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Column: - Memories Of 'The Park'

The first time I went to Athletic Park, Grant Batty broke my heart.

In those days I still considered myself Welsh and that day the British Lions - remember when they used to come every four years - held the All Blacks in the first half while playing into a howling gale.

The second half and the Lions had set themselves up for a win. Then the ball went out through the Lion's back line with an easy overlap. Every single person in the ground, with the exception of one, thought it was all over. But a near crippled Grant Batty intercepted and struggled 80 metres down the ground putting me back in my seat and everyone around me to their feet.

I was a terrified 12 year old leaving the ground as we were swept along in the drunken masses who flooded down towards Newtown, smashing and urinating as they went. I thought my father was the bravest and dumbest man in the world as he insisted on wearing his red and talking loudly in a broad Welsh accent.

Somewhere along the way, I became a New Zealander and I kept going to Athletic Park. The howling gales, lashing rain and even the occasional 'You can't beat Wellington on a good day' where the sun shone and the turf glowed, made me warm to the ramshackle place.

From the terrifying, insecure, rocking heights of the Millard Stand to the sheltered seats opposite, where you can't see a thing as the sun lowers in the sky.

My wife's first experience of New Zealand culture was sitting down on the sideline in a freezing southerly with stinging rain. She watched with incredulity as the crowd bayed on a rampant All Black side demolishing a brave Ireland. The steam coming off the scrum, so the players were obscured. But the memory that Jackie remembers most is the sight of people selling, and to her amazement, buying cold beer in icy cans as their hands turned blue.

So, today is the last test at the Park and I will take my son to see it, he won't remember it, but he will have been there. We'll walk up from the Basin and I'll eat some foul pie. The crowd will roar and my Welsh sentimentality will creep through and a wee tear will be shed.

Next year, the Blacks will be playing in a spanking new stadium and most of us will be glad for that, but we'll always have the Park… and never forget we still have ahead of us the excruciating pain/pleasure of watching Wellington being demolished again this season.

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