Rise of the Seagull

The thin white line at AAMI Park.

The thin white line at AAMI Park.

Words and photos by Ben de Buen.

I found a spot in one of the few areas that remained unoccupied at a nearly full AAMI Park. There, I would watch the match and send Instagram posts to my heart’s content. But an invisible cloud of grease and salt, nuances of pre-adulthood, warned of a fatidic change.

In the 90s as a teenager in Mexico I would have smelled of cigarettes and booze, most of the time. Kids today, they are followed by an aroma of chips and fried chicken, in the city, on the train, and at the football. Within seconds, adolescent carriers of fast food expelled the zen from my surroundings.

“Can you sit down?” Requested members of the reduced Phoenix following from a security guard minding one of the gates on the barrier. His diligent approach obstructed their view. He nodded no. Security first, guys. They would have to find the way to look around him or simply do without. A moment passed, then a different guard replaced him. He looked bigger and less susceptible to trans-Tasman criticism.

“Which one’s Victory?” the new keeper of the peace asked me. He was polite and introduced himself as a Fijian and a rugby man. “I was here last night to watch England and Australia.” The state of the grounds did not show any signs of having hosted a rugby match. I cannot praise these grounds enough.

“Victory is in blue,” I replied.

“They any good?”

“Too soon to tell.”

He was joined by a policeman whose appearance said: every day is movember.

“You going to eat all those chips? They any good?” the amiable copper asked one of the teenagers.

Spirits in Melbourne flew high as seagulls on the eve of the only horse race worthy of a public holiday. Victory support claimed AAMI Park, leaving just a corner for the visitors to form a slither of gold.

Melbourne’s dark blue dominated. I hardly saw anyone wearing a strip that was not relevant to the match. The number of Barcelona tops that crossed my path must have been less than ten and worn by children.

AAMI Park: red sails in the sunset.

AAMI Park: red sails in the sunset.

The weather this evening did not deserve a mention, a rarity in this city, with mild temperatures and an agreeable breeze. However, the sky turned a burning pink just after Finkler scored a free kick from one of the sidelines. This is when I fled the feeding frenzy of meat pies and hot dogs to capture yet another shot of the ever-transiting AAMI backdrop, a definite architectural asset.

Halftime is a chance for smokers to flee to the concourse. Kids kick a football on both sides of the smoking border that has been painted on the ground.

Seagulls claimed the grounds during the second half. Their presence on the pitch signaled the areas of inactivity, mainly along the corridors, but at times covering the entire Wellington half. Their numbers grew as the match progressed and stalled despite a second Victory goal by Connor Pain. In the end there were far more seagulls than Phoenix supporters.

Non-paying spectators float above the stadium

Non-paying spectators float above the stadium

While the football on the grass fluctuated between amusing and a little bit gridlocked, the mood in the stands continually escalated from excited to ecstatic. AAMI seems to suit the local support and the older of the two Melbourne teams. They filled more than just the stands but also the airwaves contained within the walls of the stadium with the overflowing and boisterous sound of victorious joy.