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From the Archives, 2000: Frantic opening for an incomplete Docklands Stadium

“But if we made this Colosseum effect at Waverley all of this might never have been built”.

The $460 million stadium, which probably needed at least another month for completion, opened in desperation and with much trepidation last night.

But as far as the AFL was concerned, the show had to go on.

The league’s chief executive, Wayne Jackson, said: “If the game is all about the game, then it’s ready. If it’s about football fans, then it’s not ready.”

Due to ticketing problems and queues outside the ground, the stadium was less than half full 20 minutes before game time.

Fans pack the stadium for the opening night match between Essendon and Port Adelaide.

Fans pack the stadium for the opening night match between Essendon and Port Adelaide.Credit:Vince Caliguiri

And there are other questions remaining too. The federal Treasurer and Essendon No. 1 ticket holder, Mr. Peter Costello, said last night: “It’s a great stadium, a great club and a great game.” But of the stadium and his role in determining a possible Commonwealth Bank takeover, Mr. Costello added: “I just wonder what it’s going to be called after Friday.”

On Wednesday as the MCG was preparing for the Richmond-Melbourne season opener, the Melbourne Cricket Club received a call from the AFL’s Ian Collins, who asked whether the people’s ground could accommodate the not insignificant task of a last-minute Essendon-Port Adelaide clash.

It was hard to imagine that prospect last night as the sun set over the Jetsons-like construction that the AFL hopes will become the new heart of football.

The $5,000-a-year Medallion Club members could see what privileges they will one day receive but couldn’t touch them last night.

Champion ruckman Paul Salmon, their official host, served free drinks to the stadium’s wealthiest patrons at the end of the night as a placatory gesture.

Fans make their way to Colonial Stadium for the first match.

Fans make their way to Colonial Stadium for the first match.Credit:Pat Scala

But if ever there was a question remaining over the corporatization of football, the answer was emblazoned on the wings of the still-dubious turf where, at 6:30pm the red-and-white paint of the Coca-Cola sign was still drying.

Concerns about whether the paint would damage the turf were overridden by the demands of the major sponsor. And they were still wiring up Kevin Sheedy’s coach’s box and installing telephones late yesterday too.

The open-air stadium, it’s famous rood is still incapable of being closed safely – meant that the AFL’s sherrin-style hot-air balloon had to be removed from the pre-game festivities at the last minute and placed on Colonial’s concourse outside and the sparklers surrounding the boundary line lost a little in the translation too.

Wayne Jackson did a lot of running last night. He ran from the ground to the dressing rooms then to his Tasmanian smoke salmon entrée at the official dinner.

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In the Bombers’ changing room, Jackson had extracted the following promise from Essendon’s ageing recruit, John Barnes, who told Jackson: “Two bounces on the run, Wayne, and I can goal.”

And the visitors, Port Adelaide? “They’d be happy to play on the beach,” said the league chief. Coach Mark Williams echoed that sentiment. Surrounded by construction and surveying the painters and the building and electricians and the panic, Williams observed: “I’ve played on a lot worse in my time.”

John Nicholls said he like what he saw but Carlton’s legendary ruckman added of the game that he can barely recognize today: “I might be old-fashioned but there is so much about what we have here that is unique and I only hope that we don’t fiddle with it too much.”

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