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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) has a long and storied history. Sports as diverse as cricket, rugby league, rugby union and Australian rules football have utilised the SCG since it was first granted to the British Army in 1848. Furthermore, the SCG was the main stadium when Sydney hosted the Empire Games, the precursor to the Commonwealth Games, in 1938. The historic Members Pavilion (1886) and Ladies Stand (1896) are visual representations of the venue’s iconic place in Australian and world sport.
The SCG is well used for cricket with international and interstate fixtures through the warmer months, as well as the Big Bash League (Sydney Sixers). There are still occasional rugby league games scheduled here but the Swans are the main winter tenant. The venue was showcased to the world when Major League Baseball started the 2014 season in Sydney with a series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The SCG has seen regular development, particularly in modern times. The most recent additions have included the Victor Trumper Stand in 2008 on the site of the old hill and Doug Walters Stand, while a new stand at the northern end of the ground has opened for the 2014 season which has replaced the Noble, Bradman and Messenger stands. These renovations have really transformed the venue into a true stadium whilst still preserving the charm of this historic ground.
Australian rules football was played at the SCG as early as 1881, however the ground was used only sparsely for AFL until the South Melbourne club relocated north to become the Sydney Swans for the 1982 season; the first move towards the AFL becoming a truly national competition. South Melbourne was one of the founding members of the Victorian Football League (VFL), precursor to the Australian Football League (AFL). They experienced some success in the early 20th century however consistently struggled from 1950 onwards. Low attendances and a struggle to compete financially finally sealed the fate of the South Melbourne club, with relocation the only option.
The Swans experienced early success in the harbour city. An early injection of cash saw the club splash out on new recruits, and their flamboyant reputation was perfectly illustrated by 1980s retro icon, full forward Warwick Capper. Their winning ways didn’t last and the Swans endured a period of little success and financial instability from the late 1980s into the early 1990s. Legendary AFL player and coach, Ron Barassi, took over as coach in 1993 and slowly began to turn the club around, including ending a 26 game losing streak.
The recruitment of established stars such as Paul Roos and Tony Lockett, combined with existing players like Paul Kelly, helped establish the Swans as a competitive and sustainable force. In 1996 the Swans made their first grand final appearance since 1945 after defeating Essendon in a nail-biting preliminary final, eventually losing to North Melbourne in the decider. The Swans went on to become perennial contenders into the 2000s, highlighted by premierships in 2005 and 2012.
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 food at the SCG is a mix of fantastic choice and quality in one section of the ground, and standard overpriced stadium fare in the remainder. The new MA Noble and Bradman Stands have really helped set a new benchmark for food and beverage at Australian sporting venues; with gourmet burgers and sandwiches, barramundi, oysters and a good selection of craft beers and ciders by the Matilda Bay Brewing Co.
Other sections of the stadium have to make do with hot dogs ($5.80), chicken strips and hot chips ($11), meat pie ($5.20), sausage roll ($4.80), and hot chips ($5.50). Snacks such as crisps ($5), chocolate bars ($4.20) and ice cream (from $3.60) can be purchased from the same outlets. Coke variety soft drinks will cost you $5.30 while bottled water is $4.60. A number of outlets also offer tempura fish and chips ($10.50), salt and pepper squid with chips ($11.50), sushi ($10.50), wraps ($9.50) and sandwiches ($7.60). Domino's Pizza is available at some points with individual pizzas (Meatosaurus, Hawaiian or Margarita) for $8.70.
Full strength beer was banned at the SCG (excluding the Members area) a number of years ago in an effort to help maintain orderly crowd behaviour. As a result the bar offers only Carlton Mid Strength ($7), Cascade Premium Light ($6.50), wine ($7.30) and pre mixed spirits ($10).
While the SCG should be applauded for their approach to catering in the new stands, only a maximum of 13,300 people have access to these options. The remainder of the venue features average food at premium prices.
The Sydney Cricket Ground is a fantastic venue for sport. The stadium positively oozes historical charm and celebrates champions of yesteryear as well as the modern greats. The various grandstands are mostly named after Australia's cricketing legends; Sir Donald Bradman, Monty Noble, Bill O'Reilly and Victor Trumper, with an additional nod to rugby league's Dally Messenger and Clive Churchill. The Trumper stand features good views of the city skyline, including Sydney Tower. The Members Pavilion and Ladies Stand create a sensational backdrop - and is a wonderful place to sit if you're lucky enough to have access to this area of the ground.
Despite the obvious dominance of cricket and rugby league historically, the Swans have truly found a home at the SCG and are building a history of their own, with a full house at a Swans game a sea of cheering fans in red and white. In more recent years, with their future secured, the club has embraced their South Melbourne heritage. This has only helped build their identity and the majority of AFL fans in Sydney follow the Swans over their new crosstown rival, the GWS Giants at Spotless Stadium.
With Driver Ave closed off to traffic, there is always plenty of excitement out on the street as fans buy their tickets and mingle before entering the stadium. There are various stalls set up, but if a big crowd is expected, and you're in a general admission or non-reserved seating area, it's best to arrive early and grab a good seat while you can.
The SCG is located minutes from the city centre and is flanked by Allianz Stadium on one side and Fox Studios Australia / EQ on the other. There is often an opportunity for an AFL - rugby union / rugby league double header, although be aware of the traffic implications if this is the case.
Within the EQ are many cafes, restaurants and bars. The surrounding suburb also features impressive parklands including Centennial Park. Venture further afield and you will find a plethora of dining and drinking options in the nearby suburbs of Paddington and Surry Hills. Many of these old pubs have a great history and are worth a stop on your way to the ground.
Of course, Sydney is one of the great cities of the world and if you are from out of town you will definitely be doing sightseeing trips to see iconic landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Sydney is defined by water; the picturesque harbour and world famous beaches are quite accessible. Bondi Beach is close by or you can catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Beach for the day.
Sydneysiders have grown their knowledge of the game of AFL as the Swans themselves have grown. The Swans are now as popular in their hometown as they have ever been, with the club boasting record membership numbers for the 2014 season. Crowd figures average over 30,000 with the vast majority being home fans proudly sporting the red and white. Fans are knowledgeable, loud and constantly engaged in the game. The home crowd at the SCG is no doubt a strong advantage for the Swans who take extra delight in winning for their fans.
The SCG is centrally located, just south of the CBD. Parking is available in the parklands over the road for $25, with additional spaces in Fox Studios. Like most venues that attract large crowds, access can be a problem. Allow plenty of time to arrive and park, especially if it's a big game. There will be traffic, especially in the surrounding areas, if not on the major access roads en route.
Public transport to Moore Park is quite good, save for the fact that the nearest train stations require a bus connection to the SCG. If you're travelling from the north or west, you will likely arrive at Central Station for the short bus trip. The SCG is walkable from Central, and although it is uphill, there are several nice pubs on the way if you're so inclined. The east and south are well serviced by buses.
Once inside, the concourses get quite crowded as people arrive and move towards their seats. Again, allow plenty of time and get there early. Ushers are plentiful and located at numerous checkpoints. Access around the venue is somewhat limited and you are mostly restricted to the general area in which your seat is located. Bathrooms are readily available and well maintained.
As with most AFL clubs the Sydney Swans have recently introduced variable pricing; still a fairly new concept in Australia. This means that you will pay more for the various games defined as "Blockbusters," and also more for tickets purchased at the gate. General admission tickets start from $31.50 with the most expensive single ticket being an Adult Premium for a "Blockbuster" bought at the gate costing $79. There are discounts available for families, children and other eligible concessions. Be aware that if you choose to go the GA route, only a small portion of the ground is dedicated for these tickets. Remember that parking, if applicable, and food, are also quite pricey, although fairly comparable to other major venues.
Is a Swans game at the SCG expensive? Yes, it is. Is it worth it? Yes, it is.
The SCG is a special place. Extra points are awarded for the Members Pavilion and Ladies Stands which are unique features in a major sporting venue and a constant reminder of the commitment the SCG Trust has to celebrating their history. The venue deserves credit for continuing to improve the spectator experience. The recent changes have also made the ground a better venue for AFL. There are numerous activities and stands throughout the venue for photo opportunities and fan engagement including access to the playing surface after the game.
The Swans have also recently recruited superstar Lance "Buddy" Franklin in a massive coup for the club, albeit probably an overpriced one. Despite the exorbitant cost, Buddy is capable of brilliance that few other players can match. If he's on fire, revel in an AFL master class of the highest order.
It's often said that Sydneysiders will only follow a team that is winning. While the Swans have struggled through some lean years, they have come out the other side a powerhouse of the AFL. A Swans game at the SCG is a must for any sports fan - an amazing atmosphere at one of the world's great stadiums.
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