One fine cold winter day in the late nineties I was picking my way through some rotting sheds by the decrepit wharves of the former Victoria Dock. Sun streamed in through the broken walls, lighting the filth on the floors; and rats, fat on inner city detritus, grinned out of the shadows like petty criminals. The firm I worked for had been invited to submit a proposal for the naming and design of a new city development. A couple of Ian Stewart drop kicks away, a tangled mess of construction had already started. It looked like a bombed rail shed then, but it became Docklands Stadium two years later, known more commonly by its various sponsor names, currently Etihad Stadium.
Until last Sunday, I had never visited the stadium, despite being a Melbourne-born football tragic, and notwithstanding it being Essendon's 'home' venue. I preferred suburban grounds, such as the one within walking distance from here. So the boys spent most Sunday afternoons this winter kicking a ball around Coburg City oval during quarter time, half time and three quarter time, and before and after each game, in the sun, and sometimes in biting wind and occasional rain. And they convinced me to take them to the VFL grand final. That was how I came to break my Docklands duck last Sunday.
We walked up the bright side of Bourke Street, blinding sun reflecting off the glass towers. Over the railway bridge, $20 at the ticket box and into the arena. It was pitch dark after the sun. Dark?
The roof was closed.
Closed? On a Melbourne spring afternoon that was as agreeably pleasant as weather gets anywhere in the world? Inside, the walls and roof, possibly made of recycled Nissan Sunny door panels, or recycled lemonade cans, produced an echoing sonic boom, like 50,000 dogs barking in a wheat silo. And that was before the game. Overhead lights dazzled, while the sun penetrated the entrances and apertures behind each goal, so you had to squint. The turf stunk like a farmyard in the unnaturally still air. The electronic score line was almost unreadable without binoculars. My legs would have nestled in the lap of the person in the seat in front of me, had I relaxed.
Footscray ran out winners over a conflicted Box Hill/Hawthorn side. Box Hill should really give Hawthorn the flick and go back to being the Mustangs.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground is class, old Melbourne quietude, a place with vast presence. It holds a million ghosts celebrating unforgettable triumph or lamenting failure. Apparitions just about jump at you when you walk into the MCG. In theological terms, while St Paul’s cathedral a few blocks away is just a church, the MCG, set in magnificent parkland, is actual paradise.
On the other hand, Docklands stadium is a bleak tin shed sandwiched between a perished wharf and some decayed railway huts.
Top ten uses for Docklands Stadium.
1. A wheat silo. See above.
2. A mushroom farm. Dark and damp.
3. A city branch of Storage King.
4. Parcels office for Southern Cross station.
5. A gasometer.
6. An airport terminus with a helipad on the roof.
7. A shearing shed.
8. A city branch of Pick-a-Part. City workers could grab a rear indicator lens with their latte.
9. A new Festival Hall to replace the old one (eerily only 500 metres away).
10. A holding yard for Saturday night King Street drunks. Might not be big enough.