By now, every single nib Newcastle Knights fan knows the story of THAT afternoon in 1997.
You know the one, where Andrew Johns darts down the blind side, finding a flying Darren Albert who sliced through Manly’s defence to score arguably the most famous try in rugby league history.
A week prior, fans had camped for two days nights to purchase tickets, and 79 buses along with 32 extra trains got fans to the game. However, the real pandemonium began after full-time.
Mark Sargent, who had retired the year prior and watched the game from home, remembers the moment fondly.
“The first thing I did was go outside and listen,” he told Untold Stories.
“You could just hear the neighbourhood and suburbs progressively go off.
“I just thought, ‘this is going to be gigantic’.”
What followed the wild on-field celebrations was a week-long party unlike anything Newcastle had ever seen before and may never see again.
“The party to end all parties,” Newcastle Herald journalist Rob Dillon claimed in his book Hard Yards.
The team bus was greeted at the Newcastle Link Road in Wallsend, where both foot and road traffic were so heavy a police escort was required just to get the bus into the city.
The streets were lined with thousands of fans all wanting to catch a glimpse of the Sid Fogg’s bus.
Inside the bus, Hunters and Collectors’ hit song Holy Grail was blasting, with players and staff screaming every lyric like it was the last song they’d ever heard. The song had become something of a team anthem throughout the finals series.
“It was just so surreal to be a part of it,” Mark Hughes told Untold Stories.
“Boy was Newcastle about to celebrate, it was the party of all parties.
“Going down the freeway, cars beeping their horns…cars and people lining the streets.”
By the time the team bus finally pulled into its destination of Newcastle Workers Club (now known as Wests City or NEX), tens of thousands of people had gathered to meet them.
The party ran until the new day broke. Then it kept going.
The team left at around 8:15 the following morning and were transferred to Marathon Stadium, for what Paul Harragon would later describe as “The maddest of Mad Mondays.”
While the town recovered from the night before, nobody was prepared for what came next.
Lord Mayor Greg Heys urged employers to give their workers a day off, with an official public holiday only thwarted by red tape.
On Tuesday, a ticker tape parade down King Street culminated at City Hall, with an estimated 100,000 people crammed into every available vantage point at Civic Park.
The Screaming Jets provided a free concert, with Andrew Johns famously filmed crowd surfing in the mosh pit.
The crowd donned celebratory t-shirts, with 80,000 sold by the end of the week, beating the previous record by over 60,000. Queues to buy one exceeded two hours.
The festivities continued until well into the week, with Dillon believing the town had “Rarely been so united by civic pride.”
Kevin Cranson, Newcastle Herald sports editor at the time, perhaps put it best.
“Do not believe that this was only a football game. Believe that this was a defining moment in our city’s history. And give thanks to our boys, for not only did they bear our town’s name, they wore its heart on their sleeves.”