Super-excited about big game

The lambs have been shifted next door and Fred Booth is delighted at how his Waimumu paddock has...
The lambs have been shifted next door and Fred Booth is delighted at how his Waimumu paddock has been prepared for Thursday's clash between the Crusaders and the Highlanders. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Come Thursday and Fred Booth will be the favourite father, grandfather and great-grandfather in the South.

Most of his family will be squeezed into a tent on the halfway mark at Fred Booth Park, at Waimumu, to watch the Highlanders take on the Crusaders in a pre-season clash, watched by a crowd of about 8000.

``I don't know whether we can all get in the tent ... We'll stretch the sides. I've got family coming from Australia and Auckland and all over the place. They are all coming home for the rugby,'' said Mr Booth, who has eight children, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

When the inaugural Farmlands Cup between the South Island's two Super Rugby teams was played at Fred Booth Park in 2016, Mr Booth (81) made a pact with a slightly younger mate to ``start looking after ourselves so we're here for the next match''.

When Mr Booth was asked two years ago how he would feel about a game of rugby being played on his paddock opposite the Southern Field Days site 13km west of Gore, he was bemused.

``I said, `Dunno ... who the hell would get to play? And they said, `We've already got the Highlanders and we're hoping to get the Crusaders'.''

Mr Booth, who lives at Ettrick, where he has a 600ha farm, said the atmosphere at the 2016 game was ``unbelievable'' and he was looking forward to Thursday's match, being played during the 2018 Southern Field Days..

The ground was looking ``absolutely fantastic'' he said, acknowledging the efforts of Gore District Council parks officer John Ave.

``I can see my rates getting used up and I think it's great. It's all about country rugby. Otago and Southland are rugby-mad people.''

Despite the pristine appearance of the ground, Mr Booth said the lambs would be moved back on to the paddock soon after Thursday's game was finished.

``It's probably the only rugby ground in New Zealand that's got chicory growing in it. It's good fattening food. I don't know whether it'll fatten up the Highlanders or not,'' he said, laughing.

Mr Booth, who admitted he was ``nearly getting to retirement age'', did not have to do anything towards the preparations apart from supplying the paddock for the game.

Two years ago, all he asked for were two rugby balls signed by both teams. Those balls still sit on the dressing table in his bedroom.

Asked who would win this week's battle of Fred Booth Park, he said there was ``no doubt'' the Highlanders would be victorious.

Southern Field Days committee member Don Moore, who is looking after the rugby side of the event, said the ``can do attitude'' of the committee meant they could make anything happen - including a rugby game between two top teams in a paddock in the middle of rural Southland.


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