Going to the Footy at Manuka (a.k.a StarTrack Oval, but only on game day)

With a capacity of between 15 and 16,000 access to Canberra’s AFL venue should be straight-forward. But it’s not. Parking is a challenge because there are no decent parking areas near the ground. Street parking is all there is. That’s fine for able-bodies but for those who are not very ambulant it’s a challenge. Driving up to an entry gate is close to impossible because the authorities put road blocks all around the ground. Special arrangements are needed for those patrons.

Because officials are not used to large gatherings at Manuka entry to the ground is ponderous for those carrying bags. Bags are checked through a series of benches with checkers quite often asking patrons to empty out and repack. Slow! Not enough staff on deck during the hour before the match starts.

Once inside the ground the idea is to find your seat. Logical. However, for newcomers it is hard to know where to start. Signage is non-existent, but there are officials on hand to help. Fortunately there are only 15,000 seats and they are spread around the perimeter, so there are no protracted hikes into the stands to get where you need to be.

One of the first things fans notice is that the “roar” of the crowd escapes, never to be heard again. There is nothing to reflect any sound, there are no significant stands, high structures – the television “towers” seem to be the highest things there – or walls to capture the noise and keep it inside. So there is a vast reduction of “atmosphere” for supporters to embrace.

On the other hand the public address system, ground announcements and incessant interruptions come through loud and clear. The crowd noise should be miked and fed back through the sound system. Every Giants goal is celebrated like a premiership with ra-ra- and associated visuals, while quite surprisingly opposition goals are greeted with silence. Fortunately, on the day this Geelong supporter graced the stands, none of that was very noticeable because neither side had much impact on the scoreboard.

From most seats the view of the game is passable. A recent upgrade of the playing surface which included removal of the hump in the middle means that those close to the front can now see play on the opposite side of the ground, rather than see just the tops of players’ heads.

Despite the limited capacity, there can be long queues for drinks and food, and for the loos. I am still trying to figure out how the logistics of food and drink dispensing are calculated, because it is much the same at all venues. My only conclusion is that a formula is applied which results in less than half the number of staff required being engaged for this important service.

After the game patrons were allowed to have a kick on the playing area which feels firm and even. It certainly looks the part from the other side of the boundary fence. Because there is nothing to block or deflect the wind it is always a factor during a game. I haven’t known it to blow goal-to-goal but its impact blowing across the ground causes many misjudgements by players who tend to ignore its impact. The structures around the ground, because they are low, must affect the wind flow because it is fluky a lot of the time.

Getting away from Manuka after it’s all over is reasonably straightforward, but the walk to the car can leave fans in need of the car heater. Canberra evenings close in fast, and once out of the sun, umpteen layers are necessary to remain comfortable.

I doubt that this dossier is a ringing endorsement of Manuka. It is certainly different to other venues, even if for no other reason than the fact that many Canberrans don’t know how to barrack, or else seem to open their mouths out of sync with what’s happening in front of them.




  1. Andrew Starkie says

    In-laws live 5 min walk from Manuka in Griffith. Funny town, Canby. Big, wide and empty. I like Manuka, though. Enjoy walking the ground.

  2. Shane Bolitho says

    It would be wonderful if they turned off the blaring pre-game pump-up muzak and turned down the amplification of the feigned enthusiasm of that MC at Manuka. There was no chance for the crowd to participate in the build up of the game. The muzak was blaring so loudly up until the first siren sounded that no crowd noise could be heard at all. Then, when the siren went and the ball was bounced, the crowd seemed stunned. It was a very bizarre atmosphere indeed. Nothing like the Swans V Dogs or Swans V North games of yesteryear.

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