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For a Dragons fan with a modicum of pride and self respect, missing out on a ticket to the widely heralded ?game of the year? is akin to a living a lifetime impoverished and destitute. A week in advance, the round 24 Saints-Parra game had become the subject of hyperbole and windbaggery ? the competition favourites St George, who had just defeated the leaders Brisbane in Brisbane; hosting the Eels, who had flogged the defending premiers Bulldogs by 50. The match was the hottest ticket in town, and tickets were expected to sell out quickly. No-one, however ? least of all myself - expected them to be snapped up as quickly as they were, ie: completely sold out by Tuesday morning.
The Tuesday sellout was an unprecedented occurrence, even for a venue with an admittedly small capacity as Oki Jubilee. The more jingoistic Sydney league journalists waxed lyrical that history had been made. ?Never before had a regular season match sold out so early in the week!!!? they cheered, ?proof the NRL had entered its renaissance!? It was a joyful time to be a rugby league devotee. But if you were a Saints fan without a ticket, there would be no renaissance. It was still the Dark Ages for me, I was living destitute and impoverished.
There are no excuses for missing the boat, so I will not attempt to offer any. I had incongruously overlooked the urgency of the situation ? despite the almost omnipresent hype. Rather than contemplate my own pitiful ineptitude, I focused my energies on gaining entry into the game. Scalpers? Suitable only as a ?last resort? option. Jumping the fence? That only worked in the old days, and there will be security crawling all over this match. I soon remembered an old adage that rings true in all walks of life, including my own. To get anywhere in life, it?s not what you know, but who you know. I called my cousin. He called a friend in the Souths Juniors league office. A chain of events and calls were set in motion. And within 24 hours I had my solution. In my very possession was the NRL version of Willy Wonka?s golden ticket: an NRL officials and players pass.
I may have acquired the golden ticket via slightly nefarious means, similar to Veruca Salt perhaps, but I viewed myself as more like Charlie. The virtuous and spirited battler with a genuine love of life. Charlie?s passion was chocolate, mine is the Dragons. Charlie?s golden ticket propelled him from his impoverished, destitute life, just like my golden ticket did. It got me into the game of the year, and even further than I could have imagined.
The back of the pass says: ?This card will admit Club Official, NRL Official or referee to ground, to unreserved grandstand areas and dressing room area.? Obviously, I went straight for the tunnel, where I was stopped by long-serving Dragons gear steward and doorkeeper Brian Kenyon. I asked him where my precious ticket could get me.
?Anywhere you like mate. But to get into this room you need to get past me, and that little card is not going to be enough,? he answered, in his lovably gruff way. I then asked if a spot in the Dragons dugout was feasible. ?Technically yes. But again, it is at my discretion.? A curiously broad grin then appeared on his face so I cut the interview short and returned to my tour of the chocolate factory. I walked up the stairs to the grandstand. The security guy checked my NRL pass and admitted me through, and I could almost imagine Willy Wonka leading me to a vacant seat, singing ?If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Want to change the world? There?s nothing to it?.?
However, that Veruca Salt feeling became increasingly pervasive. I couldn?t escape the fact that I had grown too greedy and stolen someone?s seat. It was apparent that I needed to regain the Charlie in me.
And so, standing on the hill at the northern end of the ground watching my great Dragons team vanquish the Eels, pleading for another try and another try, shouting unreservedly that we are going to win the comp, I was unsure which character I was closer to ? Veruca or Charlie. All I knew for sure was that holding that little card, I felt like a very rich man.
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