Hard News by Russell Brown


Getting dressed for the party

I pass through the top end of Sandringham Road not infrequently. Apart from anything else, its sweeping new downhill bends, down past the Kingsland railway station, are really sweet on a bike. So I'm at a loss as to why I've never previously noticed Wairepo Swamp Walk.

On Saturday evening, coming over from Bond Street, you could hardly miss it. It's a short, broad concourse blown right through from the bend at Kowhai Intermediate to Walters Road, which runs along the back of the ASB Stand. The houses that used to be there have apparently been relocated.

It makes some sense -- there's no need to send walking crowds down Sandringham into the rail crowds crossing from the station -- but it's the most striking example I've seen yet of the reworking of Auckland for the Rugby World Cup. Indeed, when Sandringham Road is closed, as it will be for every major game at Eden Park until at least the end of the World Cup, it feels as if every house in the neighbourhood is inside the wider grounds of the park itself. The future of this neighbourhood is thus written.

Saturday night's Blues-Hurricanes match was the first local Super Rugby game I've been able to get to -- and thus my first taste of the new Eden Park. Access to the north side of the crowd is now through a new array of turnstiles, past the bag-searchers and cops who will be there at every match now, practising for the big one.

We live in the age of the print-your-own barcode and, thus, it was an A4 sheet off my mate's printer that I stuck under the turnstile's scanner, which swiftly -- very swiftly -- flashed a bright green arrow on its LCD display and let me through. As I walked away I could hear the chatter of multiple turnstiles ticking over behind me. It felt modern and efficient.

And that, as long-time readers will know, has not always been the case at Eden Park:

An ass, additionally, is what the Auckland Rugby Union is. There we were last Saturday, me and a mate, exercising the right God gave to Aucklanders to turn up at Eden Park five minutes before kick-off and gain admission.

This oughtn't have been a problem. We had money and there wasn't a queue. Could there be anything else to it? Unfortunately, yes. I strode up to the booth marked as selling tickets for the Lower South Stand, my favourite spot. Two tickets, please, I said, brandishing two crisp $20 notes.

"I've only got one single ticket left, I'm afraid," said the man in the booth, showing me the single ticket. But he had piles of other tickets neatly stacked in front of him. "But I can sell you three seats for $45."

But, look, I said, there are only two of us. Two seats for the advertised $20 each, please. Nope. Even though the stand we wanted to sit in was only about half full, we could not get into the ground without paying for a seat we didn't need. This strikes me as borderline illegal, and certainly not the way to treat someone you want to come back. It didn't help that the bastard gave us hopeless seats and that the Blues were quite horrible.

As it happened, on Saturday night, the Blues were quite dashing, the enlarged Eden Park was quite well-attended and the overall spectacle was such as to encourage me to pay the money and come back for every home game. I would, however, like to be told someone has thought to install a goddamned bike stand somewhere by now.

Later, after a debrief, we walked up Great North Road to a party at the corner with Ponsonby. Here, too, are the signs of the scrub-up. The footpaths on the north side are being re-sealed and widened -- but only as far as Bond Street. For this is the route that rugby fans will be expected to walk -- all the way up from the bottom of town if necessary. It'll be a tough walk in the rain, and there's still no sign of any place for the fans to empty their bladders anywhere from the end of K Road to the park. But that's what there is.

There's more to be seen at Auckland 2011, where you can find Len Brown making the essentially meaningless -- but pretty choice for those involved, given the benefits -- announcement of a "First XV" of "Auckland Ambassadors".

There's also the Wynyard Quarter redevelopment, which is going to be nice, and the public transport upgrades, and even a scrub-up at Western Springs, which will be a training venue for World Cup teams.

Most of this is basically in my 'hood, and part of me is excited about that. Another part of me wonders whether we're really prepared as well as we'd like to be. It's been a bleak year in New Zealand already, and with central government having done the deed of strangling its own revenue (even as it presses on with ruinous pet projects like the "holiday highway"), I can't help but wonder whether we'll be properly dressed when the party starts.

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