Tommy Wilson: City deserves a first-class facility

By Tommy Wilson

2 comments
The grandstand of Tauranga Domain has barely changed since the 60s when it was built.
The grandstand of Tauranga Domain has barely changed since the 60s when it was built.

There are a lot of good rugby yarns shared after a post-match battle on a footy field. Over the years, just like a Chinese whisper or truth-embroidered embellishment, the yarn grows a few extra legs, a few extra yards and a few feet higher - like the tale of the boots that were thrown up on to the roof of the Tauranga Domain grandstand by a legend of the game after playing his final grand final for Rangataua.

These are the yarns of past legends of the game who form the foundation of many of our local rugby clubs. If we are to tell the story of Tauranga or Rotorua and Whakatane the inclusion of the rugby legends is a must, as is a place to replay these memorable moments of local sporting heroes.

Papaka Pango and Mauao Kakariki (Black and Green) will be the colour of the day as the fans flock to watch Rangataua play the Mount in the Baywide premiership finals next Saturday.

It will be big just like the yarns, as will the voice of HoriBop, as he bellows for his beloved Papaka boys, only to be silenced by a half-time hot dog.

As far as venues go, the stadium at Tauranga Domain should be sin-binned. It's cold and old and for a city as flourishing as Tauranga our lack of a first-class venue for sporting, cultural and musical events is embarrassing at best.

In fact, the best thing about watching rugby on a cold day at the Domain are the hot dogs at half time. They truly are worthy of a couple of stars in the Michelin guide for hearty kai.

Everything else about the facilities is still very much stuck in the 60s when the stadium was built, about the same time when we were young ninth graders running around barefoot and full of beans waiting for the big day when playing with boots on was more important than breathing.

Now fast-forward 50 years to next Saturday's final between Rangataua - who are looking at a first-time title in the club's history - and the Mount, who have won it a few times, including a memorable season when my brother coached them to victory and legendary family names were peppered through the pack.

I would like to ask the question amongst dedicated followers of footy who will be there in droves next week, as will councillors new and old: "What would you like more than anything to take Tauranga from the 60s into the next 50 years?"

Would it be a new museum? A new $63 million council headquarters? Or would it be a new, purpose-built, 18,000-seater stadium up on the Domain?

And the crowd goes wild.

For me it's all about creating a soul for the heart of downtown Tauranga and a new stadium will do exactly this. We only have to look at the One Love and jazz festivals or the Lions playing the HoriBops back in the day. The crowds came in their tens of thousands.

As far as cities go, we don't have a soul and to have a soul you need a heart that beats across the city centre like a downtown drumbeat or a pulse that tells Tauranga and those who visit us - we are alive. Then and only then can the crowds go wild with applause.

Sure, I don't mind a museum and I may go a couple of times. Once when it is opened and again when friends visit or the kids go with their class. But that's it. A cultural centre telling local legends and a few sporting yarns has more meaning and a lot more tourism and employment opportunities. Perhaps a stadium and cultural centre could be a great quinella?

As for the new Tauranga Taj Mahal to replace the existing HQ for council, not for me and my mates. This could well be a building like a couple of opposing wingers that Toko Ririnui, a legend of Rangataua rugby, faced in his time. Looked flash, had all the bells'n'whistles on but did bugger all for the whole team - in this case the citizens of Tauranga Moana.

A civic centre is only one part of a team. The heart is the team.

To play on the Domain in a rugby grand final is as big as it gets for thousands of footy fans.

To play that final in a new stadium will be a game changer for our city and the surrounding towns.

Cost of a new stadium? About one-third of the proposed Tauranga Taj Mahal HQ for council.

The timeframe if we all supported it and let our elected and about-to-be-elected members know? Five footy seasons.

Looks on the faces - of supporters and players, concert goers and soul-seekers of the heart of downtown Tauranga? Priceless.

Kia kaha Papaka.

- broblack@xtra.co.nz

- Tommy Wilson is a best-selling author and local writer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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