Everything was set. The media had done their thing, trying to spark up a rivalry between James Hird and former coach Kevin Sheedy. The builders had also done their thing, getting the new stadium prepared and ready on time. The Giants and the AFL were looking forward to a great match, maybe not expecting one scoreboard-wise, but a good spectacle nonetheless.
What turned out was a little below standard. Only 11,887 people attended the opening match of Skoda Stadium at Sydney Olympic Park, less than 50% of its capacity. The 23,000 seat stadium was split 50-50 between Giants and Essendon supporters. Those who were there were treated to a largely boring match, with the away side dominating the Giants in all categories.
Channel 7 as always were trying to spruce up the match, but it’s fair to say the match lost some of its edge even before the bounce, with rugby convert Israel Folau pulling out pre-game, ruling out a Karmichael Hunt like moment re-creation. Also, over on the other channel, Collingwood was taking on the in-form Adelaide in arguably the match of the round.
The turf was in poor condition and it resembled how Docklands Stadium’s turf looked in the early years. The Sydney Easter Show is held at the ground and this includes cattle grazing across the oval. This, however cannot be used as an excuse because the former baseball venue for the 2000 Olympic Games was purposely re-constructed for Australian rules football, and it needs to have turf up to AFL-standard.
The positives of the future however outweigh the negatives of the present.
Skoda Stadium looked magnificent on the night and definitely gives the stadium across the road a run for its money; It has the largest video-screen in the southern hemisphere plonked right behind the goals and the fans appeared to be sitting in absolute comfort and had great viewing positions.
There have been comparisons with Gold Coast’s Metricon Stadium, with many saying that Sydney’s ground is not architecturally as attractive and therefore not as good. This is unfair, as Gold Coast’s ground was re-constructed from scratch. Skoda Stadium was just built-on.
On the other side of the city, 12,756 people turned up at Jubilee Oval to watch the NRL clash between St George and Parramatta. It’s encouraging that this match only drew 869 less people than an all-Sydney derby. Also across at Allphones Arena, there was a ‘New Kids on the Block’ concert. This could’ve kept people away due to parking.
Regardless, as the Giants progress on the field, they will off it and crowds will increase. The AFL’s plan for the club is focusing on what it will be in the year 2025, not 2012. It will not accept failure. Also, the comments from the crowd on Saturday night complimented that despite the crowd it had a fantastic atmosphere.
What will be interesting is how many fans will show up at the Collingwood VS Giants match in Round 18. That will be a massive test on the Sydney crowds, which since the 2003 Rugby World Cup have been largely notorious for bad show-ups.