The bittersweet feeling of the Kardinia Park redevelopment

Ever since I can remember, footy, and even more so the Geelong Football Club, have been a major part of my life. With memories spanning from my first games as a toddler, to the retirement of ‘Buddha’ Hocking and more recently to the Golden Era of 2007–2011, the common denominator is more often than not being at Kardinia Park, sitting in the A.R. Jennings Stand with my dad and varying guests. So now, seeing the A.R. Jennings and the adjoining Brownlow Stand being knocked down for redevelopment provides quite the bittersweet feeling. The reasons for expansion are undeniable, but the nostalgia that comes with fond memories is as strong a feeling as any.

The last remaining of the original local grounds in the AFL, Simonds Stadium, is currently undergoing a continuation of its expansion, with stage 4 of the redevelopment getting underway this month. Since the expansion of the VFL to the AFL, nine of the ten Victorian clubs play their home games at either the MCG or Docklands (currently Etihad Stadium). The remaining club, the Geelong Cats, continue to play at their traditional home of Kardinia Park, or Simonds Stadium. The ground, and subsequently the club, have always had a family feel to them owing much to the fact the ground is ours and ours only.

Walking towards Simonds Stadium from the same direction I have for 15+ years only without the A.R. Jennings and Brownlow Stands in sight.

I’ve been sitting in the A.R. Jennings Stand for over 15 years and in travelling down to Geelong this week I had a weirdly nervous feeling about seeing Simonds Stadium minus my usual sitting area. Upon arrival, it looked bare, it looked empty. Having spent a large proportion of my Saturdays throughout my life at this very location, it felt peculiar to see it completely out of the picture. Replacing the two stands were cranes, construction workers, and dust.

Of course for the good of the football club and also for the good of Greater Geelong, the redevelopment is a necessity. With the ever expanding population, the ground needs to cater for AFL, soccer, cricket, concerts and much more. The final stage of the redevelopment will see the capacity reach over 40,000, thus setting the ground up to become a key player when it comes to major events in Victoria. All of this of course brings the positivity to the redevelopment and makes us Geelong fans realise why it needs to be done.

Although there is a need for the redevelopment in order for the club to continue as the powerhouse that it is today, it’s hard to not get sentimental and a bit selfish in wishing it could all just stay the same. For me, one of my fondest memories at the ground came in 2001, when dad and I got into the changerooms (dad knew a guy who knew a guy) after the great ‘Buddha’ Hocking’s last game. Being able to stand there amongst all of my heroes as a five year-old is something I’ll cherish forever and I’ll always be grateful to have a memory as strong as that in the old Brownlow Stand changerooms.

As I walked around the ground earlier this week, I couldn’t help but think about the great times I had experienced in these two stands. Along with Buddha’s last game, I remembered being in the Brownlow Bar as a six year-old after the reserves won the VFL grand final in 2002, Gary Ablett’s goal against Port Adelaide in 2007, and more recently the final games of James Kelly, Mathew Stokes and Steve Johnson.

Geelong Football Club has a rich history spanning back to 1859, making it the second oldest Australian Rules team. The Cats, as they came to be known in 1923, have played at Kardinia Park for 75 years after moving from Corio Oval in 1940. Geelong hosts a large group of greats of the game that have all stepped on the turf at KP, including Bob Davis, Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer, Gary Ablett (senior and junior) and Jimmy Bartel. These names will forever be synonymous with the Cats and the great ground that is Kardinia Park. A favourite of many that travel down the highway, KP and its rich history are set to stand the test of time for many years to come.

The remains of the old Brownlow Stand, and a familiar path that I have walked for almost two decades.
Geelong faithful watch their team with the walls lined with past best & fairest winners.

Around 7 weeks ago, dad and I travelled down the Highway to Geelong like we have hundreds of times and watched our Cats smash the Crows, sitting in the A.R. Jennings Stand for the final time. In a game that meant little in the context of the season, it turned out to be my favourite game ever at Kardinia Park due to the relaxed but excited atmosphere. As we said goodbye to three legends of the club in Steve Johnson, James Kelly and Mathew Stokes, the crowd was a mixture of pride and sorrow. With three superstars of the modern era departing along with the two stands performing their duty for the final time, it was a great day to look back on many memories us cats fans had shared over the years. At three-quarter time, dad and I ventured up to the Charles Brownlow Bar for a final beer in the old stand. As we looked around the room, we admired the pictures of former club champions lining the walls and spoke about our hope of the pictures once again featuring in the new, modern stand. We handed each other our phones and took photos in the iconic bar that is now just a memory.

Although to a lot of people sport is a mere hobby or pastime, it means a great deal more to many of us, with grounds such as Kardinia Park feeling like a second home. As the Cats home ground moves onto bigger and better things, I will always cherish being able to say that I sat in the old A.R. Jennings Stand for much of my life. And as much as I will miss the old stand, I am also extremely excited to move onto the next phase with the club and assert my place in the new stand for years to come. With many great footy memories stored away from the first 20 years of my life, I cannot wait to add to these for many years to come.

Round 23, 2015: The last showing of the old Charles Brownlow Bar at Kardinia Park.