Hard News by Russell Brown


Auckland, so much enormity to answer for

It was Giovanni who notified me on Saturday that the headline of the Herald website's lead story had changed from 'City braces for World Cup chaos' to 'City braces for World Cup party'. I figured then that things were probably going to be all right.

Indeed, we saw over the weekend not only relative stability in the effort of getting crowds to and from Eden Park and the waterfront, but a distinct shift in the media messaging from the Beehive. The Sunday Star Times managed to wring three largely preposterous stories from the single interview granted to Neil Reid by Murray McCully, all of them unabashedly obliging of the minister's purpose.

Another Rugby World Cup for New Zealand is on the agenda, the paper's lead story began, bring the news that "the success of this year's event has caused Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully to change tack" and grant that New Zealand "could have 'another shot'" at hosting the Rugby World Cup. The fact that the next unallocated date is 2023, which would seem likely to stretch even the cockroach-like survival skills of a McCully didn't get in the way. Why, the minister even:

… would not rule out a future Commonwealth Games bid despite the government rejecting an approach to part-fund a bid for the 2018 event. However, he said the funds required were more than the government could put into a world cup shortfall.

I could go on. Let's just say that this isn't a front page lead story.

By this morning, we were reading this:

RB officials have told Prime Minister John Key that this Rugby World Cup is "arguably" the best tournament they've seen, he said last night.

Not that Mr Key was about to ignore the weekend's other sporting glory, of course:

Mr Key will be in Australia for the next All Blacks clash as he supports the Warriors in their NRL finals match with Manly.

Indeed, the Prime Minister will be there with his new best friend, Sir Peter Charles Leitch, the Mad Butcher:

While neutral Sydneysiders consider the unthinkable in pledging their loyalty for a Kiwi side ahead of the more preposterous notion of supporting Manly, Mr Key said this would be one for all his people.

Now we learn that a quick call from the Butcher to the Prime Minister was all it took to expedite a passport for Warrior Micheal Luck's newborn son, so the wee bairn could see his dad play a Grand Final. ("I've called John and he told me, 'I'll sort it out'," Sir Peter said yesterday.) The Prime Minister has also taken the opportunity to assure us that the economy is robust enough to survive the riptides of the global economy. In case you were wondering, things are just fucking great.

Well, fair enough. It is the privilege of governments at times like these to surf the wave of sporting sentiment and bask on the beach of national pride. And at least the shift in media narrative spares us being told that fairly ordinary crowd scenes are "apocalyptic". Last week you'd have half expected fine weather on match day to generate headlines about RWC-related melanoma risk.

But don't be lured into thinking that there is not a great deal of official paddling going on beneath the water. I cruised through the downtown streets on my bike on Friday afternoon, thinking how easily I could get used to those streets being permanently closed to cars, and it was pleasant. But by the end of the evening the policing of The Cloud had reached new levels of absurdity.

The "late" club shows at The Cloud had seemed like a grown-up idea when they were announced, but as I noted of last week's Nick Dwyer gig, the behaviour of security staff was inappropriate and unhelpful. As they had the Friday before when the Turnaround DJs played, men in visibility vests charged into the crowd for no apparent reason; or perhaps simply because someone looked like having a good time.

This past Friday, it got even sillier. The drum and bass crew State of Mind, scheduled to play until 2am, were shut down about 11.35. The ostensible reason was "noise control", but it seems more likely that there was some official panic at the sight of people dancing. Public Address reader Jen Lander reported on the night that 15 police officers unexpectedly lined up, "high vis vests, very staunch" and shut it down:

It was a great concert - SOM always have a loyal following but it was great to see the young DnB kids mix with a few rugby heads and really get in to it.  There was no aggro in the crowd, no fights, nothing.  Just a bunch of young kids having a great night.

Meanwhile, Jen says, "the bogan covers band in Shed 10 played on.  The boozers in the shed drank on."

But Mr Litterick may have discovered a solution to the problem of public euphoria and excitement: on Saturday, The Fundy Post went to Captain Cook Wharf so you don't have to. Mr Litterick is currently in Grey Lynn, recovering from a deep sense of alienation.

Things were more pleasant earlier in the day on Karangahape Road, where my buddy Andy and I enjoyed a couple of beers and watched the fans stream past on their way to Eden Park. Two things bear noting. One is the warmth of New Zealanders towards the colourfully-attired French fans (I myself was moved to shout "Allez Bleu!" more than once). The other is the machine-like efficiency of the staff at Coco's Cantina, who fed and watered wave after wave of French supporters.

That night, of course, the All Blacks destroyed France and the Warriors beat the Storm by being manifestly better than them. The night cried out for a party finish, and my mate Chris and I headed in to K Road to attend the Young, Gifted and Broke launch party.

The street was no more rowdy than usual, but Khuja Lounge was going fully off. It ran too late for us to stay till the end -- it's both amusing and alarming when 2am literally suddenly becomes 3am -- but with Home Brew, @peace and Team Dynamite all on stage at once, the show was a Warriors-jersey-waving riot. Seriously, full marks to everyone, not least the ARC DJ crew. That was fun. And not a sodding visibility vest in sight.

I spent the next morning on a fairly daft circuit taking in the Westmere butcher, La Cigale, Wild Wheat and Sea Mart; gathering provisions for lunch and playing loud music to myself. After a group lunch -- BLATS FTW -- we headed for Eden Park for Samoa vs Fiji, driving as far as the top of Mountain View Road and walking from there. It was a breeze.

The last time I went to the enlarged Eden Park, we sat in the North Stand. I can report that the new South Stand is better in every way -- access, egress, bars, food stalls and toilets.

And if the rugby was fairly rubbish, the atmosphere was a delight. We sat between Fiji and Samoa fans (and right next to recordari and his darling) and cheered when either side did something good, which wasn't quite often enough. As we left, bus after bus was lining up to take punters to far-off places like Half-Moon Bay and marshals were pointing people in the right direction for anything else. (Question: who chose the marshals' big blue jackets and why aren't they rain-proof?)

As Chris said to me as we made our way back home through the hooting nightclub crowds early on Sunday morning, "this thing's working, isn't it?" Yes, it is working. We could have done without some of the politics of these past two weeks, but it's working.

And yet, there is more to be done. There is, for example, a political win beckoning for Mayor Len Brown if he can find a way to get the Warriors' final on to a giant screen, the IRB be damned. (Personally, I think the fact that payers of the rates and taxes actually funding these facilities unquestionably want to see that game is fairly persuasive.)

And, finally ... Toby Manhire has pointed out to me that the front page of this morning's Herald refers to "the enormity of [Richie] McCaw's achievement". A quick search reveals that today's paper also celebrates "the enormity of what the [Warriors] club has achieved in a remarkable NRL season".

Frankly, things won't really be good until we all learn which words actually mean "good" …

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