Eaten Alive By Sydney
February 9, 2010 – 2:49 am | 5 Comments

When the prospect of a shift to Sydney is raised, the doomsayers often rise as well. And they’re nasty! The manner of one’s demise is always different, but the result is always the same – …

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That’s Enter-maim-ment!

Submitted by on February 9, 2010 – 4:54 am43 Comments
That’s Enter-maim-ment!

The Tiger Woods affair(s) – Tigerhydrant as opposed to Tigergate – has once again proved beyond doubt that honesty in sport is the best policy. Hence, I confess to suppressing the truth for 15 years. As the PR guy for the Auckland Warriors in their first years in the Australian Rugby League I had an insider’s view of the most death-defying pre-game entertainment any sport has ever seen!

Crisis management and rugby league have been bedfellows before domestic disputes, punching employees, squatting in the corridor of uncertainty and group sex became, and created, all the rage.

When the Warriors first entered what would become the NRL, in 1995, they were renowned for their inability to count – how many zero’s to put on contracts, how many phone jacks weren’t toll barred and how many replacements you were allowed to field.

For a while the club’s biggest saving grace was the quality of pre-match entertainment, conceived and engineered by the masterful Mike Mizrahi. But that quality reputation almost went up in flames during an eye-opening pre-match pyrotechnic stunt show that went horribly wrong on three separate occasions.

The first hint things weren’t going to plan was when the stuntman abseiling from the roof of the main stand stalled in mid air and, after twisting and turning in a vain attempt to re-start his descent, started slapping at the flames licking his flame-retardant suit while screaming “No! Dear God, no!”. When the frustrated and increasingly frantic roadie waiting on the concourse started head-butting the fire extinguisher he was holding, it became apparent the dangling Johnny Storm was supposed to be on the ground already, not stuck in mid-air. That theory was confirmed when he tried biting through the steel cable he was attached to, thankfully putting a stop to his wailing, but unfortunately creating a disconcerting gnashing of teeth on metal. Just as I reached for the ‘Crisis Management Plan’ to seek guidance on how to handle communications surrounding the toasting of the stuntman, his line was miraculously un-snagged and he was quickly lowered to the concourse where a member of the public took the fire extinguisher off his comatose colleague and gave him a decent spray. The crowd cheered wildly, unaware the extra drama wasn’t planned.

Ground announcer Nick Brown then directed our attention to the lighting tower near the tunnel to Mt Smart’s outer field. High above the masses another Darwin Award-in-waiting was looking tentatively over the edge of his temporary platform while a pyro-maniac assistant waited impatiently to set him alight. The jumper raised his arm to test the wind and made the humungous mistake of bringing it down as if lowering a hankie to start an American Graffiti-style car race. Taking it as a cue, the other imbecile on the platform fired up his torch and blazed him. Mr Spontaneously Combusted was obviously not enamoured with the wind factor because he backed away from the edge and tried shaking the flames out. When he failed to douse himself he looked furtively at the lighting tower’s ladder before realising he couldn’t climb down in time. He stumbled to the edge, performed the sign of the cross and stepped off, arms windmilling as he plummeted. The crowd gasped as he back slammed onto the very edge of the bulky air mattress situated on the sloping embankment below and was propelled 20 metres into the crowd, his arms windmilling the other way. Spectators scattered, except one woman, who beat the guy mercilessly with her blanket until a roadie carrying a fire extinguisher managed to fight his way through the panicking throng…only to find his equipment wasn’t working. He took the blanket and dived on the flaming dude, wrapping his buddy up and rolling down the hill with him, squashing beers and chips left behind by the fleeing audience. Even the seagulls scattered. But most of the spectators in the stands either couldn’t view the aftermath or didn’t believe what their eyes were seeing because the raucous applause was prolonged.

It was at this stage the marketing head honcho bailed up the events manager (who would not look at her boss in case the look of evil turned her to stone) and simply growled “no more”. The consensus was immediate.  The grand finale – the blowing up of an old car on the halfway line – was still five minutes away and the events manager brought the walkie talkie to her lips to issue the order to abort the last stunt. She never got to say a word.

The explosion that rocked the stand, shook spines, churned stomachs and deafened everyone also caught out the roadies supposed to be laying out a shrapnel-catching net. As parts of the car went flying and smoke expanded like an ominous fog, those on the field ducked, dived or sprinted…rocked to the very core by the early detonation. The crowd buzzed, no doubt getting the sort of kick that comes with watching the scariest of movies or a multiple pile-up at the local speedway. Amazingly, no one was killed. No one was even seriously injured, although it was hard to tell with the roadies who just kept responding “What?” to our inquiries about their health. “Just your ears causing problems then?” “What?”

Kick-off was delayed as a slew of officials, club personnel and seconded troops did a grid sweep of the field, plonking metal shards and sheets into bags and buckets. Even scarier, they came back at halftime and still found debris.

It was a shambolic, safety averse debacle…but the crowd loved it. They went off! Excerpts from Cliffhanger…Gone With The Wind…andDemolition Man happened right in front of them, with skin crawling sound and no 3-D glasses necessary.

Safety inspectors from OSH (Occupational Safety & Health) visited the Warriors HQ the next day, promises were made and pyrotechnics and complicated stunts were dropped like Todd Carney. Within a few years cheerleaders were running the sidelines…and the smell of perfume took over from nitroglycerin in wafting up the players tunnel.

The good ol’ days of Warriors pre-match entertainment ended with a whimper after the mother of all big bangs.

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