Sunday Sliders; Gourmet Game Wraps, Bite-Sized. (Student Riots at Ballymore)

by matchdayburger

Brisbane Premier Rugby; Preliminary Finals; Ballymore; 31/8/2013

 4th Grade; University vs. Easts

3rd Grade; University vs. Souths

The air is thick with memories, the void of a showground where the carnival was set up for a while…

Report by Nicholas Turner

The Reds merchandise stand is open tonight at Ballymore, probably because of Father’s Day. The two healthy lads in there are tossing a footy back and forth, talking birds. Next door the canteen is also open, but only just, one amiable woman at one register and only a selection of items on display. The pair at the deep fryer might be a couple, and they ask me if the last game of the night is the one that’s just finishing. When I tell them it isn’t, they sigh. The bar is open and you can snag a prime stand-up table without any ado. A modest crowd is scattered across just one stand. Most of us are eager to get up high because, I don’t know, it’s something you can’t do on your average club oval. Plus, boys just like to be up high, and maybe girls do too. Notably, the wives of the on-field players stay on the ground level because many of them have prams to push. Their husbands trot around on hallowed turf, under lights, pigs in proverbial but not actual mud because the weather’s too good and even if it wasn’t Ballymore drains like a tin roof. For grassroots players the novelty of playing here is insatiable. I take a seat as regulation time closes on the 4th grade game, scores locked at 12 all.

Fourth grade players are programmed to run out a solid seventy minutes, so the incidence of extra time in finals tends to sink ships. Tonight the Easts boys are on the bad end of it. In twenty minutes, University put on forty three (not a typo, and here’s the digits to prove it; 43) unanswered points, and will surely roll into next week’s grand final completely full of themselves. This freakshow testifies to the unnatural speed of a stunning field, and for that I’m lucky enough to remember watching a schoolboy outside-centre play here when I was small and knew nothing about the game, a boy who did not so much run as glide around the park, a boy who touched the ground only to alter direction, one of those naive and otherworldly memories that belong to a particular place and survive only because the place does.

That place, Ballymore, is really a ghost town these days, no matter how well they keep it maintained.  The air is thick with memories, the void of a showground where the carnival was set up for a while; old popcorn boxes and a few damaged prizes scattered around, not worth taking to the next town. Stadiums are built to be filled and anything less showcases their emptiness. Vacant seats are inherently unpleasant, a little weird, maybe even shameful. The grandstands are formidable, expensive and architecturally obscure, the giant rooves suspended miraculously. You’re tempted to feel the weight of unsold seats, out of habit.

There is no art to watching these 3rd and 4th grade finals games; they’re good quality, tough wrestles, played with vigour and spirit. But an extra beauty lies in the sight of those tens of thousands of unattended seats. The fantastic silliness of watching decidedly amateur people play in a multi-million-dollar facility built for turning over big dollars. Purely for fun and contest. I mean, there’s no way they sell enough burgers to run the floodlights tonight. It’s just one of those good things that happens when you’ve got a spare stadium lying around.

The 3rd Grade game is of good quality and up to the final fifteen minutes both teams would have deserved the win. The physicality is genuine from both sides. A quality inside centre from University looks a notch above this class, runs with reasonable arrogance, and gets the nod for best player. Points are free-flowing. The skill level is high and very finals-like. Souths fall behind but stay in touch and then loom late. University run delicious lines through centre-field, scoring usually between the posts. Souths work harder up front, scramble, and surge over out wide. They inject a former Wallaby off the bench. Its gets to be an eight point game, and then it’s just one.

But despite the script that Ballymore lays out before them, Souths ultimately refuse to take the win. For the last ten minutes they get a string of penalties and then don’t find touch. They knock on maybe seven or eight times. They should have won with a bang but they lose with a whisper. University run out of everything but points, and that’s enough.

The students go through in both games. No mean feat.

Match Day Burger: 4/10

MDB Cost: $8.00

MDB Service Atmosphere: 5/10

Match Score: 4th Grade, University 55 def. Easts 12; 3rd Grade, University 34 def. Souths 33

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