Since I was eight years old, my one dream was to see my beloved Tigers playing at Leichhardt Oval. To see the great players of my childhood, live in the flesh. To see the ground which had graced the greats of the black and golds in the past. The hallowed turf which many a Balmain fan were proud to call their own.
After 16 long boring years of country living, I finally managed to realise my dream. The team wasn’t known as Balmain anymore though. The players I watched as a child had retired and become legends. The grandstand had become dilapidated. Even the white ants residing amongst it had seen better days.
It was on ANZAC day 2004. I likened myself to an heroic wartime figure. I stood outside the ground collecting signatures for the ‘Save Leichhardt Oval’ campaign. Armed with a handful of petitions, my pride and my honour, I was intent on doing what I could for my homeland. I had ventured to the foreign fields that had seen many a battle in the past and I was destined to partake in yet another, with victory my only option.
The tension was building with every tick of the clock. I handed out petitions, claiming signatures in the process, yet my dream had still not been fulfilled. I was, however, only minutes away from realising something I had dreamt of doing for most my life. The expectations and anticipations I felt were something I’d never realised before.
As the time drew nearer, so did the amount of glances at my watch. 11 minutes to go...hand out some more petitions, talk with some more people, look at the watch, 8 minutes to go…why can’t the clock go faster? 4 minutes to go…tapping the foot and becoming impatient. Eventually the clock struck 2pm. My dream was about to be fulfilled.
I walked towards the gates, the gates that led me to my childhood dream. As I entered the ground I was awestruck. There I stood on the hill at Leichhardt Oval. I was really there! I looked out at the stands, I looked at the mass of people on the hill, realising that every single one of them has felt exactly the same way as I did at the very moment.
Then out in the middle, the ground that I had only ever seen on a television. The turf that had been graced by the greatest players in Rugby League history. There it was, right in front of me, for real.
I took my place on the hill and I felt so comfortable. I was 800kms from my family and friends, I was a three-hour train trip from where I lived, but right then and there, I felt at home.
As I accustomed myself to these wonderful surroundings, the Manly team ran onto the ground and stood there awaiting their opponents. Then the introduction of the song “Eye Of The Tiger” filled my ears and my mind. A shiver ran down my spine. To say I was in a euphoric state would be an understatement. The Tigers players ran onto the ground, much to the delight of 18,000 fans cheering strong.
The first half of the game was a total blur as I was still in shock as to where I was and what I was experiencing. It seemed to absolutely fly by. I was still coming to terms with everything I was experiencing.
At half time I went for a walk around the ground to try and take in as much as possible. When the players ran back out I was seemingly more focussed on the game and sat and watched intently as the Tigers ran away with the game, scoring some classy tries and claiming an easy victory.
I stood on the hill as people all around me vacated the ground. I wanted to take in as much of this memorable experience as possible. I eventually left the ground satisfied, ecstatic and most of all, with my dream fulfilled.
The trip back home was a pleasant one. It didn’t contain the usual bore. I didn’t feel like asking “are we there yet?” My mind was filled with the wonderful thoughts of the events that took place. I had helped in getting the grandstand fixed up, I had got to see the Tigers win and I did it all at Leichhardt Oval.
“I came, I saw, I conquered.”