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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Australian Football League is the only fully professional circuit where the sport, known worldwide by its nickname "Aussie Rules", is played. When I was much younger, Aussie Rules reached a surprising level of popularity in North America, helped by ESPN broadcasts and Jacko Jackson, a larger-than-life player. Since then, its reach has dwindled, but it is still hugely popular in its native land, with over 2,500 clubs playing "down under". The AFL Grand Final is the most popular event in the land, regularly drawing over 2.5 million viewers and a live audience of 110,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The AFL has 18 teams, with 10 of these playing in the state of Victoria, where the game got started back in 1897. The states of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia each have two teams, ensuring local rivalries are enjoyed outside Melbourne. In many cases, teams share stadiums, as a footy oval requires quite a large footprint. That is the case in Subiaco, a suburb of the Western Australia capital of Perth, where the Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles play their games in Patersons Stadium, originally known as Subiaco Oval.
Opened in 1908, the Oval has undergone numerous renovations, with the last in 1999, turning the venue into an all-seater. Despite being over 100 years old, Subi has been well maintained and is a wonderful place to get acquainted with the game of Aussie Rules Football.
This review uses Australian dollars for all prices; at the time of writing (April 2013), it is essentially on-par with the US Dollar.
In February 2015, Patersons Stadium was re-named Domain Stadium.
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".
There are dozens of stands all around the stadium offering a good variety of what is typical local stadium fare for the most part. Of course, this being Australia, you should definitely have a pie. At $5, they are one of the cheaper options, and although they might not be the healthiest choice, they are unique to sport in this country. Other stands include The Stuffed Spud, where $12.50 gets you a potato stuffed with chili con carne or other fillings; a candy concession with "fairy floss" (cotton candy) and sherbet at reasonable prices; and Food2Go, which sells your usual burgers and hot dogs. Behind Block 103 is the secret spot though: a bratwurst stand where they are cooking the sausages in huge skillets filled with sauerkraut. For just $8, this seemed like the best option for hungry folks and pushed the score up to 4 stars.
Beer runs $7 and you can buy 4 at a time, although the carry tray will run you an extra 50 cents. Bottles of Coke are $5 for 600ml.
From the first whistle, the place was buzzing. This was only the third week of the season, but the Oval was packed, quite impressive for a rainy Friday evening. Just before the game started, purple fireworks were set off above the main grandstand and this has the crowd "oohing and aahing".
Once the match started, the non-stop action kept the fans enthralled. There are no breaks during the 20-minute quarter, which takes around 30 minutes to complete, so you are really engaged throughout the whole game. Unlike games back home, there is no need for loud music or dancers, because the on-field action takes up most of the time.
Add on the fact that this old venue is really built on a relatively small footprint and the constant drizzle that made picking up the ball an adventure for all the players, and this was really a perfect evening.
Patersons Stadium is in the suburb of Subiaco, about 3 miles west of Perth's city center. Subi, as it is affectionately known, is considered one of Perth's trendiest suburbs and has a number of restaurants and bars within a few minutes walk of the oval. The streets are small and usually quiet; even after the game, there were tables at every restaurant and bar that I walked by. There are many specialty shops if you want to do some browsing beforehand, and even a movie theater a few blocks west. It's interesting because Aussie Rules has a reputation of being a sport that appeals to the lower classes, but Subiaco is just the opposite, and having the oval located here might be rather surprising to a visitor. Regardless, it is a very nice neighborhood and well worth a few hours of your time when you visit Perth.
A recommended place to stop is the Pure Bar on Hay Street, which offers a fairly limited menu including burgers and salads, but the food is quite good and reasonably priced. Friendly staff and a great selection of bottled beer make this a good spot before or after the game.
I was very impressed by the Fremantle faithful. Almost everyone wore purple in some form or another, and the crowd was into the game from the first bounce. They paid attention, didn't get up during the action, drank lots of beer without getting out of control (NFL fans take note!), and were unfailingly polite. There were quite a few of the visiting team's fans on hand as well and no ill will was detected, despite Fremantle blowing a huge halftime lead and losing a hard-fought defensive battle.
Perhaps the most impressive thing was how the fans navigated the narrow concourses and stairs of this old venue. I expected traffic jams but had no problems moving around, doing two full circles before the game.
Getting to Paterson's Stadium is easy for visitors, as long as you are staying close to one of TransPerth's rail stations. The oval is located between two stations on the Fremantle Line: West Leedersville and Subiaco. I recommend the latter, as that affords you the chance to explore the neighborhood a bit and perhaps find a place to have a pre-game beer or two.
Aussie Rules fields are among the biggest in sport, but the oval here is on a relatively small footprint. This makes the concourses quite narrow at times, and you need to negotiate several staircases if you are seated in the top of the 300 level. Even then, there were no problems getting around as mentioned. The last few rows in the 300 section will have some of the field blocked by large cement poles. Be careful if you are in row OO or above, or ask for a seat without a restricted view if buying at the box office. These games usually sell out so you may not have much choice if you show up on game day.
Washrooms seemed plentiful although they are very old, equipped with troughs for the men, much like at Wrigley Field.
Tickets here start at $30 and move up to $75, with three other price points in between. Interestingly, the better seats are those higher up in the stands. As the field is so big, sitting down low is a disadvantage. Sections are called "blocks", and there are generally three levels around the entire stadium, although a 400 level has been built behind the west goal. The Premium Ticket at $62.80 is the second-most expensive, but this might be the best option for sitting upstairs. Tickets are sold via TicketMaster, so you can explore the stadium that way before purchasing. Also note that the upper decks are covered by a roof, while the 100 level is out in the open, necessitating ponchos for those fans sitting there.
Some blocks in the 300 level have 27 seats per row, which can mean a lot of getting up if you are on the aisle, but as mentioned, fans here stay put and watch the game. The event lasts somewhere around 2.5 hours.
There was another Aussie Rules game before the main attraction, which was a good way to get an introduction to the play.
As you walk around the concourses, you will notice a colorful mural featuring some of the local footy teams, and some wall-mounted art representing footy players in action.
If you wish to gamble on the game or any of the horse races around the country, there are two TAB sections where you can place bets and watch the races.
Subiaco Oval is an icon in Australian sport. For a venue that was first opened over a century ago, it has survived remarkably well. With the fans being some of the best I've seen, as well as the ease of access and decent food options, it is really an excellent place to visit. As mentioned, Fremantle is not the only team that plays here, as the Western Coast Eagles also call Patersons Stadium home, so there is a game every weekend during the season. Perth is the farthest big city from New York, so if you really want to get away from it all, fly down under and check out an AFL game at Subiaco, you will not be disappointed.
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