For as long as I can remember, arriving at the footy to watch the Canberra Raiders didn’t begin when I reached the gates in Bruce. It began about 800 metres and 1,000 steps away when I got out of the car on Dryandra Street in Lyneham.
For those in the know who are mindful of the weight of their wallets, the best and easiest way to avoid stadium parking fees in Canberra is parking on Dryandra and taking the short, leisurely walk along the bike path through O’Connor ridge. Since my Dad started taking me to Raiders games in 1996, we’ve always parked along Dryandra and made the trek up that path. A path where within seconds most signs of civilisation disappear and you’d never know you were in the middle of a city that holds 400,000 people.
To say that going to the footy is about watching a game of football is to reduce the experience immeasurably. The anticipation leading up to and the wind down following the game can be just as memorable as the 80 minutes that follow the kickoff. Arriving at Dryandra Street and beginning the stroll down the path is an experience that has always filled me with anticipation, excitement and nerves. As a little kid it was an extra few minutes, those 1,000 steps, where I could pepper my Dad with a million questions about the game. “Who are we playing today, Dad? Are they any good? Are we going to win today, Dad? Is Daley playing today? Is Kenny? Is Mullins?”
As I got older the conversations with Dad over the course of those 1,000 steps evolved into a more nuanced pre-amble to the game ahead. A wider discussion of not just the Raiders chances in the game but of the season as a whole and just rugby league in general. Now that I drive myself to the ground, if I’m lucky enough to arrive at Dryandra at the same time as Dad, those 1,000 steps are used to catch up with each other on what’s happened in our lives since the last game, before inevitably the discussion turns to the Raiders and rugby league. I think it would be impossible to walk along that path and not talk about rugby league.
And it’s not just the walk to the game along that path that sparks memories, but the walk back too. Sometimes with that extra pep in the step after a good win. Other times it feels like 10,000 steps, rather than 1,000 after a cruel loss. It’s not unusual after a big win for groups of fans walking those familiar steps to break into song. Because that walk is a shared experience. Despite hundreds of people knowing about it and parking in those sweet parking fee free spots on Dryandra, it still feels like a secret. A little initiation to being a real Raiders fan that you know the cool spot with the nice walk. Something that when you take your mates to games you can reveal to them, so that they may reveal it to others.
When I think of particularly special moments walking down that path there are two that come to mind. The first is Round 1 in 2013 where the Raider suffered a particularly heartbreaking late in the game loss to a full strength Storm team (Slater scored a late try to snatch victory, the prick). It had rained cats and dogs for several days in the lead up to that game and when we set off from the car up the path we encountered a very large puddle. There was no way around it so we had to bite the bullet and walk straight through. The puddle looked like it might be shoe deep, no more than that. When we were almost up to our knees in the water, our jeans soaked through, suddenly the walk up the path from Dryandra didn’t seem like such a good idea. The realisation as we left the ground after the heartbreaking loss that we were going to have to cross that puddle again to get back to the car was even worse.
The other fond memory is the night of the 2019 prelim final. I arrived at Dryandra in an Uber with my great mate Nick Campton and my new acquaintance Harry Ramage. Dryandra was heaving with cars as you might expect for a sold out game. To really lean into the cliché you could feel the atmosphere in the air. The few beers consumed prior to the Uber probably helped. We chatted nonsense about 90s footballers as one is likely to do when hanging out with Nick Campton and Harry Ramage. The 80s minutes that comprised that footy game are maybe the happiest 80 minutes of my life but I reckon that magical walk full of excitement and anticipation up that familiar path were just as special.
With the season starting tonight, I look forward to rolling out of the office and arriving at Dryandra. Ready to take those steps again and forge new memories of the walk. Since Dad started taking me in 1996 and particularly since we became season ticket holders in 2000, I’ve barely missed a home game. Conservatively I reckon I’ve been to somewhere between 230 and 250 Raiders games where I’ve walked those 1,000 steps. In each direction that’s a total of 460,000 to 500,000 steps, the equivalent of walking from Canberra to Sydney. And while Dad walks those steps a little slower than he used to, that just means we have more time to share the journey together. Depending on the result, some of those steps feel sweeter than others, but I’m glad I’ve taken each and every one.
Many thanks to Dave for such a lovely reminder of the best walk in Australian sports. You can follow Dave on twitter here. You can like our page on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. Don’t hesitate to send feedback (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment below.