Ground far cry from when Wallabies last won a test there

Lukewarm pie, cold chips and a beer shower - that was the Eden Park experience for many when Australia knocked off the All Blacks at Eden Park in September 1986.

The home of New Zealand rugby has changed dramatically in the last three decades.

With 23 entrances to choose from, simply getting into the ground was a bit of a mission back in 1986. Once in, the customer experience was mixed, to say the least.

"You were always struggling for good vantage points," recalls Graham Walton, who saw his first match at the ground as a 5-year-old in 1946 and now serves as the venue's social historian.


1986: David Lange, 2014: John Key

The eastern terraces, dismantled in 2008 as part of the 2011 World Cup redevelopment, were particularly lively. "It was pretty much a free-for-all. Given the amount of alcohol consumed, it was surprising there weren't more problems. It was a pretty good place to be. You'd have great fun.

"I can remember sitting in the terraces and getting showered with beer when the Waikato supporters used to come up and challenge for the Ranfurly Shield."

Dining options for most were limited. Merv Ah Chee' s company Panda was in charge of catering at the ground from 1985 through to the early 2000s. When it first started, much of the ground didn't have electricity.


SECRET WEAPON: The Wallabies' 9-year-old spy


Scotty Stevenson: All or nothing a winning Bledisloe recipe

Captain's critics just needlessly afraid: Hansen

"It was pretty prehistoric," Mr Ah Chee said.

The meals he served for officials and players in the few exclusive lounges were by many accounts exceptional, but for the vast majority a pie sold off the back of a trailer was about it. Upgrades to the stadium's infrastructure helped improve the food on offer (the 12-inch bun and sausage Superdog era was particularly memorable). However, a push for healthier stadium food never amounted to much.

"Nobody wants lettuce at the rugby," Mr Ah Chee said. "They are not interested."

Despite the ancient and substandard facilities, the 1980s was the golden era for Eden Park, says Lindsay Knight, the veteran journalist who quite literally wrote the book on the famous ground. Fans regularly packed the park on Saturday afternoons to watch Auckland sweep all before them, while still rare All Blacks matches were cherished events. "It was in its glory days in the 80s," Knight said.

The 1986 match against the Wallabies was particularly memorable because of the tension between the Baby Blacks and returning Cavaliers players. Knight was told the two factions were so at odds they attended separate post-match functions following the defeat.

Times have certainly changed. Tomorrow night nearly 2000 guests will be accommodated at 12 venues inside the renovated stadium, paying between $375 and $1000 for catered match day experiences that range from beer and finger food in a clubroom-style setting to private boxes stuffed with champagne, peking duck, smoked venison and coconut, lime and mango pavlova.

No.1 on the pop charts.. 1986: Banarama - Venus, 2014: Meghan Trainor - All About That Bass

The 48,600 spectators can roam an internal concourse before taking their allocated seats, from where they'll all enjoy decent views. Should they miss anything, they can always check out the replay on one of the two 110sq m big screens. They can even watch the game unfold from one of the hundred or so TV monitors located on the concourse.

Eden Park may not be everyone's idea of a perfect stadium - particularly those who still mourn the lost opportunity to build a waterfront venue for the 2011 Cup. However, there is little doubt it is vastly improved on days gone by.

"Now the ground is configured in such a way the view from all around the ground is very good," observes Mr Walton. "They've managed to achieve the intimacy you require with a game like rugby with a sufficiency of space to be able to accommodate almost 50,000 people."