I Love McLean Park
By Andrew Frame
For someone so sportingly inept, I have many fond memories of the place.
Massive Mexican waves that stretched around the ground a dozen times at day-night cricket games back in the nineties — this was before plastic beer bottles at sporting events too, so it was a real “multi-media” experience. Half the bottles hadn’t even been emptied … what a waste. Being huddled-up in a corner of the Harris Stand as Napier City Rovers claimed the Chatham Cup in torrential rain. Even watching the “last ever” game between the Hawke’s Bay Magpies and Manawatu before they formed the short-lived and fatally hobbled “Central Vikings.”
The park has developed a real family atmosphere, which is quite fantastic and missing in so many other forums. In between innings at the recent ODI cricket match, the outfield was consumed with dozens of school children playing Milo Cricket. Many sections of the crowd gave the young ones as much support as the older players. It must have been quite a buzz for them.
At the same game, with nails getting bitten down to their quicks as the Black Caps chased down Australia’s score, “Sweet Caroline” and “Daydream Believer” rang out over the PA system. A baby-booming change in playlist from the usual “Oonst-oonst!” dance music that prevails had a large portion of the older crowd in the park chirping up and singing along in reasonably fine voice. What made it even more priceless from where I was sitting in the new Graeme Lowe Stand were the teens sitting lower down, necks arched around and the most beautifully puzzled looks on their faces as if to say “What the hell? That’s not music! What are Dad and Uncle Tom doing?”
While sitting on the embankment during a Blackcaps v England day-night game a few years ago, it was obvious we were amongst a far more sensible embankment crowd than there had been in previous years. It was a late season game with rain interruptions, so multi-layered clothing, coats, umbrellas and tarpaulins were ‘de rigueur’. Yet as usually happens, flocks of scantily clad teenaged girls flitted around the park in some form of mating ritual that would stump even Sir David Attenborough. As they passed our section of grass were they greeted with wolf whistles, catcalls and ribald humor? No. Calls of “Put some clothes on, you’re making me feel cold!” … “Sit down, I can’t see the game!” … and “While you’re up, can you get me some chips please?” rang out instead.
It is also a very fair ground. England and New Zealand batted exceptionally against each other three years ago and it seemed only fair, or fate, that the game ended in a tie. 340 runs each, 680 runs in 100 overs, a truly massive total.
The crowds also have a strict code of ethics. They don’t mind if Brett Lee or Mitchell Johnson bowl at speeds of over 140kph (a tad faster than the average human reaction time) providing it’s at the stumps. When the shorter deliveries start going towards the batsman’s head, “Boo’s!” and calls of “(insert Australian bowler’s name here)’s a w#$%er!” will quickly build. Not particularly sporting, but neither it seems are some of their players.
The crowds can also be quite self-regulatory. I once witnessed a spectator get king-hit from behind by some drunken or, more likely, terminally stupid oaf. While fellow spectators aided the victim, others restrained his assailant. When he tried to resist arrest, the police performed one of the most beautiful “have you met Mr Ground?” manoeuvres I have ever seen, to the cheers of nearby spectators, followed by jeers and suggestions on how he should behave if he ever got to step foot in the park again. Another cheer erupted as the victim got to his feet and was able to walk to the first aid station.
With the Magpies going so fantastically in the NPC and Napier hosting two Rugby World Cup games next year, McLean Park can only get better. Already it looks more like a stadium with the new floodlights and the Graeme Lowe Stand completing a horseshoe of grandstand seating and corporate boxes.
I think this is a relationship that will last for some time.