On the eve of the last NRL match at Allianz Stadium, the former NSW Government minister responsible for its construction has revealed the reason behind the venue’s greatest controversy – the lack of undercover seating.
When designs for the Sydney’s first large rectangular stadium were made public, it was announced 75% of seats would be under a roof.
However, complaints began after the first match between the Roosters and Dragons on March 4, 1988, with David Middleton writing in Rugby League Week: "The driving rain saturated almost half of all the seating, even though the stadium’s architects insisted 75% of spectators would be covered."
With development of the stadium funded by donations and the sale of gold memberships, former Test winger Michael Cleary - the NSW Minister for Sport from 1981 to 1988 - told NRL.com there had simply not been enough money to fulfil the ambition.
"It cost us $62 million to build it and during my time we did it as a fundraiser, there was no government money involved," Cleary said.
"That is why the stadium roof never went out far enough to protect it from the weather. We had to cut a few corners and the roof didn’t go out as far as it should."
Cleary, who played 140 matches for South Sydney and finished his career with Eastern Suburbs Roosters in 1971, said there had been little money spent on sporting facilities in NSW before the 1980s and the government did not have a budget to do so.
Working with SCG Trust chairman Pat Hills, he established a fundraising program for the construction of the Sydney Football Stadium on the site of the Sydney Sports Ground after discussions between premier Neville Wran and Australian Soccer Federation representatives for a rectangular stadium.
"We sold life memberships for $2000," Cleary said. "There were probably 20,000 or 30,000 and there was a 10-year waiting list. We sold memberships to people on a waiting list.
"I brought in FootyTAB. That gave us a bit of money. Before that we had hardly had anything. Up until about 1980 there wasn’t a zac spent in NSW. The program for sporting facilities had $3 million in it. There were 100 seats in NSW so that meant there was $30,000 per electorate.
"I had an association with John Brown, who was the Federal Sports Minister, and he set up a special fund with [Prime Minister] Bob Hawke, which had $30 million to spend for international sporting facilities. That is how we built Parramatta Stadium. He gave us $15m and I put in $15m.
"We also built Campbelltown, we transferred the seating from Lidcombe Oval to Campbelltown to help Wests."
The architect of the SFS, Phillip Cox, explained his brief had been to design a "people’s stadium", with the focus on fans being close to the action rather than facilities.
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"It was meant to be a very egalitarian stadium, it didn't have all the facilities that a contemporary stadium has today with bars and restaurants," Cox told ABC radio on Friday.
"It was very much satisfying the requirements of football, which was generally played on a Saturday afternoon and not really in the evening when you require all the support facilities like food and beverage that are being supplied in the new stadiums.
"There weren’t any boxes and there weren’t any elite areas included in the stadium design at that stage so what we have at Moore Park is a very generous bowl which gives you a great comfort watching football. You feel very intimate when you are in that venue."
Former Roosters star Anthony Minichiello, who has played more games (157) and scored more tries (77) at Allianz Stadium than any other player, said it was also his favourite venue.
"I have had some very fond memories on this ground, I played a lot of game here and scored a few tries along the way as well so it has a sentimental place in my heart and what better way to finish it off than with the Roosters-Rabbitohs rivalry," Minichiello said.
The first player to score a first-grade try at the venue was current St George Illawarra chairman Brian Johnston, who crossed in the north-east corner off a Peter Gill bomb in the 10th minute of the Dragons' 24-14 defeat of Easts.
Since then, 12 million fans have watched 669 premiership matches, 126 finals, 11 grand finals, 14 State of Origins, 14 Tests, four World Cup fixtures, seven World Sevens tournaments, one World Club Challenge and four City-Country games at the stadium.
"If I had my way everyone would be buying a ticket this weekend with and they would be taking a screwdriver and taking their seat on the way out because this will be the last time rugby league plays at Allianz Stadium," NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said.
"We are going to be given a brand new, purpose built, rectangular stadium, probably the best in the world. That is the commitment from government, we are looking forward to that and we can't wait to see it open again."
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