I can’t remember exactly when I first went to Lancaster Park. I was probably 6 or 7. I remember it being a sunny afternoon, and being fascinated by the TVs that were suspended from the roof of the Canterbury Draught stand (as it was then known.) What an amazing place! It had sport and TVs hanging from the roof!
On another occasion, I remember the closing stages of a one day international, trying to work out how many sixes off no-balls New Zealand would need to win the game. My memories aren’t all cricket related; dad took me on the back of the Honda motorbike to see the Warriors in 1997. We stood in the south-east of the old embankment, not far from the giant inflatable Warrior – who had a patch over the badge on his jersey, as this was the middle of the ARL-Super League war. Dad also rode that bike to see U2 play their Zooropa tour in 1993.
When we were in high school, freed from the parental shackles but with nothing to do, we spent a lot of time at the ground. We went to screeds of Crusaders games, back when they were routinely awful. We’d make the most of the “Take a Kid To Footy” deal, by designating the tallest of our mates as “dad”, who paid $10 to get in, and then it was $5 for each additional “child”. Each of the “kids” would also get a pack of chips and a coke, so it was pretty cheap entertainment for a Friday night. In 1997 we were part of the sell-out crowd that watched as Canterbury beat Jonah Lomu’s Counties to take the NPC title for the first time since the early 80’s.
In the mid-late 90’s, there was a Chris Harris / Chris Cairns testimonial match. They were both still active players, but I think it was held as they had both played 10 seasons for Canterbury. I can’t confirm this at the moment, as “Chris Cairns Testimonial” has become difficult to google for some reason. Anyway, it wasn’t a particularly well attended match. Me and my yobbo mates were in the main stand, just square of mid-on. Rod Latham had come out to bat, and had put on a bit of weight. We shouted out the classic “who ate all the pies” at him. He pulled the next ball in our direction for four, turned and gave us all the fingers.
I was in Dunedin for the first half of the 00’s, so missed one of the most amazing achievements at what was then Jade Stadium. I remember being at a mate’s flat for the England-New Zealand test, watching nervously as Nathan Astle approached 100. Once he got the tonne, we went down to the park to kick a ball around. When we came back an hour later, we saw the score and thought something was wrong. 222? It didn’t make much sense.
Through the late half of the 00’s, the stadium seemed to be constantly undergoing some sort of refurbishment. First the embankment went, replaced by the Paul Kelly Stand. I took an American mate to a Crusaders game. It was against the Bulls. There weren’t many people, so we wandered around an found a seat on the top tier of the PK Stand. It turned out we were next to the Bulls fans, who shouted abuse in Afrikaans, to their players, to each other, and to us. They waved pre-Apartheid South African flags and sung the old national anthem. We moved at half time. The Crusaders won.
The Deans stand opened at the start of 2010. Despite it only being open for just over a year pre-quake, I still managed to catch a few good games. Sitting in the stands as Brendon McCullum scooped his way to the second ever T20 hundred. Kevin Locke scoring a hat-trick to beat the Roosters, including the match winner on the buzzer which saw him leave the ground in an ambulance. Local boy Ben Sigmund heading home a Marco Rojas corner for a 94th minute winner.
Of course, Lancaster Park wasn’t just the home of sporting memories. It also holds political ones. It was the venue for the first test of the Springbok tour in 1981, on August the 15th.
Our Prime Minister was a student at the University of Canterbury in 1981, but doesn’t seem to remember having a view on the tour. Brownlee would have been in Christchurch at the time too. One wonders whether their desire wipe the slate clean and build a new stadium is part of a wider plan of scrubbing out the inconvenient parts of Christchurch’s history. But the history of sport is about the actions on the field, and only incidentally about the built structures. It’s not about the Deans Stand, the Paul Kelly Stand, the Tui Stand or the Hadlee Stand: it’s about Lancaster Park. When clubs move grounds, they struggle to take the years of history with them – like Arsenal leaving Highbury for the Emirates, or Carisbrook being super-ceded by ForsythBarr. Better facilities, sure. But they’ve discarded multiple sporting life-times worth of built-up legend. To give up on all of that history, when something could easily, and probably more economically, salvaged from the site seems a particularly short-sighted move.
The thing is, this place is still standing. It’s not fallen down, it’s not in anyone’s way. The turf is stuffed. The stands have sunk. We don’t really know what the deal is with the insurance. I’m not convinced that the options for the ground have been exhausted yet. Late last year, Brownlee declared that he wanted Christchurch to be the sporting capital of New Zealand; if he’s true to that, then he should be doing everything he can to preserve the site of our city’s proud sporting heritage.