Home » I’ve been to every football ground in Australia, and these are my favourite foods

I’ve been to every football ground in Australia, and these are my favourite foods

I’ve been to every football ground in Australia, and these are my favourite foods

Sometimes it’s the smell that serves as the introduction. The waft of cooking smoke enchants the visitor to their new surrounds. Meanwhile, the regular club supporter is reassured by the aroma with a sense of belonging that this place is genuinely home.

Far away from the hubbub of larger stadiums with mass catering and bland offerings, lies grassroots football. A milieu where food is an integral part of the match-day ritual. A place where the identity of a club is forged not only on the pitch but in the kitchen.

The menus in Mill Park, Green Gully and Brisbane City are typical of offerings at grassroots sports venues. Photograph: Les Street

Noted geographer John Bale described sport as a place of sights, sites and senses. Food in the context of football is an essential part of this mix. The recent explosion of stadium food on social media has seen it rated and hated by many.

I guess you could say I’m an anorak. Yet, I don’t use Futbology nor am I active in the groundhopping scene. My only claim is having visited all 123 grounds to date used for NSL and A-League Men. It’s hard to quantify my consumption. It feels like I have eaten a whole butcher shop watching live sport.

Besides the usual sausages and steak, cevapi has become the staple of football ground barbeques. Once the domain of Balkan heritage, this grilled meat masterpiece has made its way to the menus of other nationalities.

A pork souvlaki at Findon Reserve, Mill Park, is the best that Les Street has tasted at a local sporting ground. Photograph: Les Street

It comes as no surprise cevapi was my best recent feed. The Dockerty Cup in February marked the start of the 2024 Australia Cup qualifiers. Ross Reserve, a venue familiar to fans of the original Victorian Premier League, is the home of Springvale City. Since those heady days of the mid-1990s when it produced Vince Grella, the British-backed club fell down the football pyramid and is now Bosnian run. Keeping the same rampant lion club logo but adding the fleur-de-lis, they now play on a modern synthetic pitch.

Walking to a new facility sees a purposeful stride in my step, eager knowing local football is back. The match was a neutral fixture between Noble Park United, a Serbian team who play on a cricket oval, and Docklands Athletic, founded by Melbourne Victory fans from the North Terrace.

The sound of cooking is punctuated by Bosnian music blaring over the speakers as the teams warm up. I cave in to my hunger after kick-off and receive a plated cevapi roll with sides of coleslaw, raw onion, sour cream and Ajvar – a roasted red pepper relish. To say it was phenomenal would be an understatement. As the match plays on in front, ending with an easy 3-0 win to Noble Park United, my mouth is transported to Sarajevo for the evening.

Brisbane City flies the flag for the Italian clubs who usually play it safe, catenaccio-style, with a steak roll. A freshly cooked pizza and Peroni on the decking alfresco at Spencer Park is one of the great footballing pleasures in Australia. Souvlaki, another fan favourite, must be with pita and, if possible, ask for some chips inside. The best I recall was a pork souva at Findon Reserve, Mill Park.

skip past newsletter promotion

Pizza is among the most popular choices on the alfresco decking overlooking Brisbane City matches. Photograph: Les Street

Another honorary mention is the Mooroolbark Lorne sausage as it rekindles memories of the chippy van outside Gayfield, Arbroath. Most unusual is the now discontinued flake roll at Green Gully. A piece of fried fish in a plain hotdog bun, it wouldn’t win any accolades, but in the cold of winter the football fan isn’t seeking Michelin star.

It’s no surprise that the worst offerings have been at the larger stadiums, the biggest miss a fried cauliflower roll at McDonald Jones Stadium. Not far behind was the Glorious Philly Cheese Steak Burger at Optus Stadium to commemorate the 2019 A-League Men Grand Final. While the contents were good, the purple bun had the consistency of Clag.

Another element essential to food is people. Michael Christodoulou – peanut man – was a fundamental part of the Victorian football landscape until his death in June 2021. Wrapped in a Bentleigh Greens scarf, APOEL beanie or cap and pushing his trolley laden with goodies, the shout of “Peanuts! Pistachios!” was the catch cry of generations. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds were also a specialty. Disposed casings are a distinguishing feature around the grounds of Melbourne.

Michael Christodoulou was a regular feature serving peanuts and other snacks at football grounds around Melbourne. Photograph: Les Street

On rare occasions, I have indulged in corporate hospitality for research but would not make it a regular habit. As for stadium fine dining, my preference is to take in the surrounds of a community club bistro. A good example of this is Georgies on Vista at the home ground of Caroline Springs George Cross where restaurant style cuisine can be had with views across the pitch. My big recommendation is the Hobz Biz Zejt from the House of Malta menu.

Australia is truly spoiled for choice with the diversity of fare on offer at sporting events. From basic hot chips at the local park to a bespoke sit-down meal behind glass in a shiny stadium, everything the modern football fan wants is available to them. As for my motto, simplest is the best. Give me traditional offerings like cevapi any day over something conjured up by a named celebrity chef.