The stands

Waverley. You were my Saturday crèche when I was too young to see over the fence on the wing. My Tuesday night series teen hangout. Hosting brusque vowel fights between strangers who cared too much and those who thought you merely incidental. Waverley, you held my hand for so long. You were my cool older cousin allowing me to vent my passion in a way my mother wouldn’t let me. I’d stare at your cold arthritic grass and wish I could run on you just for a sharp snap at goal. Your mismatched chairs with paint peeling and numb-inducing back bends. You could never cradle my tea flask without spilling everything out onto the concrete before half-time. I’d tie blankets up from one chair to another, merely for a makeshift hammock just so I could outlast the wind.

Waverley, you served lukewarm, watery coffees as the pieboy would get his hat stolen. I only ever saw one piegirl offering up fizzy drinks, scooping change as she still kept one eye on the ball. I thought she must know some secret handshake to be part of the pie team. Waverley, so many of my male friends were in the under-19s of any given club, smelling of Dencorub and hopeful Saturdays. They knew how to navigate the midriff of your extra long boundary, knew the best places to land the ball, knew when to steer clear of a hospital kick. Waverley, the clouds descended just for you, when the players outstretched their hands for the stars, you were sure to guide them back, pummelling to earth. They all called you Arctic Park. You were light at the end of the freeway. A day’s travel for a forgotten era.

Waverley, you were the bridesmaid to the MCG. Long gone Kiss concerts, P-platers learning to take their first curve, ghosts of happy love affairs splashed with mud through your heyday. You were designed for seating 126,000 but never quite got there. You could walk over the seats from one end to another at any given moment. Choose any cheer squad to sit next to. Waverley, where my first hopes of being a ruck rover were dashed as I knew I couldn’t progress any further. You listened to me scream out every name I had committed to memory. You watched me weep at a one-point loss. The strutting over thrashing a lesser team. The times I jumped up and belted ‘YESSSS!’ Waverley, I often dream of you, sprinklers off, lights left on, running through the banners, chasing the day where you mature into the ground you always knew you could be. Waverley, there I am, sitting beside you, packing up my heart and folding it into the future.

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