The junket.

manuka oval

I originally wrote this about seven years ago but after seeing Manuka Oval on TV tonight showing the cricket, I re-told it to one of the young ‘uns at work. This was an awesome day and I still love telling the story.

I never liked those girls much.

Well, when I say I never liked them, what I probably mean is more I never knew them. There were a lot of divisions between departments where I worked and they simply didn’t move in the same circles as me. I was the funny girl who hung out at the lunch table with the boys and talked footy, whereas they were more like the “cool” girls from school who gossiped at the back door in between drags of cigarettes.

So, I never knew those girls much.

One day my employer happened to have a dozen tickets to an AFL match that was being played in our town, a rare occurence indeed. I didn’t particularly like either of the teams playing but would probably have headed along anyway given we hosted so few football games. However my eagerness to attend wasn’t translating so well amongst our valued clients so there was a single spare ticket.

I made sure my boss knew I was happy to take the ticket off her hands, particularly as I knew the seat would be good (ie an expensive view). They held out until the eleventh hour before finally acquiesing and handing me the precious ticket.

The three girls would be the other employees attending, plus a number of clients that, to be honest, I couldn’t have given a stuff about. What I did care about was the fact the ticket was not only for a prime seat but also a fully catered lunch beforehand. Including drinks.

I spoke to one of the girls who lived in a nearby suburb and she offered to pick me up on the way to one of the other girls’ houses, whereby we’d all get a taxi or a lift to the ground to avoid drinking and driving. As I didn’t have a car it worked out perfectly for me so we agreed she’d come past my house early the next morning to give us plenty of time.

One of my close friends had attended the previous game and I asked him what I should expect. “Not much time to do anything,” he said. “Pretty boring, you just have lunch, make small talk, watch the game then leave.” Huh. Well, it was still a free ticket.

He then told me that John Fairfax had attended his game so they had been told to wear a suit a tie and maintain the appropriate standard of decorum at all times. Right, well I know Fairfax isn’t coming to my game but what the hell should I wear?

In the end we went smart footy casual, which generally consists of neat jeans, roll neck jumper and requisite black coat. So I waited out the front of my house for my new friend to arrive, cold but excited, dressed as such.

My lift arrived and we tried to make conversation in the tiny car, stumbling over questions about shared acquaintances and work areas. I was probably stuck for something to say when I asked her which managers were attending the day’s festivities. “Managers?” she said. “Managers? There’s only you, me and the two other girls today.”

Righto. Should be interesting. Let me tell you that interesting doesn’t even begin to describe it.

What followed was nine hours of drinks, footy, drinks, new mates, drinks, an extremely uncomfortable trip in a two door hatch, drinks and more. Then drinks. I can unequivocally say that it ranks amongst one of my best ever days at the footy and I saw stuff all of the match.

My friend had warned me that there wasn’t really enough time to get drunk so don’t worry too much about the free alcohol. He was wrong. We started on the drinks from the second I got there and as the table filled up with various clients, we only proceeded to drink more and get increasingly raucous as inhibitions and nervousness wore off.

The majority of the clients were youngish blokes in their late twenties, plus an older couple. The older couple spend most of the day networking around the room while we finished of plenty more alcohol washed down by a three course lunch.

Two of the gentlemen owned a gym equipment business and a bar on the side. Two more worked in the hotel industry. All of them were football fans so there were plenty of sporting jokes being bantered around as the teams and umpires got ready for the match.

It was the kind of cold day that only Canberra can truly provide – bright and sunny and about three degrees. The eight of us decided we were well and truly comfortable at our table by the glass window overlooking our seats in the pavillion and opted to stay inside. For the first quarter anyway. We’ll see how we go.

We. Never. Left. As the saying of the day went, “Match stats? Well I’ve watched about six percent of this match!” We were too busy stockpiling middies of beer and glasses of red and white wine, perfectly chilled by their close proximation to the glass looking out on to Manuka Oval. Any time a hapless waiter walked around the room with a full tray we were more than happy to relieve him of it.

At half time all of us were pretty merry and the party pies and sausage rolls provided welcome relief. Only problem was, I had a pale blue jumper on and didn’t appear to be able to manoeuvre a pie to my mouth without spilling tomato sauce across my decolletage. There was now a scarlet smudge that didn’t look particularly classy scarring my jumper. Uh oh.

I dashed to the toilets, returning ten minutes later with all traces of sauce gone. “Look!” I proclaimed to my new friends. They couldn’t believe it until I showed that I’d turned my jumper back to front, leaving my long hair to cunningly disguise the stain. And so on we went.

The day continued in blurry friviolity, mucking around with knitted scarves and lasso-ing patrons with them, waving to amused children on the other side of the glass and stealing the floral centrepieces from the tables.

There was also something called “Shannon Noll dancing” which I can’t recall in its entirety but I believe constituted walking into the middle of the room and doing some kind of haphazard bootscooting. Why the honour went to Shannon Noll is long beyond me but I do remember it was funny.

As for the game itself, it ended with the Western Bulldogs winning by a single point against North Melbourne and I think I read in later reports that Brad Johnson kicked the winning goal only seconds before the final siren. An umpire also broke his leg so all in all you might say it was a fairly uneventful game…

In any case, we were eventually kicked out when they turned the lights off on the oval. Our happy, singing, drunken group made their way down two sets of stairs, slowly and with stolen flowers in hand. One of the girls managed to stumble down the stairs, full red wine glass in hand and break the glass without cutting herself or spilling it all down her front. I think there was some fairly nasty bruising later but for now, the pain was well and truly dulled.

From there we piled six of us into a very small car and proceeded to navigate our way to the fancy bar the two of our new friends owned. I think one bloke was in the boot and I cannot remember who actually drove (or whether they should have driven). We proceeded to settle in and when one of them asked what I would like to drink, I said “surprise me” and suddenly we were all drinking watermelon cocktails made with fresh fruit and served in a short glass. There would have been a substantial amount of alcohol in them but we managed to consume several of the delicious drinks – on the house of course – before tiredness set in.

It would have been about 9pm, nine hours after that first 12pm beer, when i stood up from the padded cube I was sitting on and announced I was going home. The girl who picked me up announced she was folding as well so we shared a taxi back to our homes on the other side of town.

I wish I could say that we all became close mates afterwards and hung out every lunch time, talking and painting our nails like girls do. Well, we didn’t. After the fun of relating the battle stories to an audience of co-workers on Monday morning died off, what we actually did is went about our daily actions as per usual. With one very suble but important difference – we were now friends, bonded by one special shared experience.

I have told the story of this day many many times, both to those involved, mutual friends and other people entirely independent of the situation and it never fails to make me smile. I’m glad to have recorded it here as I probably forget a detail or two with each re-telling since 2003.

Last weekend I was a guest at the prestigious President’s Lunch at the MCG for the Carlton v Collingwood match. The day was wonderful and we couldn’t have been looked after any better with great food, expensive alcohol and fantastic speakers. But for all its perfection, all its standing and tradition, a small part of me would still loved to have been standing in front of the glass at Manuka, hiding a sauce stain on the back of my jumper.

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