It used to be said that being a member of the Sydney Cricket Ground was an honour people would be happy to wait up to 15 years to get.
The same can be said for the MCG, Lord’s or any of the other great grounds of the world. I was not one of those who were put on the wait list as a child by well meaning parents. My parents had no interest in sport whatsoever so I had to post in the application myself as an adult, strangely enough after I had moved out of Sydney.
Many years later the wizard-sleeved big red rooster looked down on me from above and gave me the wink when he took one of the old boys and I could finally get in. Not many voluntarily hand back the sacred swipe card so death is the inevitable way new blood comes in. I was fortunate to only be on the wait list for 11 years and have been a member for the past ten.
My older sister and her husband joined as gold members when the Sydney Football Stadium opened in 1988. My first Test was in 1988 for the Bicentenary against England where I sat on the hill at a game I’m sure was my mum’s first and only match she ever attended. At lunch time I strolled over to the under-construction Sydney Football Stadium and somehow got in and walked onto the centre of the almost-complete field. No security guard on duty back then. It was the start of a long patronage.
I’ll never forget the feeling of exhilaration of what it was like to walk along Driver Avenue and be scanned into Gate A and seeing the Members Pavilion and Ladies Stand from the other side. I was a guest of my brother in law. I recall January 2, 2000, Australia versus India.
These days membership cards are not transferable and magnetic strips and vigilant security had pulled the curtain down on slipping the card through to your mate so he can get in for free. How many enamel badges must have been nicked by blokes in suits and trilby hats, taking time away from the sly grog shop they ran, chucking the badge over the brick walled fence to their mate that was not in the designated meeting place.
As a member, one of the great pleasures is being able to see the players come out of the dressing room and slap them on the back as they run out. I even managed to a death stare off Tim Paine as he came onto the field this year.
The accumulation of signed memorabilia we members are able to get has no bounds. I talk to two retired police that are at every game with bags full of Stimorol cards for former players and commentators to have them scribbled on along with branded mini bats or four-inch strips of Norton belt sander for David Warner and Steve Smith to sign.
At the end of the England-Afghanistan match, my son and I went down to the Members Stand to just mingle and get a few things signed. He was 11 at the time and minors are not permitted in the Members Pavilion until they are 18, but this is a World Cup with its own rules. The England team were using the Australian room this match and they had been knocked out of the tournament and had decided to give their gear away instead of lugging it all the way home. To this day, Joe Root’s signed cap and Ian Bell’s signed sweater still hold court in my museum of antiquities.
The SCG is a magical place to watch the sports that call it home. The Australian cricket team, Sydney Sixers, Sydney Swans, Sydney Roosters and the NSW Waratahs provide a smorgasbord all year around, coronavirus aside. But this all comes at a price and the price of exclusivity is steep.
There are varying levels of membership. The highest is platinum. Only the super rich and influencers can afford these. This gives you four transferable cards into the members at the SFS and the SCG. For this you don’t get a catered box, just standard unreserved seats. All members seats are unreserved, unless you want to stump for $25 plus booking fee to secure a seat in the MA Noble stand and arrive at your leisure.
Platinum costs around $40,000 as an entry then yearly dues on top of that. Gold membership is also for the SFS and Cricket Ground but you can choose to be a single member and guess pass for $11,000 or a double and pay $20,000 where two extra club cards are thrown in. This lets four people in but not to all games.
Confused yet? If games are likely to be a high-attendance fixture or the first three days of the Test, club cards cannot be used. A snip at half the price, I hear you cry. If you just want to go to fixtures at the SCG then you can have a members and guess pass for around $700 per year. To get the club cards will set you back $1100 per year. Each year you are on the wait list costs you $30. And of course there is the $1500 entry fee.
Now just because you turn on Fox Sports and see events televised form the grand old girl doesn’t mean members have the run of the place. Only regular scheduled events fall under the use of members entitlements. This year’s NRL grand final is back home for the first time since Manly and Canberra took the stage in 1987. At a mere $300-plus, members can get a seat in the Members Pavilion or Ladies Stand if they are quick enough.
One little known fact is the SCG members area comprises those two heritage-listed stands as well as the new MA Noble and Don Bradman Stands. To sit on the fence for the stink that sees out the rugby league year would set you back less than $70. Well, you can buy a pie and chips for that. Cheap at half the price. They didn’t last long.
There was no offer for election to SCG membership in 2019. As of the May 21, there were 27,038 applicants on the SCG wait list dating back to January 2006. Member numbers have remained stable at 18,288. The membership breakdown rests at nine per cent platinum, 33 per cent gold and 58 per cent SCG. In all, 38 people decided not to continue their membership for a variety of reasons. Not a bad retention rate in anyone’s language.
Contrary to the popular belief that members are Eastern Suburbs-based and well healed is a long held myth. Many cow cockies come to the big smoke once a year to attend the Test. These farmers are the ones in RM Williams boots and supply their wares to the big chains so maybe the myth is half true. But the social aspect of getting together from all over the state cannot be underestimated. Life on the land is a challenge and the mental-health aspect of coming together is becoming an increasing focus in society.
Well into middle age, they line up at 5am and talk of cattle yields. Us city slickers join in the yarn and talk about the news of the day for the two hours we have to wittle away. Come 6:58am, we ready ourselves to compete in the Paddington Gift right next to the young stock trader, the St Ives house wife and retired shop keeper. Eric Grothe Senior was my favourite Parramatta Eel growing up and his legacy comes through in me when I’m vaulting the wooden carpeted stairs two at a time as I make my way to the back row, top deck of the Members Pavilion. A better fend, hip and shoulder hasn’t been seen since the ’81 big dance. Apologies to the old diggers with the dodgy hips but I must get that seat.
There is one lady who lines up at midnight each day of the Test to get her seat in front of the visiting team dressing room. The front of the Australians rooms are reserved for 50-year or 70-year members. I’m sure she would qualify. I get there at 5am after walking from the backpackers in Surry Hills and if it is India or England playing then my 4am wake-up has been too long a sleep in. There are already a hundred people in line. By the time the gates open at 7am, the line is a kilometre long. This is why we pay big money for exclusivity and access.
Membership to the Sydney Cricket Ground is expensive. You have to wait in line in all weather, unprotected from the elements. The powerful SCG Trust keep raising the fees each year. Food prices are the stuff of nightmares. But I’m in the majority of members who cling onto our memberships for dear life, sacrificing and forgoing so we can attend this bastion of tradition year in, year out.
There are many things you wish would be better but there is nothing like standing behind Steve Smith in the nets and watch him club a ball five metres in front of you. Or meeting prime ministers, comedians, musicians and interacting with players of all codes.
If you love sport, this is the best experience you will get.