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Standing room only

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The time: Queen’s Birthday Monday 1992. The place: outside the Great Southern Stand of the MCG. The occasion: St Kilda versus Collingwood. One word, belonging to the world we all now live in, brings the scene vividly back to me … because the gathering throng is clearly going to be huge — much bigger than forecast — and because one section of the G, at least as I remember it, is closed off for some local temporary reason, a very large crowd will require more than routine management.

And that’s why thousands of us — milling round, approaching, queuing, changing queues, scanning the multitudes to glimpse the friends, relatives, beloveds or usual footy-going mates who are due any minute — are trying at the same time to pay attention to the continuous announcement from a disembodied voice over the crackling sound system with instructions that go something like this:

‘If you are a Collingwood member or a concessional Collingwood member, go to the left of Gate 7 as you face the ground, unless you’re an AFL member in which case go to Gate 8 except if you are blue ticket AFL member and are convinced Tony Lockett will definitely play today [he didn’t] then proceed to Gate 6 or preferably give up and go round to the Ponsford Stand which can’t be accessed from the Southern Stand which anyway is nearly full so please use the small gateway to the right of Gate 7 if your ticket number is  …’

Well, that’s how it sounded over and over to people in the rush and crush desperately trying to work out which queue not to waste their time in.

I had arranged to meet my sons and a couple of their friends at 12.00pm. We actually met at 12.05pm (some people are just incapable of being on time) and, having tackled with moderate success the intellectual challenge of discovering how and where to actually get into the ground, we were inside and ensconced in standing room at Section M13-14 by 12.45pm. For those who still like to watch football (and cricket for that matter) while standing and with room to move around a little, these covert niches on the ground level of the Great Southern Stand are a godsend. Some of them, including M13-14, are also very handy to a bar.

Being early on this Queen’s Birthday of which I speak, we command the fence separating us from a block of Collingwood reserved seats and so we can look over their heads straight out on to the ground. Because of the shadow-filled low overhang of the Great Southern’s first tier, the picture we see is a long green slash from goal to goal. From this spot, the footy if kicked long and high, occasionally disappears from sight for an aerial instant; and pre-match entertainment can be obscured too, especially — as was the case on this Queen’s Birthday — if the entertainment happens to be parachutists.


'For those who still like to watch football (and cricket for that matter) while standing and with room to move around a little, these covert niches on the ground level of the Great Southern Stand are a godsend.'


As we stand around listening to the hysterical excitement over the public address system while the unseen intrepid paras plummet from their aircraft and aim for the centre circle of the MCG, we all automatically look up — only to see the grey concrete underside of the level above. But one young bloke, staring intently at this ‘ceiling’, announces with an impeccable twang, ‘And here they come. Jeez look how high up they are. Here’s a red parachute opening now … spectacular stuff. And two more, red and black.’ He points excitedly at the stolid grey overhang. ‘Smoke, look at that smoke,’ he continues with growing excitement, ‘they’ve got smoke bombs or somethin’ attached to their boots.’ He is like McMurphy calling a baseball game from a blank TV in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the result is just as dramatic.

Everyone around us is staring up at a twenty thousand tonnes of impenetrable concrete roof. ‘Yair,’ says someone else. ‘Here comes another one — it’s a green chute this one, swingin’ round in the wind up there’. Others join in: soon, the air over the G is multi-coloured with chutes!

But not as far as the crowds queuing or waiting outside are concerned. The bloke on the public address system is telling everyone urgently that the Southern Stand is now full and everyone must go to the Ponsford Stand. Suddenly a stocky young man who had watched and listened to all this without taking part and who, in fact, seemed quite distressed, confided miserably that he’d persuaded his brother and various friends to drive down from Deniliquin to see the Magpies. They did. They’d arrived. And they were locked out.

It was that incident, brought back to life from a distant and inconsequential memory, a mere footy match after all, by the entirely serendipitous teasing tricks of language — locked up, locked in, locked out, locked down — that emphasised for me, again, how the details, the commonplace acceptances, the very texture of our lives are changing day to day: so quickly, so unpredictably, so irremediably that there will be no snap back.



Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is honorary professor of English at Flinders University and an award winning columnist and biographer.

Main image: A general view of the crowd in the Great Southern Stand at the MCG. (Jack Atley / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, Queen's birthday, MCG, football, Magpies, Great Southern Stand



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Existing comments

An early MCG experience was Richmond v Carlton 1973; attending with a sibling... my dad had obtained the tickets from a scalper at work. Dad had better things to do on a Saturday; the horse races dominated his interest and there wasn't a phone available for bets or the obligatory "backing out" inside a footy ground; he dropped us off at Richmond station. So as kids armed only with an unchecked packet we approached the MCG entrance only to find the envelope contained preliminary finals tickets for the previous week. The gate attendant was obstructionary but sympathetic; a higher official came and told us to "wait here"; we thought we were in strife!! Minutes later he returned, ushered us inside and escorted us to near the fence line of the Southern stand. Richmond won the match but the real "winner" was the understanding for me that there can be pockets of redemption equally as unpredictable as those moments more structured in nature. 100,000 people paid to get in that day; few of them took more away from the G than I did. I saw the Pope at the MCG in 1970, didn't hear a word that he said... guess who had the greater influence on me.

ray | 30 November 2021  

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