February 23, 2015 1:06:34 am
The phone blinked when Lee Germon walked inside his office at Canterbury Cricket Association in Christchurch. He had a voicemail. He flipped it on and heard a woman’s voice: “The last person who tried to interfere with Hagley Park died of cancer and I hope you do too.” (Full Coverage| Venues | Fixtures)
Germon, the former New Zealand captain and currently the chief executive of Canterbury Cricket, was trying to build a cricket stadium inside the massive Hagley public park and some people didn’t like it. Once when he came to his office, he saw a news article about his plans for the ground pinned on his door and there were scribbling all over it, asking him to f*** off.
There were days when he would walk out of the environment court — clearance was needed to build the stadium— when he would be accosted by the protestors: “You are a liar. You are not going to do what you say you will. You are going to ruin this park. Go away.” There were even calls to his home and his kids will be told that their father was an evil man.
“All I was trying to do was to build a cricket stadium,” Germon laughs now. He says even back then, he wasn’t too overtly bothered as he didn’t see much “rational sense” in their arguments and thought those threatening calls were done by “nutters”. He didn’t tell his family about that “cancer” call until much later and says now that some of the people who had protested have told him that they love the ground and that they were wrong in the past. “It feels just great.”
Christchurch, as we know, was hit by twin earthquakes in 2011 and it actually led to a change in the fortunes of Hagley Park. When the second quake hit, Germon was at his office and ducked under the table. He heard a woman colleague scream from somewhere and when everything settled down, he walked out to find that she was trapped under her table in a bit of a rubble.
Another colleague, a young lady was worried about her grandmother, and after finding out that his kids at school and his wife, teaching at a school, were okay, he drove her home. “It took me five hours to get back to my home. There were people running around everywhere, roads had cracked up, and as you can imagine, it was quite a terrible mess.”
A morning of mourning
Germon and his wife went to four funerals after the quake. “Everyone in this city was touched by the earthquake. It was a tough time. People are still struggling to come to terms with the devastation and psychological problems.”
In the immediate aftermath of the quakes though, Germon was on a mission to get the ground done. Some time back, New Zealand Cricket had decided that they don’t want to hold Tests in big stadiums like the AMI stadium in Christchurch and instead, have it in small grounds with grassbanks with 5,000 to 10,000 capacity as the crowd were less.
Germon remembers a meeting with the mayor Bob Parker. ‘Gentlemen, where do you think we can have a Test ground? All the ten present in the room said Hagley Park. Cricket isn’t alien to Hagley for it was here, way back in the 1880s, that the settlers first played cricket in this country.”
Around this time, the quake hit. AMI stadium was hit badly and another ground at eastern Christchurch too was damaged. Germon drove to the city council office to see if the AMI ground can be restored, at least partially, to rebuild it with grassbanks and cover the requirement of NZC. Within the days, the answer came: No. AMI was no longer an option. That’s when Hagley became the place to go.
The first hurdle was environment clearance. Germon and his people had to go to the environment court where two commissioners and a judge probed them for five weeks about every small detail of their plan. Dressed in a suit and a tie, a slightly nervous Germon went through the rigmarole. And in the end, the judge told them, ‘You can do what you want as long as you follow this list of conditions’. The temporary stands can only be up for 13 days a year. The pack-in-and-pack-out time has to be within a certain time. And the most fascinating one is that the public of Christchurch should be able to walk right through the ground even one day ahead of an ODI (World Cup has got a special exemption from these rules, of course).
“The ground is just 2% percent of the Hagley Park and as you can imagine all this is frustrating but that’s how it stands. All the temporary stands you see, above the grassbanks, will be dismantled after the World Cup.”
Canterbury cricket was bankrupt as they had to spend almost a million dollars to adhere to the environment stipulations. The lights couldn’t be built as it has to slide down like the one at Lord’s, an additional expense of 8 million dollars, twice over the normal lights. The next step, then, was obviously to raise funds. The city council built the ground but they still needed a lot of money to construct a pavilion. Within three months, with support from various bodies, they raised 9 million dollars.
Meanwhile, Germon and his team went with the mayor to Wellington, the political capital of New Zealand, to bid for the World Cup’s opening game. It was a long shot but they were thrilled when Christchurch was awarded the opening game and the ceremony. “We flew back to Christchurch and had a big party that evening with a few drinks when it hit us that, ‘gosh, we don’t have a ground yet!’
The elements weren’t done with them yet. Soon after the Prime Minister John Key did the ceremonial turning of the soil to start the building of the ground, Christchurch was hit by two floods. One of them was once-in-a-hundred-years magnitude and rarity and the entire ground, with the foundations of the pavilion, was sunk under water. “A lot of pumping out was done by the contractors and we started again.” The clock to the Cup was ticking but somehow they finished the stadium in October last year.
Germon is a proud man today. And he is an immensely popular man at Hagley. On match day, people stop him for photographs, backslap him congratulations on the ground and the bespectacled Germon can’t stop smiling. Earthquakes, legislation, threatening calls, protestors, and public outcry are all a thing of the past now.
Only one thing rankles him, though. During his playing days, like his team-mates, he used to call the officials as ‘fish-heads’. (Say ‘officials’ quickly with a Kiwi accent, they almost sound the same!) “Now I am one of them.” In the end it took a ‘fish-head’ to bring cricket back to Hagley, the spiritual home of New Zealand cricket.
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