We did it, Ballarat.
Hosting an AFL premiership season match has been the dream of many for so long and it finally became a reality in what was a huge celebration for the city.
Shop fronts were decorated with red, white and blue of this Ballarat’s team, Western Bulldogs and anticipation was almost electric about the streets on Saturday morning.
Gates opened at noon, and Mars Stadium became a festival with live buskers, a Sovereign Hill welcoming party, hometown food trucks by break-out eating areas, and a chance to pat Ballarat-bred Bulldogs’ club mascot Caesar.
Wendouree MP Sharon Knight said there had long been doubters we could pull this off, and she admitted to feeling a little emotional upon arriving at the ground.
“I always knew we would host AFL,” Ms Knight said. “Over the years, so many people said we would never get an AFL game, we’d never fill a stadium. I always knew, of course we can. Then, with the Bulldogs everything just fell into place.”
This did not mean it was then easy. Bulldogs president Peter Gordon said there were a lot of obstacles to bring AFL to Ballarat. He said competition for AFL home game fixturing was intense, economies of hosting a game keep increasing and it was always tough to get all the right infrastructure in place.
But a strong partnership with the City of Ballarat and state government had been instrumental in delivering exactly as promised.
“I feel really proud what our club has been able to do,” Mr Gordon said.
Mr Gordon said he genuinely believed facilities in Ballarat were as good or better than on the Gold Coast or in Perth. He was particularly impressed by the ice-bath room for both teams.
His one issue? “We’re a little disappointed the away team has hot water, as well as cold,” Mr Gordon quipped.
Mars Stadium’s official attendance was 10,087 fans.
Victorian Regional Development Minister Jaala Pulford said government talk had been on economic impact and the stadium, but even she was caught by surprise with the electtric vibe.
Fans could feel the roar spread through the stands and across the mound, particularly when the Bulldogs ran through the banner with fireworks and flames.
Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh said it was special to watch Ballarat Auskickers in action at half-time because this game truly was for rural and regional Victoria.