paul Kelly too, as he’d have to re-release it every 4 years when the sponsorship changes.

    I think ” to Co-lon-i-yal” would probably fit best and be highest downloaded of the lot …

  10. James, your piece reminded me how much I enjoyed that walk too. I haven’t been to Docklands all year so wasn’t aware of the changes. It’s a great feeling after a game when your team has won, the bridge/concourse is packed like a Melbourne train and the buskers are playing your team song. What a shame.

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