As I was driving into work early on Friday morning, I counted five different people wearing lime green jerseys as anticipation reached a fever pitch for the Canberra Raiders-South Sydney preliminary final at GIO Stadium that night.
In recognition of the Raiders’ biggest match in nearly two decades, the buildup throughout the week had been extraordinary.
Canberra landmarks, including Telstra Tower, the Carillon and Captain Cook Jet, took on a green hue. Canberra Metro staff were seen wearing green wigs and waving giant fingers in support of Canberra’s team. Even our food changed colour.
You could be forgiven for forgetting that Canberra actually had another team in a grand final that weekend.
Flying under the radar, as they had all season, Canberra’s adopted team, the GWS Giants, were quietly down in Melbourne preparing for their first AFL grand final with very little fanfare.
If it hadn’t of been for four kids decked in orange scarfs and beanies playing the Giants’ anthem in the middle of Northbourne Avenue, and a few cafes putting up orange posters in a sign of support, you might have totally missed Canberra’s slice of history.
There was a clear lack of “a big, big sound coming from Canberra town”.
Eight years ago, the ACT Government signed a decade-long $23 million deal with an Aussie Rules club in the western suburbs of Sydney to play three of their regular-season home games at Manuka Oval each year.
Eyebrows were raised at the bulging payslip the team would receive to call Canberra their second home. Some fans were critical of the deal, particularly given the per-year funding is more than the Raiders and Brumbies receive.
But a supporter base for the Giants started to slowly build across the city, as Manuka Oval stands started to fill with Canberrans in orange beanies and more and more locals signed up to memberships.
And here we are, eight years later, with our adopted team making it to the last day of the AFL season and the ACT Government deep into negotiations to extended the partnership with the GWS Giants. The nation’s capital was even represented on the hallowed turf of the MCG on Saturday afternoon with Canberra stitched into the back of the Giants’ jerseys.
So where was the ACT Government’s support to our adopted team during the biggest week of their eight-year existence? While the excitement about the Green Machine inexorably rose, where was the love for our adopted son?
The millions of dollars the government has poured into the Giants has put bums on seats but where is the heart that helps turn part-time fans into passionate supporters?
Maybe it just takes time to slowly learn to love them like one of our own, but Canberra may never really love its adopted team as much as their biological one unless more effort is put in.