‘Hanging off staircases’: elation and despair at Sydney’s overwhelmed World Cup viewing site

<span>Photograph: Jeremy Ng/EPA</span>
Photograph: Jeremy Ng/EPA

At the hastily organised live sites for the Socceroos’ historic game against Argentina, Sydney turned out in full force.

Although Australian fans were left bitterly disappointed at the 2-1 loss, many were also frustrated it took the city so long to clue into the huge groundswell of support enjoyed by the team at this World Cup.

Related: Socceroos push Argentina all the way and exit World Cup as Australian heroes | Emma Kemp

Throughout the early Sunday morning game, supporters never stopped arriving at the main site in Sydney, Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour, streaming down the many walkways, waving scarves and flags.

But access to the site was soon restricted as the crowd ballooned, with supporters left to find space outside the official viewing area, many standing on tables or balconies to get a view.

Stuart Farrell was among the fans initially barred entry after the number of fans overwhelmed organisers and as police restricted access soon after the match began.

“They seemed to have underestimated the number of people who would turn up today. You can see people were hanging off staircases or standing on benches outside the park,” he said.

“They should have expanded this viewing site. Why did they fence it off? Why isn’t this bigger? And why didn’t we have this the whole time? Melbourne had a viewing site from day one.

“They just jumped on the bandwagon, but the supporters showed they were always up for it.”

Access was restricted because the park was considered full.

Police surrounded the viewing site, some on horseback, guarding the entry points and preventing anyone from accessing it once the game started.

The Darling Harbour site was eventually closed off, as police deemed it to be full.
The Darling Harbour site was eventually closed off, as police deemed it to be full. Photograph: Rick Rycroft/AP

Joshua Ciscato said the event felt rushed, as though authorities neither expected Australia to reach the knockout stages nor the support and demand for a live viewing site.

“This was clearly put together quickly,” he said. “I don’t really see why this wasn’t done for the group stages. I think there was a bit of a reluctance to support Australian football.

“How can you only have a live event when the team makes it out of the group stages? It’s pretty ridiculous. We were all watching them anyways.”

“The organising of the space has been up and down,” said William Lyttle, who was excited by the atmosphere but frustrated at how the event was organised.

“We’re all sort of squeezed into one area. I feel like the government kind of rushed this a little bit, considering they were looking at Federation Square in Melbourne, seeing how good it was and cobbled this together.

Emotions ran high as Australia put up a brave challenge to Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
Emotions ran high as Australia put up a brave challenge to Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Photograph: Jeremy Ng/EPA

“It feels a little underorganised. Especially at the beginning, they could have done better to prepare for the number of people that were going to attend.”

But despite some of the frustrations, many fans said Sydney “turned up” for the Socceroos.

“Sydney stood up today,” Andoni Guevara said, proudly wearing his Socceroos jersey.

“We’ve done well. The atmosphere is amazing here and its a reflection of how popular football is. Football has always been popular here. If they had brought out the screens and parks from the first match, we all would’ve turned up to that as well.”

It was a sentiment that filtered through the crowd, a sense that Sydney was always going to turn up for an occasion like this and for football in general given the chance.

And while the match itself was nerve-racking, reflected in the gnawing tension that gripped the crowd for most of the game, the ecstasy on display when Australia scored was infectious.

“It was the greatest moment of my life,” enthused Jack Martin, breathless at the very thought of it.

“Don’t tell my girlfriend that, but it was absolutely brilliant. I couldn’t believe it. I barely even saw the screen, just limbs and flares. It was so incredible to have a sense of hope.”

The viewing site was characterised by orange flares
The viewing site was characterised by orange flares. Photograph: Jeremy Ng/AAP

Much like in Federation Square, the viewing site was characterised by orange flares, lit up as the second half went on, and tossed around between fans, many holding them and jumping to chants of “olé, olé, olé”.

The bright orange smoke framed the screens, enveloping the crowd as they jumped and chanted, often making it feel more like an electrified stadium crowd than a park on a Sunday morning.

“The boys are getting around this,” nodded AJ Khoury. “They’re enjoying it. It’s bouncing. It was always worth the wake up.

“Sydney turns up; we turn up to support our boys. That’s what we do.”