Mad Sunday Abides Jungle Rule at Ballymore (Disembodied Organ Fades in 100m Dash)
Easts, GPS, University of Queensland, Gold Coast, Souths; Brisbane Premier Rugby Grand Finals; Ballymore; 8/9/2013
…there’s only so many loose-head props in low-cut ball gowns that you can handle when you’re in a state to drive home…
Report by Nicholas Turner
It’s a long day out at the Queensland Premier Rugby grand finals, both for the three major games and the hoopla that goes along when almost nine thousand punters turn up to see grassroots rugby at its absolute precipice. Ballymore’s got something up its sleeve because they’ve turned the pilgrimage itself into a hashtag. Before and during the big game, which is an all out class-fest, preternaturally well-structured, and just plain good, the stadium is many times enlivened by discrete pockets of carnival atmosphere, some of it surreal and only discoverable by getting on foot and moving around. It’s a great day for a burger and snooping while keeping an eye on the middle. Here’s a little of what was there to be found…
Elevenish: A few seats back from the fence there’s a hideous gryphon that’s supposed to be a magpie. He’s five-and-a-half feet and there’s feathers stuck to his arms and a beak hanging off his chin and he’s squawking and swaying back and forth like a car just hit him. It’s the beer, plus he really wants a win. His face is grey smudge. Playing against the bluebloods of GPS in the Premier 1st Grade decider, the small Souths clan are in their absolute element, cursing and chanting, doing everything to lose the favour of the ref, and generally revelling in their status as the most irreverent and infuriating club in the competition. On a day when many of Brisbane’s well-to-do mums and dads have flocked to Herston to watch their heirs trot about, the small Souths contingent, ostensibly from the ‘other side of the tracks,’ is determined to be rowdy to the point of awkwardness. It looks like they’re going to rip up the seats and start throwing them around if things don’t go right. The whisper of nice ladies is as thick as a sea gale; ‘perhaps we’d better be going’.
Eleven-thirty: It’s probably the hottest day of the season so far, pushing towards thirty degrees, which isn’t all that hot in the scheme of things though it’s a rude shock on the back of a long winter. From up in the stands there looks to be a kind of haze at ground level. The 1st Grade players can feel it. Water is at a premium.
Midday: The tussle between Souths and GPS is both tight and hard-fought. Deep into the third quarter, the scores are locked at 6-7, and the game takes on a briefly muted quality. It slows, softens. Passes are caught flat-footed. Forwards start to lean on rucks rather than joining them. There’s no counter-rucking. It’s a very brief phase, lasting for maybe just a minute or two, and it’s in no way characteristic of an otherwise sincere and hasty contest. But it does seem almost as if, in a game where the pace has been so fierce, and it’s so hot (refer Eleven-Thirty, above), both sides tacitly agree on what seems like a live truce. Stranger still is the way this feels, as a spectator, kind of acceptable. Neither side is playing badly – they’re both just not really playing for a moment. Souths will snap out of it first and win the game.
One O’clock: On the big screen, between games, Lionel Ritchie wants to know if I’ve been looking for a personal keg inside my fridge that’ll dispense beer when prompted. Lionel’s face and his little beard have a particularly ‘manipulated’ look to them that’s hard to pin down; something like the difference between a nice bit of household lawn and a golfing green.
Ten Past One: It’s hot enough by around lunch time for me to question, albeit briefly, whether the giant green heart that waves at me on my way to the toilet is something I should see a specialist about. I stand at the urinal and talk some sense to myself. On my way back out the heart is adjusting itself behind the cubicle, so I move in just to put myself at ease. We get talking; as it turns out he’s a public servant deep down inside, and he ‘suits-up’ for Brisbane at these kind of events. Today he’s featuring in a running race with a lion, a dragon and a koala bear, representing ice-cream, money and Queensland rugby respectively. But first he wants to grab a drink, but just a soft drink, or else a water. Every mascot knows that if they catch you with booze on your breath then you’re done. There is sadness behind the thin mesh of lycra that separates our faces, but what do you say to a thirsty heart whose prepping for a race with two animals and a myth? Good luck, I guess.
Quarter Past One: As I pass, I count twenty bow-tied staff standing shoulder-to-shoulder behind the bar waiting to pour beers. At that moment, not one of them is actually pouring a beer. With nothing to do but stare at the field, which all of them are doing, they look like a pack of meerkats that reckon something’s up. (N.B. They get busy soon enough.)
Twenty Past One: The Premier Colts kick off just as I’ve grabbed my match day burger, and I head to the hill to get a good look at the University supporters. They’re pissed and seem to be pretty happy about it. Drinking is a big theme on grand final day and every club protects its more embellished revellers from eviction through sheer confusion of numbers. (Analogously, and by example, at one point the security guard decides to confiscate a megaphone from the Uni huddle. Suddenly the object sinks below eye level, gets switched behind someone’s back, shifts through a few sets of hands, slips under a shirt and then between someone’s legs. For all intents and purposes it’s gone, untraceable. The security guard shrugs and walks off.) This bunch has gone with a hard-to-define dress code that draws on Tiki-hipster, high-panted dexter and out-and-out drag. The common denominator is a rude shirt. I hardly need to get graphic with the description of male footballers in women’s clothing – it’s a universal enough image these days. If every club comes to these big games with the purpose of being extremely themselves (refer Elevenish, above), then I’m not sure what University are declaring here. In any case, there’s only so many loose-head props in low-cut ball gowns that you can handle when you’re in a state to drive home. I brush the sesame seeds off my pants and get out of there.
Two O’Clock: Gold Coast can’t seem to put it together in the Colts game and they get rolled by the students. It’s not a fantastic game, and not only because the score ends up 22-0. There appears to be talent everywhere – plenty of size, speed, skill and all that stuff – but the price on mistakes is not high enough to make it an engaging watch. Nothing’s really at stake, error-wise. After the much more tightly-wound 1st Grade game it feels like a bit of an extended lull. I find myself gazing off toward the old “private school corner”, now all but forgotten under the expansion of seating in the Eastern stand, like some kind of conspiratorial cover-up of a landmark for underage drinking and fully-clothed teen sex.
Two-Thirty: Back in the McLean stand, four old-timers with Easts supporters shirts have settled into the seats in front of me. They’ll provide entertainment up to the main fixture, dilly-dallying about as they try to sort out whose beer is whose when they return from the bar. I eavesdrop shamelessly on stories of old games and good times. One of the men has a grandson at his side who isn’t old enough to understand the priceless dribble passing over his head. The banter is good, there’s beer going everywhere, including on yours truly, and it’s worth it every time.
Three O’Clock: The few spectators in the Eastern stand have been shade-chasing all afternoon and as game time looms they finally run out of rows to climb. I realise, quite suddenly, that the turn-out for the Premier Grade game is extraordinary. GPS and Easts are big, family-oriented clubs with strong underage programs and plenty of history. Real estate on the hill is at a premium and the supporters have divided it down the middle. It’s gets a little hairy now and then as passers-by take shelling in the form of plastic beer cups.
Five O-Clock: After the Easts supporters have rushed the field, followed by all the kids and whoever else, I step over the rail to be hit by a wall of body odour that almost induces concussion. It’s in my throat before I can close my mouth. You forget how much more tangible it all is down on the pitch.
As for the big game, it’s as good as everyone’s told you. Easts are the rightful winners but anything could have happened. The Tigers play as clean a set game as this level offers, incisive in attack and brisk in defence. They force GPS to run sideways toward the middle of the first half and deny them the broken-play opportunities they sorely need. They also ruck with such efficiency that the referee begins to swoon over them. But the game is not ultimately defined by negativity or by a lack of anything from one team, and certainly not by the ref. The error rate is very low, genuine opportunities are few, and only in the last ten minutes does either side look like they’ve bought into the irresistible panic of finals football. That’s when things get hectic at Ballymore. We’re off our seats. You had to be there.
Match Day Burger Score: 6.0
MBD Cost: $8.00
MDB Service Atmosphere: 6.0
Match Score: Premier 1st Grade, Souths 16 def. GPS 12; Premier Colts, University 22 def. Gold Coast 0; Premier Grade, Easts 27 def. GPS 22
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