“We’re on the way to the footy. Everybody’s excited!”
I sent this text message to my son in Sydney, while on the train, en route to the first AFL game at the new Optus Stadium.
West Coast Eagles playing their arch rivals Sydney Swans.
Somewhat unusually for Eagles fans, the train was packed with strangers grinning and chattering to each other.
The excitement was infectious. But it was short-lived.
The next morning, I was waiting to board a plane to Melbourne, this time en route to a holiday in Tasmania.
Strangers were smiling politely and talking quietly about last night’s football match.
Behind me, I spotted, Gillon McLaughlin, the handsome and urbane CEO of the AFL, obviously in town for the historic game.
I hope the poor man had had his morning coffee because I let him have both barrels.
“I know it’s nothing to do with you, but you should know that I was SO disappointed last night,” I told him.
“Our seats were terrible, up so high that the players looked like little LEGO men. I couldn’t see their faces or the numbers on their jumpers, so I had to try to work out who was who from their positions and their gait.
“At Subi, we had seats 15 rows from the fence.” There, we could hear the players shouting at each other, we could see their grimaces and grins. We could hear the sound of ball on flesh and see the sweat on their backs and legs.
With the first allocation of seats in the new stadium, the Eagles put us two rows from the back of the 60,000-seat stadium.
After we complained (“Is this our reward for 16 years of loyalty? More than a decade of sitting on a splintery seat, with our feet in a puddle when it rained, telling ourselves it would be better when we moved to the new stadium..”) they moved us several rows closer, but still on the top — fifth — level.
I told Gillon McLoughlin I felt betrayed by the Eagles. I felt the club was treating its loyal, paying members very shabbily.
“The ordinary people get the first level, where they get wet when it rains, or the top level where you can barely recognise Nic Natanui. Now there’s a good measure of how far away you are from the ground.
“In between, levels two, three and four are all for ‘corporates’. You climb up and up to the top level, past closed doors, manned by security guards, bearing signs such as ‘premium hospitality’. You can only imagine what’s going on in there.”
I assume they are eating Wagyu beef sliders and fresh fruit from porcelain platters.
As for the hoi polloi, there is the usual footy fare of burgers, chips, hot dogs….this in “the best stadium in Australia.”
I searched for something in the slightly healthier range and found a stall selling sushi. Hurrah!
“Oh no, sorry, we’ve sold out.”
This was an hour and a half before the game! So I sampled one of my husband’s chips… and they tasted fishy.
So, disappointing food, awful seats ( at nearly twice the price of our old seats) and the distinct feeling of being treated like second class citizens.
“I feel like taking my membership card into the Eagles and throwing it across the counter, and telling them that I don’t want to be a member any more, that I’m disgusted with the way we have been treated, that I don’t want to go to another football match at the stadium, and that I want my money back.
“I’d rather use our membership fees to fly to Melbourne and watch a game from good seats at the MCG, and enjoy some decent tasty food.”
When I paused for breath, Mr McLaughlin asked if that was why we were flying to Melbourne. “Are you escaping?”
On a more serious note, he said he knew that the Eagles had a few seats up their sleeves to offer people like me.
“If I worked for the Eagles and was on the end of that rant, I’d certainly offer you those better seats!” he said.
We’re in beautiful rural Tasmania as I write this, and I haven’t had the chance to rant at the Eagles administration. Which is probably just as well, because I might become that ugly, rude person complaining about first world problems.
But I DO feel as though we’re the poor relatives who’ve been treated with disregard.
And I’m sure we’re not the only ones.
A membership at Claremont Football Club is looking pretty good to me.