Back in the ‘good old days’ (showing my age here) we used to traipse out to Seiffert Oval on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon and line up near the try line to watch Mal Meninga steamroll over a defenceless defender to score another try.
Subsequently, when games moved to Bruce Stadium – in the heyday of the Raiders – we parked in Dryandra Street and a short stroll took us to the stadium. Easy access and easy getaway afterwards.
Nowadays everything to do with football seems to make it less amenable to actually attending a match.
Firstly for both rugby league and rugby union the advent of televising games, more money, corporate boxes etc has led to matches being played at different times like Friday or Saturday evening. Given the cold of Canberra winter evenings, and reports of the shamble of parking at Bruce Stadium – or whatever name it is currently called – especially leaving the car parks through Hayden Drive and other exits, we just stopped going. Admittedly apart from a few seasons, both the Raiders and Brumbies haven’t been too flash and it is a well-recognised fact that Canberra supporters in the main are fair weather supporters.
Unless you are a diehard supporter it is not surprising that numbers dropped off. Any idea of taking children to these games is not attractive with matches often ending after 10 pm. The cost of entry, seating, and additional items like food and drink are another potential turn-off.
Changes to the organisation of, and trends within, the codes have also been a problem.
Until money raised its head there was a degree of loyalty of players to clubs. Then rugby league players recruited and ‘reared’ through the ranks of the Raiders suddenly started turning up in rival teams. Sometimes I would look at the team rosters and wonder which team was the Raiders, with so many familiar names turning out for the opposition. I don’t blame the players as they have a relatively short earning window and need to secure their future.
The more recent changes to rugby union make many supporters scratch their heads. With the expansion from 15 to 18 teams in Super Rugby (and now the foreshadowed reduction back again) has left a feeling of incomprehension as to how the powers that be could be so stupid.
The current format with four groups, where the Australian teams play the other Australian teams twice, most others once but some not at all, means you need a computer spreadsheet to work out where everything is going. Particularly odd is the current situation where the Brumbies, as the leading Australian outfit, have fewer points than the last placed NZ team, yet would still gain a finals berth.
I won’t get into the argument about the quality of refereeing (including video referees) but many matches in recent years appear to have been decided by who got the worst deal in crucial moments.
Australian Rules has had its own problems. For years many Canberra AFL followers had come to the city from southern states and had well-developed allegiance to specific teams. For some years the ACT Government threw copious sums of money as some different AFL teams in the hopes that (a) they would establish some sort of base here and (b) would attract a following. No chance – they just took the money and ran. Still some hopes GWS will fill the bill – but only three games a year!
A big concern is the view that Canberra doesn’t have a stadium appropriate to host professional team games. Manuka seems fine for cricket and Aussie Rules while the rectangular games could do with a new stadium. Providing adequate cover for spectators would be a major improvement.
Some ideas have been floated for a new stadium but all seem to be cursed with problems of setting and cost. Given the parlous state of ACT finances, we may have to wait some years.
Anyone got any good ideas for a new stadium?