Never has one word evoked so much.
If you were to ask anyone south of the border what the word means, they would scoff something along the lines of two heads and being born in Queensland. But to anyone lucky enough to actually be one, they understand that the word itself is so much more than a noun that tells of their locality.
Queenslander is a mood and a feeling - a parochial spirit that is as stoic and brilliant as the pristine landscapes that mark its body. It is a state of mind - an easy-going nature and an unwavering identity that is deeply intertwined with the outdoors. It is sunshine, beaches, XXXX Gold and the live music scene – an incredibly nuanced and treasured culture you never want to leave.
One thing all Australians can agree on? Queenslander is Suncorp Stadium, packed to the rafters with a sea of maroon. It is the echoes of 52,000 people chanting, their war cry carried with the breeze across Milton and Paddington on any given State of Origin night. It is an atmosphere and venue like no other - something you have to experience before you can ever truly begin to understand.
Just as well there is a quintessential Queenslander in charge of the stadium and its operations.
Meet Alan Graham from AEG Ogden, General Manager of Suncorp Stadium. He has a voice and persona as calm and endearing as his down-to-earth attitude. More importantly, he fulfils the only prerequisite that matters to Queenslanders: rating Wally Lewis as his favourite footballer.
It’s hard to imagine that the man responsible for overseeing the stadium’s intense pre-opening period and the initial five years of operation following a $280 million redevelopment in 2003 could get star struck by a pop star.
“Taylor Swift is the only one who’s ever stayed around after the event, and I was impressed by how sincere and engaging she was. She had a room full of 50 people backstage for a meet and greet, she had pizza and soft drinks with them, and she walked around and spoke with all of them. It wasn’t tokenistic, it was genuine.”
Following a stint overseas where Alan successfully opened and managed the Beijing Olympic Basketball Arena as well as helping with the launch of AEG Ogden’s venue expansion across cities in China, he returned to Brisbane in 2009 to resume the helm of Suncorp Stadium’s hallowed grounds.
He understands now more than ever that ‘little old Brisbane’ is emerging from the shadows of its southern cousins, rightly making a name for itself on a global stage when it comes to hosting major events.
“I have worked with a lot of different people across a whole range of venues, but the team we have here is as good as anywhere you will get anywhere in the world. We can’t take and we don’t take this place for granted.”
Alan describes his team’s success as the embodiment of the three ‘Ps’ - parochialism, passion and professionalism – alongside an understanding of just how symbolic the venue is.
“Working in an iconic place like Suncorp Stadium - it’s such a part of the Queensland psyche and the fabric of the state. When we had the floods here in 2011, one of the most stirring images was of Suncorp Stadium underwater, which really said to the state that hey, we’re in real trouble here. We saw our role as getting the stadium up and running as soon as we could to say to the public we’re back in business.”
The three ‘Ps’ went a long way in ensuring the stadium was only out of action for four weeks despite requiring major repair works in the vicinity of $16 million.
Suncorp Stadium hosts 45-50 major events each year, bringing approximately 1.3 million people through the turnstiles. The stadium is home to the Broncos, Reds and Roar, and also plays host to a range of international events including this year’s NRL Brisbane Magic Round that brought in more than 30,000 interstate visitors as well as international visitors from ten different countries.
In 2017, Suncorp Stadium hosted its first ever boxing event, ‘The Battle of Brisbane’ – a WBO welterweight title fight between boxing legend Manny Pacquiao and Brisbane’s very own Jeff Horn. Brisbane and Queensland were front and centre on the world stage, with an Australian boxing record crowd of 51,026 and a television audience of more than 500 million people across 159 countries watching Jeff Horn take the crown.
“We see our role as an enabler, attracting tourists to our city and state with world-class events and entertainment. Of those attending the fight, almost 20,000 fans came from overseas and interstate, delivering a multi-million dollar boost to the local economy.”
Alan credits the stadium’s incredible proximity to Brisbane Airport and the Central Business District for its innate ability to attract a crowd.
“From here to the airport is one set of lights and about 15 minutes. For visitors coming to the stadium, you can’t get better than that!”
Alan is the type of man that any Queenslander would love to work for. He is humble, passionate, and clearly spoken. He is also well aware of just how incredible his job is and has a sense of gratitude that is not often seen at a General Manager level.
“I get to see the results of what we do. There’s so many people who work extremely hard their whole lives that don’t get to see in the flesh what all the effort was about. When you talk about a magic round or a fight, there is an exponential amount of work that goes into securing the event, putting all the partnerships together, putting all of the operational and stadium components together. But to actually see it play out and see 52,000 people having the time of their life…”
He trails off, but the smile on his face says it all. It’s something you have to experience before you can ever truly begin to understand.