Sunday, 11 March 2012

Aussie Rules and public ovens

The floods have gone and the sun is back. Albury's weather changes have not been subtle during our time here. I expanded my Australian sport portfolio at the weekend by watching an Aussie Rules game for the very first time. Two of the professional AFL clubs travelled to Lavington (a 10-minute drive from our house) for a pre-season game. In white, Gold Coast Suns. In orange, Greater Western Sydney Giants.

Both clubs are young in AFL terms. GWS are making their debut in the competition this season and Gold Coast only have one year's experience under their belts. Nevertheless, the locals turned out in big numbers to support the game. There were still people queueing to get in at the end of the first quarter and the crowd was later announced as 6,740. In my mind, the game equated to QPR and Norwich playing a friendly in Maidstone.

I picked up the rules as the game unfolded. One thing which struck me was the vast expanse of the playing area and the fitness levels required in games comprising four quarters of 25 minutes. Even with 18 players on each side the oval is a huge area to cover. The Suns did manage to notch up a point inside the first 30 seconds.

Gold Coast score. Spot the ball. (click to enlarge)

I took up a different vantage point for each quarter. The Giants, who are looking to pick up members in the Albury area, did a good job of promoting themselves around the ground. You can see the kids' zone behind the bar area. The red and black box to the left is a cash machine, brought in by NAB (National Australia Bank), who sponsor the pre-season competition.

The two sides were pretty evenly-matched and it was a close contest throughout. Play became ugly and scrappy when it broke down in central areas but it was largely engaging, even for a complete outsider like me. The crowd were never furiously vocal, breaking into applause and muted cheers whenever GWS, the nominal home team, scored. The most enthusiastic man in the whole ground was the DJ, who had Lavington pumping to the beats of David Guetta for much of the afternoon.

The Giants came through to win by 13 points, their first victory as an AFL club. In the watered-down environment of pre-season, you can never really pass judgment on any aspect of a game (or the sport itself, in my case). I sense I need to watch a few games in Melbourne to experience the AFL in all its glory. But one stark difference, from football, was evident. The crowd was a fairly comprehensive cross-section of society, from young children and teenagers to couples, single blokes, groups of girls, and senior citizens. If the same is true at Aussie Rules games around the country, then the sport is definitely doing something right.

On Sunday, something completely different. Friends from church invited us to join them in Hovell Tree Park where two wood-burning ovens had been fired up for use, free of charge, by members of the public. Our inexperience of such occasions was glaringly obvious as we unwrapped a ready-made pizza from Coles supermarket. Catherine, married to minister Chris, showed exactly how it should be done. Home-made dough and a plethora of toppings (out of shot).

This man from the council, bearing a striking resemblance to France rugby union international S├ębastien Chabal, manned the ovens.

His timing was impeccable, barely any food came out burnt. Aside from pizzas, people had brought loaves of bread to be baked, potatoes for roasting and even whole chickens. It was an education. And we will be back.

1 comment:

  1. Wait until you go to a match with traditional teams such as Collingwood, Carlton or Essendon. One good match to go would be the traditional ANZAC match on ANZAC Day on the 25th of April between Essendon and Collingwood which draws huge crowds. Your comments about the mix of people is right. Also fans from opposite teams mingle freely and in fact it is common for friends barracking for opposite teams to go to the footy together. But I think this is a reflection of Australian society, rather than the game itself.