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Away from the desk - April 2016

31 Mar 2016

There’s no place like it

Does a footy club’s home ground mean anything anymore?

I’ve been a St Kilda supporter since I was five. This year will be my 23rd consecutive year as a paid-up member. I grew up watching the Saints play at Moorabbin and then at VFL/Waverley Park.

Those were the days of ratty duffle coats, of getting splinters from the weathered wooden benches in the grandstands. Of rocking up at the gate, getting your membership card clipped instead of scanned, and sitting or standing pretty much wherever you wanted. Of colourful language in the outer, beer in cans, and post-match kick-to-kick in the centre square.

Moving to the boondocks and raising two young sprogs has meant that logistically it’s now difficult for me to make a regular commitment to see my team play live. After years of going to the footy each week travelling from the likes of Victoria Park and the Western Oval back to Moorabbin and Waverley Park, these days I watch the footy from my couch.

Last year, I took my four-year-old son (we’ll call him Sprog 1) to his first match at St Kilda’s current home ground, Etihad Stadium. It was Sprog 1’s first footy match ever and it was my first in a long time.

And geez, going to the footy had certainly changed.

From the so-called “entertainment” before the match, which largely consisted of blaring music and some kind of dance-off between the mascots, to the incessant advertising (it’s everywhere), my reaction was “WTF?”. During the match itself, a guy on the public announcement system kept instructing us to “MAKE SOME NOISE, SAINTS FANS!” (whatever happened to spontaneity?). Then, when they pulled out the giant beach balls at half time, I’d almost had enough.

I knew we were no longer in the days of Moorabbin’s infamous “Animal Enclosure”, but the atmosphere at our home ground now felt fake and contrived. It made me sad.

Sprog 1, on the other hand, had a blast. He loved hanging out at Southern Cross Station to watch the V/Lines rumble past. He gleefully waved the inflatable, oversized “drumsticks” that we were handed as we entered the stadium (presumably to help us “make some noise”).

And when he realised that every time I yelled “baaaaawl” he could yell at the top of his lungs alongside me without being reprimanded for being too noisy, he had reached toddler nirvana. The dancing mascots and the beach balls were the icing on his cake.

As much as I wished Sprog 1 could experience footy as I had when I was a kid, I realised that he’ll develop his own set of memories. That’s just how life works. The fact is, footy’s changing. Not just in the way it’s played, but in how it’s experienced.

I do have my own fond memories of footy at Etihad, like the best home-and-away match I’ve ever seen live (Saints vs Cats, Round 14, 2009), Robert Harvey breaking St Kilda’s all-time games record, and the emotional send-off for favourite son Lenny Hayes.

And, for all my complaining, watching footy at Etihad does have its perks. After years of braving Waverley Arctic Park’s microclimate of monsoons and hurricanes, there’s something to be said about watching footy under a roof. The toilets are modern and pretty clean. The view of the playing field is terrific from every angle, even from the very top of the nosebleed section. And the hot chips are smothered in chicken salt.

After 12 years of working in the CBD, I recently started a new job in Docklands.

My first day was overwhelming; I felt like a little kid in a new school in a new city. On my lunch break, I wandered around Docklands to get a feel for the place.

The seemingly endless construction sites, lack of retail stores and almost-empty streets were alien to me. But, as I turned a corner, a familiar sight changed everything. Framed by the waterfront, a tram rattling past and that cow in the tree, Etihad Stadium made a pretty picture indeed.

And you know what? It made me feel at home.

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