Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Eden Park's baptism of fire recalls fruitier times on terraces

Eden Park. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Eden Park. Photo / Herald on Sunday

The Eden Park authorities should be delighted with Saturday's baptism of their upgraded venue. If all the Ma Grundys of the media can come up with to keen about is a few flying plastic bottles, a streaker and the booing of the Australian national anthem, the park organisation seems to have got things pretty right for next year's Rugby World Cup.

Australian rugby league coach Tim Sheens says the Auckland crowd was intimidating and it was lucky the bottles were plastic.

While not wanting to be seen to be encouraging bottle throwing, an outside observer like myself can't help thinking that given the brain-shaking, bone-jarring body contact that goes on for most of the game, a bop on the head from a plastic bottle would be a fleabite in comparison. Even if contact had been made, which it wasn't.

As for booing the national anthem, isn't that what any self-respecting partisan crowd is supposed to do. And given the banal quality of the Aussie and Kiwi anthems, the quicker they're both booed out of existence the better.

Getting back to the bottles, having been plied with booze for several hours, it's hardly any surprise that some spectators send a few empties flying when the home team gets a drubbing.

At least the organisers ensured the bottles were made of plastic. On my first trip to this ground, as a young schoolboy half a century ago, the missiles were much harder.

It was a Springbok test against the All Blacks, the stands and terraces were packed, and thousands of kids were corralled on the wet grass, between the sideline and the white picket fence. In those simpler times, a few decorative sticks of wood were all the protection deemed necessary to separate the rabble in the terraces from the field of play.

Entertainment in those days was the Army band. I could be wrong but I don't think they risked a display of skimpily dressed marching girls as well, just men in lemon squeezers, marching back and forth pumping out rousing military marches.

The musicians spent most of their time, serenading the rich and/or the well-connected folk who had scored tickets in the main south stand. But as kick-off time approached, they made one brave sortie across the field to acknowledge the terrace crowds.

It soon became obvious why their visit to the dark side was short and delayed. The larrikins in the terraces had been lying in wait and the moment the band was within range, let loose a barrage of grapefruit.

Whether they brought these peculiarly Auckland-style missiles from home, or drunkenly plucked them as they passed by from the obligatory citrus trees that occupied every Mt Eden yard in those days, I don't know. As a youngster, a week out of New Plymouth where such fruit were unknown, I had no idea what the large yellow missiles flying overhead even were.

But with the band beating a hasty retreat and many of the fruits having dropped short on us, I did what any self-respecting youngster would have - followed the example of those around me and joined in the fun, heaving the missiles back in the direction they came from. That of course created a new set of victims, and it took of flurry of whistle-blowing teachers and police to calm everything down.

To this day, I'm not sure why so many of the crowd had grapefruit with them. I'm suspecting it wasn't as a beverage. I don't recall the obvious enemy, the Springboks, being targeted. Mind you, by the time they emerged, the ammunition was well gone. Perhaps it was an ancient feud between the band and the terrace habitues, the origins of which have, like the fruit, passed over my head.

As for booing national anthems, that was when everyone stood up for God Save the Queen at the movies.

I'm guessing it was the only anthem the band played - both South Africa and New Zealand then being ex-colonies in the old British empire - and there would have been no booing. Grapefruit throwing, you could get away with, but not standing to attention for the national anthem, that would have been a marching off to the dungeons offence. But now? Who cares.

- NZ Herald

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