There is something about the Australian summer cricket season, that, by summer’s end, I know I will miss over winter. The SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) encapsulates a disparate array of feelings and memories for young and old alike.
Today’s article about the SCG by Pat Sheil, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, caught my attention. Articulating the history, non-sense and favouritism afforded said “hallowed” ground, I felt myself inside the photographs. Inside the bar, out on the paddock; freezing at the footy, sunburnt on the sidelines, toasting traditionally round the bar and fanatically soaking in Fleetwood Mac or rocking to the beat of Billy Joel. Note, I did not mention singing! Tho’ many a Swannies anthem hoarsely attempted from the members pavilion!
As Indian cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle describes in Pat Sheil’s article: “The SCG [is a remarkable contrast of] “modern stadium architecture, and the old members’ and ladies’ pavilions”.
I hope you enjoy the article, and the SCG’s secrets, as much as I did.
“The hallowed members’ and ladies’ stands at the SCG reveal their secrets
That charming Indian cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle was asked by his ABC radio hosts during December’s Adelaide Test to name his favourite cricket ground. They may have been hoping he would say: “Of course, and here we are.”
Instead he paused, and told the truth.
“The SCG,” he said, citing the remarkable contrast of “modern stadium architecture, and the old members’ and ladies’ pavilions”.
His local interrogators briskly changed the subject, but he was quite right – the sheer weirdness of the two old stands, wedged like a pair of recalcitrant terrace houses into a row of skyscrapers, sets the Sydney ground apart from all others.
The bizarre media stand at Lord’s – the one that looks like a giant 1970s clock radio on methamphetamines – comes close, but was always a deeply regrettable piece of work and one that will haunt the membership for decades.
In contrast, the two old stands at Moore Park somehow manage to be both curious and imposing – venerable yet slightly ridiculous.
Much like the game they were built to celebrate, there have been and will be changes here and there, but cricket – at least Test cricket – has a delightful and compelling inertia. It is what is is, and it ain’t going anywhere.
Likewise the members’ and ladies’ stands which – from today and for as long as the Test lasts – will host some of the most peculiar people in the land. Yes, the members and ladies of the Sydney Cricket Ground.
I confess to being one of these odd characters. It isn’t cheap to be a member and you can spend many moons on a waiting list to get in, but it’s worth it. I’ve never met anyone who has let their membership lapse -other than by dying.
We all grumble that paying good money for three days’ play – maybe – punctuated by inevitable, interminable rain breaks makes even the opera look a bargain.
We sigh, moan then renew every year, because the place, the sheer feel of the joint, is unique.
The structures themselves are absurd yet glorious. The doorway at the back of the ladies’ stand, giving access to the gentlemen’s convenience, is surely the narrowest pedestrian passage in the southern hemisphere. Its construction would not be permitted today, even in a private dwelling. But I bet it will be there until the ocean finally reclaims the town.
I took a friend, an expert in heritage building, to the ladies’ stand in 2009 to see her first big cricket game. It was the last day of the match against South Africa, and their captain, Graeme Smith, was staggering to the crease with a broken arm – the last man standing – to try to save the day for the visitors.
It was a Shakesperean scene. Day five, eight overs to survive, men wilting under pressure, raw courage in action. Momentous. People around us were actually in tears.
My oblivious friend tapped me on the shoulder, pointing up to the underside of the seating deck, and screamed above the roaring crowd: “Look at those! There can’t be ironwork like it left anywhere in the country!”
Smith fell, everyone stood in awe.
And the Victorian ironwork held the demented throng safely aloft, as it has since 1896.
The members’ structure is a little older. The first version went up in 1878 (rebuilt eight years later) and has a refreshing grumpiness about it. One can safely carry on as a nay-saying curmudgeon and shameless stick-in-the-mud when ensconced in such a forbidding edifice. The members’ stand at the SCG is a fortress for the traditionalist.
If it were ever to be modified, it would only involve the erection of a portcullis and the digging of a moat.
And, quite apart from grousing that “the game isn’t played as it was in my day”, you can always write an incendiary letter to the chairman demanding that something be done about the dress code.
I believe that complaining about – or being accused of violating – dress standards at the Sydney Cricket Ground has provided almost as much entertainment over the years as Bradman and the Waugh twins combined. It is the ultimate fall-back position, as no one can agree on a workable policy except that, as Groucho Marx once sang, “whatever it is, I’m against it”.
I have been on both sides of this argument. In the late 1980s, I arrived at the ground, beamish, wearing a then-fashionable “grandfather shirt”, trousers pressed to a razor crease and new shoes that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Fred Astaire.
I was told in no uncertain terms, by a fellow who looked like he’d been monitoring the SCG turnstiles since returning from the trenches of Passchendaele, to bugger off: “No collar, mate. Ya gotta have a collar.”
My mortification was compounded by this same official admitting a lad (far lost in lager, mind you), wearing one of those nylon T-shirts with a penguin stamped on the left nipple, above badly torn jeans.
The shirt, if indeed that’s what it was, looked as though it had been washed once, three years earlier, probably in battery acid. I, on the other hand, had to go home and change, and so missed the first session. This year the trust, in its wisdom, has issued a glossy pamphlet to all members giving style advice, in order to clarify the matter once and for all. I only hope there isn’t a riot at the gates today (especially when they see the incendiary trousers I intend to wear – see photo).
It is a deeply ambiguous document, couched in the dizzy, unhelpful lingo of the fashion world. Apparently everyone is going to look utterly fabulous. I for one can’t make head nor tail of it, but suspect it might be wise to front up today wearing a collar of some sort.
On the other hand, ambiguity is what cricket is all about – the LBW law alone is testimony to that – and SCG members spend a good deal of their time not looking at the cricket at all but arguing about it out the back of the stand.
I meet people there for that very purpose, under what we know as the Tree of Knowledge.
Whatever it’s officially called by them what know, it’s conveniently surrounded by a fetching henge of sandstone blocks. People sit atop them like Rodin’s Thinker, but with hardly a thought in their heads, as the hot sun and cold beer work their slow magic, mumbling half-hearted complaints at no one in particular about the over rate, or whatever else springs to what’s left of their minds. Anyway, it’s all far too pleasant to get genuinely angry about anything.
Then a roar comes from within the cauldron as a wicket falls and you scurry back, only to realise that it’s already happened and you are actually at the game, where and when matters of great moment occur in three dimensions, and in real time. And what’s more, whatever it was, you missed it.
So you lean back against the ancient brickwork and observe proceedings.
A Mexican wave, generated somewhere in the bowels of the Brewongle Stand, grows and rolls towards you, myriad arms flailing; a brutally ill-informed yahooing surges and looms.
It hits the members’ stand with all the effect of a ripple against the rocks of North Head and dies. The great unwashed roar their derision, mocking your refusal to engage in acts of mindless egalitarianism, as you waddle to the bar to refresh your full-strength beer – a rhapsody in amber forbidden to the heaving hoi-polloi, safely caged far beyond square leg.
Hurrumph! What would they know about cricket?
We members are civilised folk. We have deep respect for the traditions of the game, such as they are. Nothing untoward ever happens in these hallowed hallways.
Well, at least not until the umpires have flicked the bails off and called an end to the day’s play.
Anything what goes on in the members’ bar after that stays in the members’ bar.”