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The end of Eden Park?
Friday November 10, 2006

Eden Park may be turned out to pasture now that a national stadium looks likely to be built on Auckland's waterfront. Kevin Norquay of NZPA looks at the glittering history of a ground facing an uncertain future.

For more than a century it has been a Garden of Eden ablaze with sporting colour, scene of many dramatic moments in New Zealand history.

Auckland's Eden Park in 1956 hosted the first New Zealand test cricket win, over the West Indies, and 31 years later the All Blacks' only Rugby World Cup final victory.

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The opening game of the 1987 inaugural Rugby World Cup was played at the ground, highlighted by the stunning end-to-end try by All Black John Kirwan against Italy.

And in 1950 Eden Park was home to the Empire Games, the first time New Zealand played host to the Commonwealth sporting extravaganza.

New Zealand rolled Australia in a cricket one-dayer to open the World Cup there in 1991, with Martin Crowe knocking up a century while hobbling on one good leg.

And one of the most enduring quotes in New Zealand history was uttered on the Eden Park, in 1956.

All Blacks No 8 Peter Jones turned the air blue after the All Blacks sealed their first rugby series win, 11-5 over the Springboks.

Jones, who rampaged 35 metres to a try that opened up a winning 8-0 gap, told an exuberant crowd at Eden Park, "I'm absolutely buggered".

In those days "buggered" was not regarded as acceptable language, even by an over-excited sports hero.

Among the flowers, sporting stinkweed has also sprouted, with dark days for New Zealand as numerous as those when the country felt as if it was in clover.

In 1988, the Kiwis forsook their beloved Carlaw Park to play the rugby league World Cup final at the home of rugby, only to be thrashed by Australia before a huge and expectant crowd.

All Blacks prop Gary Knight was felled by a flour bomb dropped from a light plane buzzing the ground, as the protester-besieged Springbok tour limped to a bitter end in 1981.

That day, the outskirts of Eden Park were more violent than the rucks on the ground itself -- a bloody battle raged between protesters and police in the usually quiet suburban streets of Kingsland.

As nasty as that was, it was not as sickening as the near-death of New Zealand cricket fast bowler Ewen Chatfield in 1975.

Chatfield, making his test debut, was mounting a stubborn defensive innings at No 11 against England when struck on the temple by a ball from Peter Lever.

His heart stopped and he swallowed his tongue. Only mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and heart massage by Bernard Thomas, England's physiotherapist, saved his life.

Chatfield was rushed to hospital where he regained consciousness an hour later. He recovered to forge a distinguished international career.

Other New Zealand sportsmen might wish ill upon Eden Park, among them the test cricketers rolled for 26 there by England in 1955 -- a world record low for a test-playing nation.

Pain

Even the All Blacks have suffered pain at Eden Park: the outstanding British and Irish Lions sealed the 1970 test series at the ground -- still their only series win in New Zealand.

England beat the All Blacks 16-10 in a one-off test there in 1973, after losing every other game on tour.

Losing the 1987 World Cup final aside, France has great cause to love Eden Park -- perhaps that's why a French clothing company is named after the ground.

France beat the All Blacks 24-19 on Bastille Day in 1979, then scored "the try from the ends of the earth" to scupper New Zealand 23-20 in 1994.

Eden Park has been a sports ground since 1900.

In 1910 it became the home of Auckland cricket.

Auckland rugby adopted it as home in 1925, even though the ground hosted the first rugby international between New Zealand and South Africa in front of 40,000 spectators in 1921.

At times it has pushed sport to one side to allow New Zealanders the chance to welcome overseas dignitaries such as the Queen Mother (1966), Queen Elizabeth (1970), Prince Charles and Princess Diana (1983) and, in 2002, the Dalai Lama.

Eden Park was named after the First Earl of Auckland, originally known as George Eden, by Captain William Hobson, who founded the city. Eden was born in 1784 on Eden Farm, near Beckenham in Kent. He died in 1849.

Eden Park, while now offering excellent footing, was once a swamp sometimes big enough to be called a lake -- a status it resumed for the sodden "water polo" rugby test against Scotland in 1975.

All Blacks winger Bryan Williams scored a memorable try in the rain-sodden 24-0 win, creating a massive wake as he aqua-planed about 10-metres to the line to score.

Two farms were purchased to form Eden Park, which has over the years seen many drainage improvements. In 2003 the ground was dug up yet again to improve the drainage again.

Around the arena, grandstands in many shapes and sizes have come and gone, as piecemeal additions were made to keep it in the running as a modern sporting stadium.

While the final whistle may not have yet blown, the 1956 utterances of Peter Jones echo down through the years as an accurate reflection of its international future.