Sunday, 27 May 2012

The magnificent MCG

Here we are at one of the world's great sporting cathedrals; the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Despite its name, this 100,000-seater stadium is best known in these parts for hosting big football games every weekend and even before I fell in love with the AFL, this was the one place in Australia I simply had to visit. Games are televised from the MCG every weekend - it serves as the home ground for Collingwood, Hawthorn, Richmond and Melbourne - so it already felt like familiar territory for us. I had high expectations - and the 'G didn't disappoint. I'll pick up that story later on...

First, though, let me take you back a fortnight, to the Yarra Valley - a little way north of Melbourne itself. The teachers at Albury North, Rachel's school, had organised a weekend away and most of them jumped on the banter bus after school on Friday. We decided to make a day-trip the following morning and travelled with Ruth (above, second left). Ruth is sat between Hayley and Kath enjoying lunch - or at least the preliminary bread rolls - at Rochford Wines, where we spent the early part of Saturday afternoon. Across the table (right) were Paul [school principal] and Des [a fellow non-teacher] - both top lads and, incidentally, both Carlton fans.

The main event at Rochford Wines was a tasting session. We sampled three whites and two reds, following the six taste steps - see, swirl, smell, sip, swish, swallow. We compiled a photographic guide which can be viewed on my Facebook page.

And so to the 'G... To be honest, our Friday evening drive to Melbourne came at the end of a pretty rotten week - certainly our most difficult since moving to Australia. However, catching up with Rob & Jan - virtually family now - was a terrific tonic. By the time Richmond burst through their banner, we were in full weekend mode.

As you can see, we got decent seats. Sporting the woolly hat and St Kilda scarf is Bean, Rob & Jan's daughter, who told me before the game that Richmond's song is the best in the AFL. She was right.

First bounce. I do have my concerns about the state of the umpire's spine, but you can't question his commitment.

Richmond strike an early blow from the 50-metre line. They came into the game as big underdogs but Hawthorn were second-best for long spells.

Bosh! The Hawks pull one back at our end of the ground. A lot of the game was played in driving rain, which sent spectators in the exposed parts of the ground fleeing for cover.

As the afternoon wore on, the metaphorical floodgates also began to open. Richmond's tackling truly was tigerish and there was a sensational period on the final quarter when they kicked five goals in nine minutes to completely blow the much-fancied Hawks out of the water. Final score: 137-75.

Richmond's supporters haven't had many days like this in recent years, so the celebrations were long and loud at the final hooter. A purist would argue that we hadn't seen Hawthorn at anything near their best, but what's not to like when an underdog has its day? Also, a crowd of 51,000 for a game between two clubs in mid-table isn't something you'd find in many countries around the world.

The MCG was everything I expected. Very reasonable ticket prices, excellent views across the ground, good food and drink, easy walk back to the station. The atmosphere never really got going, but I've learned to lower my expectations on that front. Premier League tribalism is hardly likely to be replicated when fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and groups of friends sit alongside each other barracking for opposing teams. And that family-friendly vibe can only help when it comes to pulling in the punters. A half-full MCG is still an awesome sight. I'll be back.


I was in the supermarket and asked where to find satsumas. The look I received in return suggested Australians do not use this word. I settled for mandarins, which could well be the same thing.

State of Origin kicked off last week, Queensland beating New South Wales 18-10 in Melbourne. In the rugby league world, this is as fierce as it gets, but to me, it's more like the Boat Race without water. Maybe game two (of three) next week will capture more of my imagination.

Euro 2012 starts in less than two weeks but I will be starved of good TV coverage - and almost without any coverage full stop. Is anyone able to screen England games to Australia via Skype?


  1. As someone who grew up on football (the one played with a round ball) I find your comments on Australian Rules very interesting, especially about the atmosphere. As yourself, my father and I - who grew up with football in Italy - marveled at the fact that fans from different teams mix, and in fact it is normal. I plan to go to the Carlton Geelong match at Etihad and I will go with two friends, one who is a Geelong supporter. This is great, and really reflects the society in Australia. However interestingly many Australians sneer at football because fans are mostly segregated and they see this as a negative because they assume that violence inevitably would ensue, which is not necessarily the case. This is also the case with Police/Security at A-League matches (especially Melbourne Victory ones, who has the most active/vocal organised supporters) who mistake 100 or so young men chanting as a riot waiting to happen.

  2. I feel quite strongly that unless someone's watched both codes (live), they can't really comment. Both sports are brilliant for very different reasons.