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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Etihad Stadium opened in the year 2000 and is home to five AFL clubs (Carlton, Essendon, North Melbourne, St Kilda and Western Bulldogs), as well as the Melbourne Victory of the A-League and the Melbourne Renegades cricket team of the Big Bash League. Etihad has a capacity of 53,359 and features a retractable roof; the only such venue currently used by the AFL.
Although technically a multipurpose venue, Etihad was built primarily for AFL and effectively replaced Waverly (VFL) Park. The stadium has been used for international one-day cricket, international rugby league, NRL, and international rugby union (including the 2003 Rugby World Cup and 2006 Commonwealth Games 7’s). Currently privately owned, the AFL is set to assume ownership in 2025.
Carlton was founded in 1864 and is arguably one of the most successful clubs in AFL history, having won a record equalling 16 premierships, the most recent in 1995. The Blues were a powerhouse through the 1990s, fielding a side chock-full of stars and coached by four-time premiership coach, David Parkin. Pulling on the famous navy blue jumper in this era were players such as Stephen Kernahan, Greg Williams, Stephen Silvagni, Anthony Koutoufidies and Craig Bradley, to name just a few.
The first decade of the 2000’s was a pretty lean time for Carlton with off-field dramas as much to blame as on-field performances. Shrewd recruitment and greater stability in management saw some improvement in more recent times, with three successive finals appearances between 2009 and 2011.
Carlton had a long and storied 109-year history at Princes Park before moving to Etihad in 2005. Some home games are also played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to accommodate larger crowds.
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".
The overarching feature of the food and beverage at Etihad Stadium are the exorbitant prices. Unfortunately this is a major complaint of AFL fans in Melbourne as the cost of taking a family to the football continues to rise. A basic pie or sausage roll costs $4.80, a hot dog $6, hot chips $6.60, and wedges $8.50. It only gets worse from here with a cheeseburger priced at $9, bacon and cheeseburger $10.50, and fish and chips $11.50. Add drinks and the pain in your hip pocket continues to grow. Soft drinks cost $5.20 while the cheapest full strength beer is Carlton Draught at $7.20, which is apparently only available for day games.
There are more options on the ground level so if your seats are on the second or third levels, consider getting your food before you head up the stairs or ramps. Probably the only deal worth mentioning in terms of value is the Locker Room Bar and Café (much more a bar than a café) which has express lines offering four Carlton Draughts for $28.
Hosting five different clubs makes it difficult to create a unique atmosphere for the Blues; indeed at the entrance there are plaques detailing each of the clubs that calls Etihad home. There is little in the way of Carlton paraphernalia either inside the stadium or in the area surrounding the venue. The venue does provide a slight nod to AFL history with the northern end known as the "Lockett End," recognising the AFL's greatest ever goal scorer, Tony Lockett, and the southern end the "Coventry End," named for Gordon Coventry, the man Lockett passed to gain the record.
The western side of the ground is adjacent to the Yarra River and West Gate Bridge, with nice views from behind the level three seats. The seats themselves are quite small and cramped, and are an irritant if people need to get in and out of your row. The higher levels provide a good view but you should be prepared for quite a climb up either the stairs or ramps. The ground level rows towards the back of the seating bowl are impacted by the level two overhangs. It won't really affect your view of the game but will be in your sightline. Video screens are located in opposite corners.
The Docklands area of Melbourne is an urban renewal project by the Victorian Government. Historically linked with maritime usage, the government hopes the area will become a tourist mecca for the city. So far this hasn't quite materialised. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants in the area but appear to mainly rely on game day traffic. Etihad is close enough to the Central Business District that heading back into the city is most likely your best option after the game where you can experience all that Melbourne has to offer.
Given their history of success over the years Carlton has built a solid fan base and attracts a crowd on average of between 35,000-45,000 spectators. However, the game I attended most recently the fans seemed to only really get loud as they built a lead on the scoreboard. As with most AFL clubs, the fans proudly display their colours. There's no doubting the commitment of Carlton fans but as a crowd they do not make for a particularly boisterous sporting event.
There are several options for parking nearby although as they are provided by commercial parking operators, expect to pay $20. The closest train station is Southern Cross which is only a short walk from the ground. Etihad is also walkable from the city meaning you've got several easy options to get to your game.
The stadium is quite easy to move around however it is worth reinforcing that it is somewhat of a chore to climb up to level three.
Tickets to see Carlton play at Etihad don't come cheaply. Prices range between $25 and $62 with the average around $45. Add to this the price of food and you're looking at an expensive game of AFL.
Carlton at Etihad receives three extra points. Worth noting are the aisle numbers which are particularly effective in helping you find your seat, the overall ease of entry into the stadium and the junior games at halftime. There are also a few promotional activities during the breaks.
Etihad is a modern stadium that receives plenty of use throughout the year. Given it is one of only two AFL venues in the city of Melbourne it is worth a visit but make sure to budget accordingly.
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