It was a mere 20 years ago today that the venue that would host the Sydney Olympics officially opened to the world, and two decades on, the New South Wales government decided they loved it so much, that they wanted to spend $2 billion to destroy it, only to change that to an $800 million refurbishment.
I went there once in 2014 with a few of my relatives to watch the Swans-Dockers Qualifying Final (Just happened to be in town that weekend), and I have to say everything that fans knocked it for- crap surface, dodgy seating, built in the middle of nowhere- they’re all spot on.
When it was first opened through to the end of 2001, the capacity stood at approximately 110,000, overtaking the MCG as Australia’s largest stadium by capacity and hitting a record attendances in several sports, including setting several Olympic attendance records in the process.
The first event was a rugby league double header featuring Manly vs Newcastle and Parramatta vs the freshly merged St George Illawarra in front of a crowd of 104,584, the biggest rugby league crowd in history, only bettered by that year’s epic Dragons-Storm Grand Final attended by 107,999.
Through names like Stadium Australia, the Sydney Olympic Stadium, Homebush Stadium, Telstra Stadium and now ANZ Stadium, the venue has established itself as Sydney’s second most disliked concrete slab (Despite mostly being steel), only recently being surpassed by the Leaning Tower of Opal just down the road.
Anyway, here’s some memorable moments from the former toxic waste dump!
2000: The game from heaven
Back in 2000 the opening test of the Bledisloe Cup featured the World Champion Wallabies versus the “Best Team in the World” the All Blacks, and in front of a record rugby crowd of 109,874, the two rivals produced the Match of the Century, which was an easy honour to claim, considering it had only just begun.
After just 8 minutes the All-Blacks led 24-nil, and Stephen Larkham was only Australian to touch the ball, but 22 minutes later, the Wallabies had tied the scores at 24-all.
As the Wallabies took the momentum in the 2nd half, they led 35-34 after 80 minutes as play went on, until in the 84th minute, Taine Randall drew 2 tacklers and got a pass out to who else but the human wrecking ball, Jonah Lomu, who breezed past Larkham and won the match 39-35.
Of course, the Wallabies did get their revenge and won the Bledisloe & Tri-Nations titles that year.
It’s still sad to think Jonah Lomu is no longer with us.
2000: That thing it got built for
IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch had a habit of describing every Summer Olympics he attended as the best games ever, but at the Sydney Olympics he probably genuinely meant it, and so did much of the international press.
The Opening Ceremony was a cultural explosion, memorable for that tribute to the Man from Snowy River, the appearance of young Nikki Webster (I’ve been scarred by my sister’s repeated playing of Strawberry Kisses), Australia’s female Olympic heroes celebrating 100 years of women’s participation at the Games, and then Cathy Freeman finishing it off by having walk up a long-arse set of stairs just to ignite a cauldron.
You probably may not even remember, but the cauldron glitched on the way up the stand and was stuck in place for 5 minutes.
Of course out of all the highlights of the athletics events at the Olympic Stadium, there was only one that truly mattered to Aussies- Cathy in the 400 metres.
With her great contemporary Marie-Jose Perec fleeing back to Paris before the games after what she claimed was continued harrassment from strangers, it was Freeman’s gold medal to lose.
Not since Phar Lap had someone carried so much weight, and on September 25th, 2000, in front of an Olympic record crowd of 112,524 , wearing that legendary skintight onesie, Cathy did it for us all.
When you actually do manage to click on the link, skip to 6:45.
In terms of historical significance, both sporting and cultural, this is probably the biggest moment in our sporting history, and it was best summed up by an exhausted Freeman carrying the Aboriginal and Australian flags side by side.
And then of course there was the Closing Ceremony, attended by another mega crowd of 114,714, featuring great Australian entertainers like Slim Dusty, Midnight Oil, Men At Work, Barnesy, Kylie, and for some reason, The Shark smacking golf balls.
2002: Cutting out the power on Billy Idol
In Australia we love memorably bad performances from Grand Final entertainment- Angry Anderson in the Batmobile, Meat Loaf, but back in 2002, the punk rock Idol came to Sydney to headline the NRL Grand Final, and came out in style- a hovercraft with fireworks shooting out the sides.
Then as soon as Idol got on stage, apparently a guitar pedal shorted out the power, and he stood there for 5 minutes waiting for something to happen, before he cracked it and walked off with his band without a song being performed.
It wasn’t a nice day to…. start againnnnnnnn!
2003: Hey, remember that time the Swans played there?
In 2002, the reconfiguration to allow to for oval sports like Aussie Rules to be played was completed, and the Sydney Swans began playing a few home games plus any home finals for the next 13 years.
At first it was a great move, considering the Swans were averaging 42,000+ crowds at the ground through to 2007, but eventually fans became disengaged and so the club moved back to the SCG full-time in 2016.
The high point came in 2003, when the Swans took on Collingwood in Round 21, and despite being a wet night and the Magpies leading at every break to win by 18 points, the game attracted a monster crowd of 72,393.
It broke the record for the largest Australian Rules crowd outside of Victoria, and due to the redevelopment of the MCG, it was the largest attendance for a home & away AFL game in 2003- The only year in league history it’s occurred outside of Victoria.
The Swans did surprise everyone by finishing 4th and hosting a Preliminary Final at ‘Telstra Stadium’ as it was, drawing 71,019 against the threepeat Brisbane Lions, as their fairytale season ended when they lost by 44 points.
Here’s a true fact: Stadium Australia has the eight highest AFL attendances outside of Victoria.
2003: Wilkinson’s World Cup Final
Stadium Australia does have the rare distinction of being the only venue to host the Olympic Games and the Rugby World Cup Final, and the 2003 decider between the Wallabies and England was a thrilling end to a great tournament.
Finishing 14-apiece at the end of the 80 minutes, both teams exchanged penalties to leave it 17-apiece as the end of extra time neared, only for the tournament’s leading pointscorer, star English flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson to slot a drop goal with 26 seconds left, after missing his previous three attempts (That fact actually gets forgotten), getting England home 20-17 and denying the Wallabies back-to-back World Cup titles.
It remains the only time a Northern Hemisphere country has taken ‘Bill’ home.
Of course if you remember your union, England’s current supremo Eddie Jones was coaching the Wallabies.
32 years of hurt, ended in one moment.
I’ll let the video tell the rest of this epic story.
2015: Best Grand Final ever?
The 2015 Grand Final was only the second time in league history that no NSW team featured in the decider, but instead we got an epic Queensland derby between the Broncos and Cowboys, and with it, the best Grand Final in many many years.
That final minute and golden point was just utterly unbelievable, so it goes without saying, to any Broncs fans… please call your psychiatrists now.
Johnathan Thurston, single handedly raising stocks in his fellow JTs since 1983.