Zig Zagging to Suburban Grounds (Part 1)

By Damian Watson

In the eyes of the teenage folk, the end of March represents the beginning of a two week break from school. On Saturday fellow Almanacker Steve Healy, trying to shield himself from witnessing another Melbourne annihilation at the hands of Hawthorn, accepted my suggestion that we should roam around suburban Melbourne at some stage throughout the week visiting a number of the old grounds used in the VFL’s halcyon days. One may suggest that we are blatantly ripping off Billy Miller’s insightful documentary however we look at this journey from a different perspective. Firstly we have never had the opportunity to venture to these historic venues in the past and have never experienced the outer at Victoria Park or the sight of Plugger booting frequent bags of goals at Moorabbin; it is basically a maiden voyage.

We are also too young to afford the luxury of a car so there is a heavy reliance on public transport and don’t worry there are setbacks along the way.

I am anticipating a great afternoon while being amongst the morning train rush from Glen Waverley to Flinders Street. I am targeting to be back by 6 in the evening but I realise it is wishful thinking. I meet Steve at the station and it is fairly appropriate donning his Melbourne jumper as we catch the tram down St Kilda Road to the Junction Oval, the venue the Demons have called its training base since 1985.

Junction Oval: I must confess I have barely stood within a 2km radius of this ground and I sound similar to a broken record asking “Are We There Yet?” As we arrive at the ground the factor that strikes me is the pristine condition of the surface despite the obvious morning dew. The old scoreboard still stands with the information from a Premier cricket game held on the weekend and the two famous grandstands sit empty almost lonesome on the wing. I seem to obtain a fascination with Grandstands and the two that are located at the Junction oval are sensational as they really describe the characteristics and trademarks of the venue. Due to Heritage Listing the old Kevin Murray Stand isn’t accessible but amazingly the old Press Boxes towards the back of the Blackie Ironmonger Stand are unlocked. Steve and I are in awe as we enter the room, organizations such as the Herald Sun and The Age are labelled on the desks. A microphone, old Televisions and the siren is within our disposal; even a carton of Orange Juice is located inside the fridge. Great journalists have observed and reported on matches within the realms of this room, I’m sure that even the great sparring partners Daffey and Harms have entered this diminutive box. On the boundary line Steve’s bag contains the essentials; a camera and a footy for kick to kick. I try and emulate one of Bernie “Superboot’ Quinlan’s racking drop punts from 60 meters on this ground with the new state of the art buildings in St Kilda serving as a backdrop behind the big sticks. I fail to reach the goal square.

Lakeside:  Bob Jane Stadium, formerly known as Lakeside Oval was home to the South Melbourne Football Club. No I am not referring to the Hellas, I’m alluding to the Bloods or Swans the club where Bob Pratt, Barry Round and Bobby Skilton casted their names into footy folklore with their eye-catching performances on the field. Steve and I wonder around the Albert park lake and witness the construction workers removing the wreckage and structures around the circuit of the recent Grand Prix. We sneak through a hole cut through the surrounding fences to enter the ground. Steve scoffs at the soccer clinic held on the pitch and notice that the only monument dedicated towards the old VFL venue is the rusty old grandstand. As we climb up the ladder towards the old 3XY commentary box, Steve unintentionally kicks me in the face almost sending me plunging to the concrete ground staring from below, talk about Boot in Mouth!

There is a stark contrast between this box which contains the odd chair and a power point to the air-conditioned press room located on the other side of the Lake.

Moorabbin: If anyone who resides in Melbourne told me it effectively took 2 hours to travel from St Kilda to Moorabbin I would have received the impression that you are a stark raving lunatic! However due to the so called ‘convenience’ of public transport and my lack of knowledge, that was the amount of time spent striving to travel to a venue barely 10km away. After weaving our way through the streets of Prahran (the VFA team that recruited the likes of Kevin Sheedy) via tram to Toorak station, our hopes of hopping on the train bound for Moorabbin were short-lived. Because of the express route throughout the area we had to catch the train back to Flinders Street. Hoping to gain some respite and rest we ate lunch at McDonalds, while carefully guiding my meal up the stairs my Coke splatters to the ground to the tune of the embarrassing groans surrounding the room. Just to add a bit of salt to the wound the drink isn’t refundable! Anyway enough of my misfortune, we finally reached Moorabbin, the home venue for St Kilda for 27 years in the VFL/AFL competition. Steve and I re-enact the Phil Carman head butt before trying to kick impossible goals from the boundary line. The Huggins Stand and Social Club is still imminent at the ground and as we sprint back down Linton Street I ponder the fact that they managed to squeeze 50 000 fans into the complex in its opening match.

Victoria Park: The afternoon has flown by, it’s 4 in the afternoon as we approach our 4th ground the spiritual home of the Magpies. The roofs of the Rush Stand, labelling the many Collingwood legends that graced this ground has been removed. But many artifacts that represent the history of the arch enemy still exist, the cramped corporate boxes in the Sherrin Stand and the far from stable wooden scoreboard at the Yarra Falls end. Steve tries to perform his best Nicky Winmar impersonation while I grab some of the sacred turf off the ground. As we walk down the famous Collingwood race the door is again unexpectedly unlocked and we enter the main Umpire Headquarters of the AFL. We have a look at the memorabilia and equipment in the old Collingwood change rooms and strangely nobody seems to mind our presence. We walk back out on the surfaced realising that many Collingwood diehards spat, wept, celebrated, cheered and commiserated at this ground until the end of the century. However the old ground will be somewhat rejuvenated on Saturday afternoon as the Collingwood VFL entity lines up against Williamstown.

Punt Road/MCG– There is no complete tour of VFL/AFL grounds without the hallowed structure that is the Melbourne Cricket Ground. After having a kick on the magnificent ground on Saturday we decided to circumnavigate the outside of the precinct with statues of the calibre of Bradman, Ponsford, Strickland, Matthews, Miller and Reynolds carved to honour the G’s historic significance. Across Yarra Park is Punt Road home venue for the Richmond Football Club until 1965. Once again we sneak through a hole cut inside the fence to have a kick at the Northern end of the Ground in front of the Grandstand. New constructions have commenced at the ground as the cars speed by this magnificent ground. I’m just thankful I opted not to don my Carlton Guernsey or a bullet could have been lodged in my back following last week’s result.

As we conclude our journey at Richmond station I suggest to Steve that visiting VFL grounds located within the perimeter of metropolitan Melbourne is an outing every football supporter must experience in their lifetime. We still have venues such as Brunswick St, Whitten Oval, Princes Park, Windy Hill yet to be ticked on the list.

As I try to purchase a packet of chips at the station I mishandle my $2 coin as it misses the slot and falls down a gap within the machine. However no streak of misfortune can compare with an ultimate experience of these wonderful grounds.

About Damian Watson

Hey,my name is Damian Watson and I am 14 years old. My ambition is to become an AFL broadcaster/journalist in the future. I am a keen blues supporter and I live in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I play and write for the Knox Falcons U/16's.

Comments

  1. Adam in Canberra says:

    Very well written Damo.

  2. Steve Healy says:

    Hahaha, well done Damo, captured the day perfectly.

    I’ll write the report on Part 2 of our adventure.

    Those holes in fences really do wonders for footy tragics like us

  3. Those holes in the fences were probably cut from kids of the previous generation going around visiting all the grounds, just like you two did. Next time i’m in Melbourne I hope you guys are willing to do this again with me. I’d get lost even trying to find my way to Arden Street!

  4. Danielle says:

    ahhh look at you little Historians go!
    Sounds like you had a good time.

    :)
    Danni

  5. Steve Healy says:

    Josh, you might have to be in Melbourne for a while, lol, it’s hard to get all around the grounds in a day.

    Yes, it was great danni, you should come with us next time

  6. Next Launch day, put it in your diary Healy, we’ll go then.

  7. Steve Healy says:

    Ok Josh, thats a deal.

    Hello Adam in Canberra!

  8. Love it, Damo.

    You’ll always remember this trip. Wish I had your gumption when I was younger.

    The old press box at the Lake Oval is the most famous of the press boxes at the old venues. If that’s the one you saw, I’m surprised, but heartened, that it’s still there.

    Might have to go and have a look.

  9. PS. The only old grounds I ever reported from were Victoria Park and Princes Park, during my one year of doing match-day reports for The Sunday Age, in 1997.

    I remember Anthony Rocca’s booming torps at Vic Park against Freo (he was still novelty to Pie fans then; everyone said “ooooo” every time he unloaded) and a few strange Bulldogs games at Princes Park.

    I was there the day that Libba scragged Paul Kelly and Kelly had to go off with tell-tale claret streaming from his face. I remember Barry Standfield kicking five for Adelaide (and he didn’t make the grand final team at the end of the year) and I remember a very strange game in which I thought Glenn Kilpatrick (Geelong) and Paul Dimattina (Dogs) were the two best players on the ground despite the fact that they were playing on each other.

    Not much defensive pressure, I suppose.

    Going back to the Adelaide game, I had no sense at all that I was watching the team that would win the premiership later in the season.

    I don’t think I appreciated those games at Vic Park and Princes Park enough.

  10. Damian Watson says:

    Thanks Daff,

    The commentary box is located on the opposite wing to the new South Melbourne Hellas Grandstand and obviously the old Grandstand from the Swans era is in the opposite pocket.

    I’m not entirely sure about it’s origins, although I’m pretty sure the ABC use the box to cover the Womens A-League matches at the ground.

    Those Western Bulldogs matches would have been very strange, what was the decision behind their move to Princes Park in the late 90’s?

    I’m guessing the crowds would have been diminutive.

    It’s great to see the Pies VFL affiliate are making a return to Victoria Park this weekend against Williamstown. The old ground is still alive.

  11. Damian Watson says:

    PS- Intresting article on Glenferrie the other day, Steve and I were reading the article on our way around the city. We are planning to head to the old venue on our next route.

  12. Great work Damo, sounds like it was a awesome day.

  13. Great stuff Damo. Look forward to Mr Healy’s follow up.

    Hard to believe, but I’m actually too young to have seen a game at Punt Rd, but I have particular memories of the other grounds you visited.

    Moorabbin: those who’ve known me longest know that I have a dim dark past as an Essendon supporter. I was there the day Phil Carman head-butted Carbery. Essendon threw that game away and Carman basically threw the rest of his career away that day.

    Junction Oval: Bad Easter Saturday memories of Mick Conlan kicking about 11 against the Dogs.

    Victoria Park: Two visits for two losses as a Doggies’ fan. One of those was Round 22, 1984. Dogs needed a win to make the five, but Allan “Butch” Edwards (at his third club, Footscray) did his ankle in the 2nd quarter, ending any chance we had of pulling off an upset. He had been on fire up until then. Still, it was nice to see Collingwood get done by 133 points in the PF three weeks later.

    Lake Oval (the correct name as Daff always tells us): This is where I discovered that blokes could drink beer on the terraces all afternoon and never have to go to the sheds. All they had to do was remember which was the stubby that had the beer in it…

  14. Steve Healy says:

    It’s not hard to believe Gigs, you weren’t born when Richmond made the move to the MCG.

  15. Oh, but Steve!

    Gigs was indeed born before the Tigers left Punt Road.

    It is me you are thinking about. I was born an entire six months after the Tigers began playing at the MCG, in the 1965 season.

    So of course I never saw a game at Punt Road. To my eternal regret, I also never saw games at Glenferrie, Moorabbin, or even the Junction Oval.

    I grew up in the north-western suburbs. Every year we went to the Western Oval, Arden Street, Windy Hill and Princess Park, and of course the MCG, but rarely any further. I recall going to Vic Park only once as a boy. I think I went to Waverley Park only a few times, and only ever for finals. The way my father spoke, you’d think it was in East Gippsland.

    I only saw my first game at Kardinia Park in 1995, aged almost 30, having returned from a stint overseas. Disgraceful, really.

  16. Correct me if I’m wrong Daff, but Richmond’s last game at Punt Rd was round 18, 1964. I was born on March 3rd, 1965. True, Richmond’s first MCG home game until almost 7 weeks later, but surely the decision had been made to move before I was born?

    And I thought I was the pedant!

  17. OK, Gigs,

    We were both born after the Tigers’ move from Punt Road.

    More’s the pity for us.

  18. The BJS commentary box was not used as far as I know by the ABC for the W-League, as that thing is quite dangerous in the shape that it’s in – I hope they used scaffolding instead. For a semi-interesting discussion on scaffolding at Bob Jane Stadium, see this article

    http://southmelbournefc.blogspot.com/2009/02/great-moments-in-scaffolding.html

    Channel 31’s soccer coverage eventually moved to the grandstand for its coverage, and Hellas’ own filming takes place from the grandstand as well – the final match at the venue as we know it is this week, the derby between South Melbourne and Heidelberg.

    As an aside, in the lead up to the 2006 Victorian Premier League grand final, a few of us were there to encourage the lads, some lads went up into the commentary box, and lit a flare – almost immedietaly in the background one could hear the siren of a fire engine. Good times.

    Coburg and Williamstown had a game at Punt Road a few years back. It was really early on a Saturday morning, it had pissed down, and someone had forgotten to open up the rooms for the players. Got to sit in the Jack Dyer stand – the view from up there isn’t too crash hot. At least a couple of people downin the standing rooms areas collapsed for whatever reason, necessating ambulance crews to fight their way through the compact crowd.

  19. Also, bit of trivia, the seating in the outer is from Waverley Park.

  20. Damian Watson says:

    Thanks for that information Paul.

    That was an unfortunate incident at Punt Rd!

    I never knew those benches and seats belonged to Waverley in it’s heyday.

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