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MCG’s birthday facelift

Melbourne: The Melbourne Cricket Ground, home of the first Test match, turns 150 next month and its owners have promised it a facelift as a birthday present.

The ground has also been the venue for historic moments in the Olympic Games, Australian Rules football, both rugby codes and soccer as well as a Rolling Stones concert and a religious crusade by American evangelist Billy Graham.

“This stadium...has no equal anywhere in the world,” said John Wylie, chairman of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) Trust.

“The MCG is truly the people’s ground. For 150 years this sporting and cultural Mecca has stood the test of time as one of the world’s finest stadiums,” he added.

Now the MCG, which hosted the 1956 Olympics and Australia’s unsuccessful 1997 and 2001 World Cup soccer qualifying campaigns against Iran and Uruguay, is to undergo a A$425 million ($280 million) renovation for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

The ground’s capacity has dropped from 96,000 to 73,000 as workers demolish the Ponsford Stand to build a new Northern Stand over the next three years. Capacity will eventually be more than 100,000.

Wylie has announced plans for celebrations to mark September 23, the anniversary of the ground 150 years after the government granted the site to Melbourne Cricket Club.

Celebrations will start in AFL grand final week in September and continue until late next year with exhibitions, commemorative matches, school projects and the unveiling of a tapestry depicting key figures and events in the ground’s history.

“The 150th birthday of the MCG is a celebration for Melburnians and Victorians, indeed for all Australians,” Melbourne Cricket Club president David Jones said. “This is an opportunity to come together to celebrate and relive the history and memories of some of the greatest sporting and entertainment events of our time.”

Sports-mad Melbourne fans generally associate the MCG, at least in the southern winter, with Australian Rules football, which culminates each September when capacity crowds pack in for the grand final.

The grand final record crowd is 121,696 in 1970, when Carlton, coached by former leading player Ron Barassi, recovered from a 44-point halftime deficit to beat Collingwood by 10 points.

(Reuters)

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