The biggest game in Sydney’s AFL history was played at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
As an ANZ Stadium member I locked in my tickets early in the week and, along with my partner in crime – let’s call him Dave – planned our afternoon without any particular allegiance to either of the Sydney teams.
Unfortunately, what unfolded over the course of the next three hours or so was absolute rubbish from the perspective of a fan. Not the footy mind you, as the game itself was interesting, with the athleticism of the Giants proving the difference.
What was noticeable was the raw skill level of the Giants in the contested ball, their dominance in packs and contests and the speed at which they were able to burst from these situations.
The build-up to the so-called derby was just as expected; bragging were rights up for grabs between the stoic and proven Swans and the youthful, speedy and electric Greater Western Sydney.
We arrived around twenty minutes to two, ready to soak up the atmosphere prior to the three twenty kick-off and began the afternoon with a ripper tuna salad washed down with a crisp, cool ale. We took our seats in the level four members and were amazed at the light numbers present.
Claims of a 60,000 crowd were looking ambitious, as Buddy Franklin and Jeremy Cameron fired their last shots in the warm up we were stunned at the number of vacant seats around us.
“We’ll be able to spread out and really enjoy this,” Dave stated confidently moments before the bounce. How wrong he was.
So wrong in fact, that we missed the first ten to fifteen minutes of the game as the action was obscured by a couple of hundred heads adorned in Sydney Swans caps who clamoured in late. It was similar to one of those cars in the circus as more and more of them just kept emerging from the entrances and began climbing the stairs to the seating.
What followed was a pantomime as they stood in aisles peering into masses of people, tickets in hand with quizzical looks on their faces. Apparently, they expected to walk in and locate their seats in a matter of seconds, showing complete disregard for those who had bothered to turn up on time in order to get settled and enjoy the entire game day experience.
To complete the annoyance of their late entry, some clown at the gate had decided to hand them all a contraption that, when whacked firmly against the body, made some sort of clack-clack-clacking noise that seemed to mimic the sound of clapping.
These devices are the most annoying thing that people could possibly be given. The three young teenage boys who were seated behind me might have a lawsuit on their way due to the industrial deafness I am now experiencing.
Many loud sounding or irritating devices have been banned from various venues over the years. Those long horns that pop ear drums come to mind, and security still confiscates beach balls at the cricket and pops them for fear of… I’m not quite sure what they fear but they certainly pop them with some vigour.
Whoever decided to distribute those whack-a-doodle things needs to sit in front of them for a couple of hours in order to fully experience their glory.
What amazed me further was the fact that most of the Swans ‘whack-a-doodling’ fans were not even watching the game. Young teenagers were sitting and talking, using devices (perhaps they only came for the free Wi-Fi), constantly asking their parents for money for food trips.
This, of course, led to a conga-like procession of youngsters shuffling along the row, whacking every knee which stood before them. The return trip had the added benefit of dribbles of Coca-Cola landing on our legs as they struggled with their bounty. Thank goodness I had gone with the dark pants.
The number of babies on laps was incredible. I love kids, I have two of my own, but why would I want to take toddlers to the football? Mums and Dads seemed to spend the whole time running toilet trips or keeping the child entertained. Might I suggest they stay home and use an IQ box so they don’t miss the entire contest?
By this stage, we were annoyed and Dave decided to retreat to the member’s bar to watch the game on a big screen television. I decided to stick it out until the end of the second quarter as the gripping contest on the field tightened up.
It also gave me time to sit quietly and watch the farcical scene before me. It occurred to me that this was not about football at all. This was an ‘event’ where attendance was something of importance to these people.
The game itself, the result and the implications for the following week were somewhat less important than the mere fact that they were there. It reminded me of the U2 concert I had attended years earlier at the same venue where the crowd sat silently for the entire show apart from standing for the five minutes it took for the band to play ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’.
The eastern suburbs crew seemed to be preparing their lines for the tea room on Monday morning at work. ‘Yeah, we went to the Swannies game on Saturday.’
I joined the Swans as a member in 1994 when the club was at rock bottom. Every second Sunday I sat in the old MA Noble Stand and watched the rebirth of the club and saw support slowly grow.
By 1996, a grand final appearance, and a rude awakening one Sunday when my usual seats were allocated to a corporate group, I realised that the ‘fashionable’ thing to do was to be a Swans supporter. These memories came to the forefront again on Saturday.
I’m sure the spirit of the ‘Bloods’ still lives on and many fans of the red and white live and breathe the game. Unfortunately, the fans in my vicinity seemed of a different breed.
Dave has a mild form of claustrophobia and needed air, so we climbed the stairs of level six to escape the latte sipping, scarf brandishing hippies in an effort to find some space so we could watch the game.
Peace and quiet at last, until, during the final term, we were drenched with the remnants of a water filled missile, launched in a battle between misled youths in the upper bleachers. They scarpered like all kids do when they know they are in serious trouble.
By this time, the Giants had put the Swans to the sword and the red and white faithful had begun to head for the exits. I guess it’s a long trip home to Bondi and just a little part of me enjoyed the Giants victory.
I hadn’t gone there expecting that to be the case, but the entire member’s area seemed to have been infiltrated by a red and white, middle-aged mob with little or no appreciation or understanding of the game itself.
A-League and NRL crowds are far more knowledge than the people I saw in attendance on Saturday. Despite much criticism, the fans of those codes in Sydney at least show some passion and interest in the proceedings.
The Swans fans outside the ground seemed cheery and content as they headed for the nearest café. Such a contrast to a grumpy Rabbitohs or Bulldogs crowd that leave the venue either furious at or exhilarated by their team’s performance.
I’m not sure if we will get the pleasure of another game at ANZ in two weeks. I hope so – the ground presented beautifully, the surface seemed to play well and having a reserved members seat is certainly a perk.
Whatever does unfold, I will be pleased that the Swans fans will be elsewhere. The Sydney Cricket Ground awaits them as they try to reignite their campaign. As for the Giants, they might just be on their way to history.