Saturday, September 29, 2007
Not much work will get done in Melbourne this afternoon, it's AFL Grand Final day and even if you don't barrack for either of the teams competing, 90% of the population will be sitting down in front of the TV watching the game.
I barrack for Carlton - the not so mighty blues these days having finished near the bottom of the competition for the last five years. But despite that my club is still one of the most powerful in the competition and we all live in hope that a climb back up to premiership glory won't be far away.
I had no choice about what team I followed and nor have my kids, my oldest son Luke being given his first footy jumper when he was a day old. But that's not uncommon, if you're born, raised in Melbourne or adopt it as your home, you will have a football team to follow. Admittedly, some will be more passionate than others, but an early conversation starter when you meet a stranger is still "Who do you barrack for?" Everyone knows that the person asking the question is talking about footy.
We have a national competition now with teams from all the mainland states involved in the competition but when I was growing up it was a suburban league and my family followed Carlton because that was where they lived. The tribalism has survived the relocation of teams and the intermingling of the barrackers in suburbs way beyond those where the game originated.
Carlton's home ground used to be Princess Park, it still is used as a training venue but the game and it's requirements for corporate hospitality overtook that and all of the other suburan grounds that used to be used.
I loved school holidays in winter when I was a kid because it meant that I would spend time staying at my grandparents and on Saturday afternoons my Grandad and cousins and I would head off to Princess Park to watch the game. There weren't many seats in those days and if you got their a bit late it was pretty hard to see anything when I was still wearing my kids height. We'd spend a bit of time picking beer cans up off the ground and building a platform we could stand on that would give us another 6 inches in height. I remember the smells too - the intermingling of beer and cigarette smoke; the smell of meat pies and tomato sauce which either burnt your tongue when you bit into them or were on the cold side of warm. The sound of the lolly boys calling out - "Drinks, lollies, chocolates, peanuts and potato chips. The winds were cold and the rain sometimes sleeting but that didn't matter we were there to watch our heroes.
The cheer squads sat behind the goals at opposite ends of the ground. They carried 6 foot long sticks with massive amounts of streamers in club colours taped to their ends that would be waved after our side scored a goal or in an effort to put off the opposition if they were kicking down that end that quarter. These were called floggers and we made a few attempts to make some as well but they were never as large or as colourful as those the Cheer Squad carried. You could always tell who was in the cheer squad because they'd be wearing their duffle coats with countless badges with player names and numbers sewn onto them.
I have been lucky enough to have my side win 8 premierships in my lifetime which is roughly one every seven years, and I have also been lucky enough to see a couple of those live on this last Saturday in September at the MCG [the Melbourne Cricket Ground]. This is one of the great sports arenas of the world and if you live in Melbourne it's simply called "The G".
I saw several Grand Finals in a row when I was in High School. My mate David Palmer and I would get up early, catch a train into the ground and hang around the Salvos who would be given tickets that people couldn't use and then give them to people in exchange for a donation. We got into the ground with standing room tickets for a few years in a row. In 1972 I went home happy when Carlton beat Richmond and in 1973 it was David's turn when the result was reversed.
When I was in the police force I also saw a couple of Grand Finals in the 80's when I was on the close personal protection team for the Prime Minister. They were good jobs because once he was inside his Federal Police gaurds stayed with him while we could go off and watch the game. And finally I was able to go to last years game as a guest of one of my works sponsors.
These days Grand Final day is much more of a social event than it was in the 70's. Back then far more supporters of the participating clubs could get tickets, today 70% of the available tickets go to corporates and members of the AFL and the Melbourne Cricket Club. Still the atmosphere is as good today as it was all those years ago. You can still get a beer and a pie with sauce, but also such eclectic foreign items and pizza and even sushi if you so desire. Thankfully, smoking is now banned inside the ground. Floggers have also been banned but people will still wear their club colours, although I haven't seen a duffle coat in years.
I'm not lucky enough to be there today but I am sitting in my loungeroom in a comfortable chair and I'll be barracking for the Victorian club in the game, the Geelong Cats, and hope they absolutely belt those upstarts and relative newcomers form Port Adelaide.
If you want to get a taste of Melbourne and learn a little bit about footy in general and this special day in particular then checkout the three Youtube videos below. The first two were used on TV, "Up there Cazaly" in the 70's, and "Thats what I like about football" in the 90's. The final one is by Paul Kelly and whilst not about football does capture some of the essence of Melbourne and that area around "The G".