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Official Review by Dan Seward, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
"The Gabba", properly known as the Brisbane Cricket Ground, plays home to the Brisbane Lions of the Australian Football League. The Gabba is an impressive sight to behold, a big concrete monument to Aussie sport, and on AFL game nights it's (mostly) full of fans, a reasonable selection of food, and fun. Unfortunately it's not full of a winning team, as the 2011 Lions are basement dwellers and consequently the experience lacks some of the fair-weather flavor it might have had a few years ago.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
While this review is admittedly written from an American stadium-goer's perspective, the food at the Gabba seemed to be fair. It was of fair quality, fairly priced (maybe a bit expensive), and the selection was again - fair. Here's the bulk of what's on offer: chips, a "chicko roll" apparently a deep-fried tube of chicken and cabbage, and meat pies. You can get a Domino's personal pizza, or a Nando's chicken sandwich / wrap, or if you're scrupulous, a German sausage from a cart vendor in the second level beer garden. Beer runs around $6-$8, which is pretty stadium-standard. Wine and spirits are slightly more expensive.
The Captain's Bar is a cool full-service bar with a balcony that looks out over the grounds, but if you want to set up shop and watch the game, get into the place early because it's really popular. "Members" of the Brisbane Cricket Grounds will get better treatment with a reserved, members-only area. No idea what goes on past the guarded gates - I guess some sort of weird Gabba orgy of - but it'll cost you a thousand bucks or something.
Something that blew my American mind was the fact that you can bring your own food to games, as long as you pack it in a knapsack or something soft that can fit under your seat. You can't bring in booze but water or other innocuous beverages are fine. Bring a thermos with your N/A drink of choice. Given the "fair" food offerings and mediocre pricing, I would highly recommend packing your own meals.
I attended the first "Queensland Clash" game between the Lions and the newly minted Gold Coast Suns - this was technically an away game for the Lions. This actually added to the atmosphere - while both teams are comparatively bad, there was a bit more excitement in the air.
Because Aussie Rules is played on a cricket field, the stadium is downright huge to American eyes that are used to basketball courts and American football stadiums. This has an odd impact on the stadium experience - there are no bad seats in the venue, but the opposite side of the stadium is really far away. The Gabba does a pretty good job of holding in crowd noise and making things feel exciting. Seats are padded and comfortable, but the rows are really deep and narrow which means there's a lot of clambering as people try to get to and from their seats.
Each AFL team has their own fight song and the Lions decided to appropriate the French national anthem for their purposes. Having listened to a selection of AFL fight songs, I can't say that the Lions song is a standout - it's campy as all the rest - but it's a sight better than the atrocious Suns theme.
The area around the Gabba is all right for pre and post game feeding. The standout is the Brisbane German Club just across the street, with an outdoor beer garden and a bunch of pretty good food. Prices at the German Club are exceptional and the beer is excellent, fresh, and imported from Germany. They also sell a frankly amazing roast pork knuckle that was not being offered on this game day, but is worth visiting for another time if they opt not to offer it on your visit.
The good news is that transit in Brisbane is decent and you can easily get to other more exciting areas. Or if you have time to spare, just start right up Vulture Street towards West End, where a plethora of exceptional eating awaits. It should take about 30-45 minutes at a casual stroll to get to the Gabba from there.
The fans were enthusiastic and made a fair amount of noise throughout the game. It didn't hurt that it was the first intra-Queensland game, or that the game came down to the wire. The fans all know the words to the fight song, and happily chant along. Angry shouts of "Rubbish!", "Deliberate!" or "Disgusting officiating!" can be heard as the officials put their indelible mark on the game. Lots of Lions scarfs, hats, and flags were on display. All this despite the fact that the Lions are hopeless this year. On the downside, even though it was the first Queensland Clash, there were plenty of empty seats.
I'd be lying if I said that the preponderance of attractive Aussie lasses didn't sway the score a bit here.
Don't bother trying to park near the Gabba on gameday. Parking options are exceptionally limited; it's fairly pricey to park right next to the stadium if you're even lucky enough to find a spot, but it's Brisbane and there are a plethora of bus routes to get you to the game. When you leave massive queues form to board buses that stream out of the stadium area and move thousands of people pretty quickly. But, you'll still have to wait a bit and the bus you get on will likely be packed to the gills. Finding the bus you need is tricky after the game, as the queues all form for particular destinations, but they're not labeled and you might need to mill around to find where you need to be. Find someone in Lions gear and ask for a steer - people are friendly and the regulars will know where to send you.
Bathrooms are fine but for halftime, where lines form even for the men's room.
Half-field back-row tickets ran about $50 for this game. I actually don't know how it compares to other AFL venues in terms of ticket prices - not because this information isn't available (it is) but because pricing models are convoluted and surprisingly hard to decipher. Food isn't exceptionally expensive, but it's not exceptionally good either. A ticket, plus a Nando's chicken sandwich and fries ended up leaving me $65 in the hole - if you wanted to have a few beers (very tempting during a 3+ hour game) you'll probably spend upwards of a hundred dollars. The Gabba's saving grace is that, all around, it's a good place to watch a game.
I have to give a star for the German Club, and a star for the besausaged beer garden on the second level. The Gabba loses a star for the Members Only area which blocks off an entire section of the concourse, meaning that the most efficient way around is to actually leave the stadium and re-enter through security. However, it gains the star back for the gracious bag checkers at security and the ability to bring your own food. One more star for all of the on-field Aussie Rules games during breaks - at halftime, local kids get to play on the pitch, and before the game we saw a bunch of adults playing as well.
All in all, the Gabba provides a solid spectator experience for an AFL game. It doesn't really stand out in many areas, but there's not really anything to complain about either. All in all, you can have a good time for an acceptable price, which is why the experience comes in pretty close to a balanced 3 stars.
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