Brisbane 106 Carlton 112 (AFL)

Brisbane Lions 106 Carlton 112 (06/06/2009)

Members of the 92 club and many groundhoppers have their own strict rulings about what constitutes “doing” a ground. Not seeing all of the game and/or missing a goal are enough to see that particular ground wiped off the “done” list. As far as I’m concerned, I am a “member” of the somewhat less known “7 club”, in that I have visited all seven main AFL grounds. Yet, according to the picky and pointless rules, I haven’t seen a match at The Gabba. I missed 5 minutes of the game and two goals. Now, anyone who wants me to have to make a special trip back to Brisbane to make it count is going to get a swift knee in the groin, as such as idea is absurd.

Almost equally absurd is the fact that I arrived late in the first place. I left plenty of time, but the buses to the stadium just didn’t turn up at my stop. The electronic board said they were coming, due in 5 minutes, 4 minutes, 3, 2, 1, due now…..and then just vanished from the board. I could have walked it from the CBD in 40 minutes, but it took about an hour before a bus eventually arrived. From there a hasty dash to the stadium resulted in a wrong turn and being separated from my destination by an uncrossable dual carriageway.

Doubling back and running to the ground, discovering I’m not as fit as I thought I was, got me to the ground with the game just started. I took my seat with Brisbane having a 7-6 lead, and found myself surrounded by Carlton fans. A group of five were to my left. I bent down to tie my shoelace and noticed, just to late, that they were taking a group photo. My face, peering round, therefore appeared poking round at the end of the line up. At least they were amused rather than horrified.

The Gabba is fantastic ground. Rather like a mini-MCG, it’s actually smaller than it looks, only holding 42,000. It’s been completely rebuilt since 1993, with three tiers in one semi-circle, and two on the other side, but both sides join together to make it look like a whole rather two halves. The roof is somewhat lighter than the MCG’s, being a fabric style roof. That would be fine except that a month before I went out, Queensland was ravaged by a major storm which ripped part of the roof off. It had just been repaired so it was back to looking a smart, all-enclosed stadium again.

Despite being among many Carlton fans, I again nominally supported the home side. I wouldn’t be the lucky charm I’d been at my four previous AFL games though, as this one wouldn’t result in a home win. In fact Brisbane’s lead, despite being extended by another goal, didn’t last long at all. Carlton were ahead halfway through the first quarter, and wouldn’t relinquish that lead all night. A 10 point first quarter lead would stretch to 17 by half time, and a crushing 30 by the end of the third quarter.

Much of the damage was being done by “bad boy” Brendan Fevola. He scored 8 of Carlton’s 16 goals on the night (nobody else scored more than one). Brisbane fans would have cause to curse him the following year too, when the club wasted valuable trades to get him from Carlton, only to see him have a poor season before being sacked for off-field issues.

If the game was supposed to be all over, nobody told Brisbane. They came at Carlton with a late charge, scoring 4 unanswered goals to bring the margin to within one goal. Two for Carlton seemed to steady the ship, but two more from Brisbane brough it back to 7 points. The next goal was crucial, and it went to Carlton. Chris Judd, one of Carlton’s best players on the night, broke the hearts of the Brisbane fans. Earlier he’d broken his nose in a collision with a teammate. He’d played most of the game since them with bandages wrapped round his head, looking like he’d been interrupted while in make-up auditioning for a part in The Mummy. With his shaved head and gumshield he doesn’t look the best looking player while playing at the best of times. Bandaged up, he could scare small children.

Jonathan Brown, so often Brisbane’s talisman, did pull one back, but an earlier miss was costly. Another miss put Brisbane within a goal of tying the scores deep into added time, but it was too deep, and was the last meaningful play before the siren indicated the end of the game.

While the eventual win for Carlton, given their position at the end of the 3rd quarter, wasn’t a shock, the fact that the siren went during heavy rain, was. It may have technically been mid-winter in Brisbane, but I’d seen nothing but clear blue skies since arriving three days earlier. Brisbane has an urban beach the other side of the river from the main loop of the Central Business District, and this was packed with sunbathers enjoying the warm June weather. It didn’t convince all though. As I walked past I heard a small boy ask his dad if they could go on the beach, only for him to be harshly scolded “Don’t be stupid son. It’s winter!” as if the women in bikinis were a mirage.

Brisbane is certainly an attractive city. So much so that after visiting the botanical garden, high up on a hill four miles from the CBD, I decided to walk back. One thing you don’t get from a map is a sense of how hilly a route is. The roads may have been lined with adorable Queenslander wooden houses, but after a while all I noticed were the giant camel’s hump of the hills I was having the cross, and walking back bacame of of those decisions I’d start to regret.

Part of the reason I’d decided to walk back was to take in a street which was said to feature many picturesque tin roofed houses, but to be honest I thought the suburb I’d walked through looked better. The saving grace – in fact it actually made me glad I’d decided to walk – was the chance of some more “sporting” action. Unlike the AFL game I’d been to the night before, the piglet racing at the Paddington Tavern, just north of the Suncorp Stadium, was a much more local event. Apparently animal rights campaigners have tried to get this regular event banned for being cruel to the piglets, but the piglets themselves seemed to have a whale of time, running round the course and getting the food at the end of it as a reward.

From there I took the short walk to Suncorp Stadium. It looks a fantastic stadium, perhaps the only one that could get me enthusiastic about seeing rugby league, but it was all shut up, and the only view I could get was through a gap in a gate. Earlier this year, the pitch of this stadium, as well as many of the area’s houses, the CBD and the urban beach, were all submerged by floodwater as the Brisbane River rose 4.5m. It’s always a shock to see such pictures, but becomes a little more poignant when you can picture the area through having been there. Hopefully the city will be back to normal before too long, as it’s a lovely city, and one that I’d love to go back to, picky 92 club rules or not.

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