Wet, wet and wet – the sight of rain soaked skies gloomily greeted me at 7am on Tuesday 2 January when I peeked outside. The miserable weather showed no signs of letting up, which spelled disaster for the Okka.com group of cricket tragics who had tickets to see the Poms attempt to prevent an Australian clean sweep in the Ashes series.
As the rain continued to pour down, I ran through my checklist of things to bring: spending money – check, house keys – check, ticket – check, camera – check, hat – check, sunscreen – check, umbrella – check. As the weather had been so unpredictable in the past week, I thought it would be best to be prepared for all occasions. Ultimately, there was only so much room in my bag, and the hat made a late exit and was left behind.
The station was awash with rain and weary workers on their first day back to work. The plan was to meet Emily on the train and travel in together to the venue for the Before Party (beer for breakfast – very cheeky and setting the tone for the day). The rain did not ease throughout the train ride – in fact, it only got heavier. By the time we arrived at Central Station, it was downright pouring. The walk up to Bar Cleveland was dogged with road hazards – puddles so big you could swim in met us at every intersection. We did not think it was possible for the rain to get heavier, but down it came – torrentially. Emily joked that the rain would cease the minute we walked into the bar, and sure enough, it abated as we were ordering our first beer.
The diehards were there already – some with beers, some without beers, some were already drinking rum and bourbon, and all were looking ready for a huge day and prepping their stomachs with a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. In one corner, the boys from Okka.com had set up camp and were distributing the remaining tickets and shirts to those who were not able to meet the earlier pick up date. Soon enough, the bar was awash with yellow shirts, with the very distinctive "Oh ahh, where’s the bar" on our backs.
Gumby was up to his usual shenanigans, permanent pen in hand and asking everyone to sign his shirt, including the 3 policemen who dropped by to check out the action. The others in our core group started arriving as Emily and I were timidly sipping our second beer (all before 9.30am). The Okka.com boys led everyone through a few resounding rounds of chanting and handed out song sheets. The rain continued and the crush started to build as more and more people arrived at the bar, unsure if the first session will ever get underway. The mood was high and the beer was flowing freely. Finally, at 10.30am, with the rain holding off and play confirmed, we started the long walk to the cricket ground.
Once at the ground, it was obvious the day was going to be something special. The SCG was packed – and the Barmy Army was out in force. The size of the Okka.com group in our distinctive shirts drew attention immediately, and camped at the end of our bay were various Channel 9 reporters, laying in wait for the group to "produce" a story for them. Leon stepped up to the challenge and spoke honestly, which was featured on the 6pm news. A large number of colourful personalities also joined in the fun, amongst those were 2 blokes in blow up suits with "Who Ate All The Pies" emblazoned on their bellies, an unbelievably brown Pom in a furry bikini, and Richard "Mr Virgin" Branson (well, he didn’t actually stop but he did wave as he strode past).
The sun came out blazing for a short time, as our chants grew louder and the Barmy Army replies deafening. Led by Gumby, now dressed as Cave Bitch, there were many hearty renditions of Advance Australian Fair, Waltzing Matilda and Days of the Week. Beer was replaced by vodka UDLs (which, incidentally, were very hard to drink), and the sunscreen was reapplied. The wickets were slow to fall, but when they did, there were resounding cheers throughout the crowd. Glenn McGrath, who announced his retirement from cricket just before the Boxing Day Test, took 2 wickets and was the hero of the day.
Considering the size of the group – the biggest Okka.com has ever organised – everyone was extremely well behaved. But that didn’t stop the Phun Polees from hanging around throughout the day. The Mexican Wave was already outlawed days earlier, and the news reminded us repeatedly that any wave instigator will be thrown out of the cricket ground. We did eventually attempt to start a few waves towards the end of the day, but no one else was willing to continue the wave throughout the ground. Our blow up dinosaur was confiscated for a time, and the beer cup snake made a brief appearance, but immediately went to ground as the Phun Polees moved in.
The match ended as the skies opened up again, and we migrated en masse back to Bar Cleveland, the venue for the After Party. A few more beers, a bit of bogeying and plenty more chatting ensued and eventually, the crowd started to peter out and it was time to go home. I was very sunburnt, very tired, but very happy about the great day I’d had. I had a chance to see some cricket, meet some new people, catch up with people I rarely see or hadn’t seen in years, drink some beer and be part of some fun shenanigans. I can’t wait till next year!