It’s a sweet joy on three levels to be back at Princess aka “Ikon” park. Preeminent among these is to witness the birth of the AFLW between traditional scallywags Carlton and Collingwood. They come on foot, by bus, by tram, car and wheelchair to siphon into the ground until capacity is reached at 22,000 leaving 2000 outside adrift in waiting, hoping. It’s a perfect day sitting into the still twilight on 25 degrees.
Secondly a sense of sweet nostalgia for the days Hawthorn played here 1974 until 1991 before decamping permanently to Waverley park. The hawks even built their own stand there since renamed to celebrate one of the endless array of Carlton notables.
And thirdly it was the scene of an emotional documented happenstance some 38 years earlier on 9th June 1979 when Carlton Captain Coach Alex Jesaulenko was knocked senseless into the hospital in which his wife tenanted after giving birth by burly magpie assassin for a day Stan Magro. It erupted right before us on that city wing on the standing terrace before that Hawthorn stand, the air sucked from our stomach by the collective gasps of true blue bloods spread forty thousand about us.
Standing about 10 metres away is my future [in Los Angelean accent] “life partner” who’ll initiate a late bump and hip and shoulder three years down the track up the track in Ballarat. We go 20 years before the Jezza bump comes up casually in tea and pie sympathy motivated by endless winter nights trawling together through a 3AW long lost publication exploring the great Carlton Collingwood rivalries since the dawn of pigskin time. Once the page of destiny arrives within its cheap mouldy pages, we establish we were both at that game and that it happened “right in front of us”, with Erin adding that Stan Magro in her lay opinion was “innocent”.
With lupe in hand we track down both our visages in the infamous capture of Jezza being momentarily frozen mid bump as if he’s riding shotgun with JFK on that sunny Dallas fall afternoon coping a little shrapnel. Our love brought together by the kind of off field on field tension that would bring a certain Magroesque atmosphere to the relationship or “team building” as we called it.
Tonight, we are in the Ald (short for Alderman) Gardiner stand. Built in 1903 from metal and timber, the crowd noise swirls off the back wall and down the stalls speaking of past cut lunches and thermos in a way beyond the echo ridden concretisation of modern stadia.
Through the catacombs subterranean cattle rub beneath ageing structures of diverse vintages where transport logic is smashed through series of dead ends outsized passages and blind corners culminating in a hot jam donut stand.
The “modern” Legends stand projects as a defiant folly of old before time stadium technology that seeped its vantage points away and up far from the pocket evaporating the good will of atmosphere the rest of the ground generated.
The gym and social club arise from the modernist departed Carlton Social Club and mighty raucous Robert Heatley stands on the forward pocket mound where skinheads mocked Ken James on his choice of light tan leather leisure jacket whilst on a Skippy sabbatical in the early 1970’s.
Tonight, the biggest roar comes when Carlton’s Darcy Vescio snaps a left footer into the legends stand acolytes to set up a compelling lead.
At three-quarter time with the Pies down 6 goals young Collingwood families pack up, look for lost toddler socks and pack away the toys and head for the exit to spare their young a too early exposure to the inevitable Collingwood trauma. The teams stay with us for 15 minutes after the siren as a collective celebration takes hold. I’ve not witnessed such goodwill at a footy match in my time.
Finally, the second siren urges the race to the centre before the oval is awash with suburban kick to kick.
In 2005, Carlton quit Princes Park to make Docklands their home now managed by their earlier president Ian Collins. All sounds legit eh? The fury of fans from that time survives in the men’s stalls buried deep in the archaeological dig that is the bowels of the Ald Gardiner stand in such pristine textual condition:
It races my heart to be back here on this wonderful night. A few days later I find this amazing piece on how Princes Park was destined to be the venue for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics with a hundred thousand capacity venue planned. Imagine the different complexion football may have exhibited had that come to pass. Follow this link to uncover how this was scuttled.
Finally, could your love survive such a hit? For the sake of the side?