One of the first things I did on my arrival in Melbourne back in 2001 was visit the iconic MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) for a tour of the ground and the various museums within it. Live cricket followed the day after that when a couple of friends and I were part of a measly crowd of about 200 to watch a state match between Victoria and Western Australia. When its packed to the rafters, the MCG can actually hold over 100,000 people and 10 months on from that first live match I was back in Melbourne and finally got to experience the stadium at full capacity when Australia faced off against South Africa.
It may have the word cricket in it’s title but the MCG is also used each Winter for Australian rules football in the AFL (Australian Football League). Fast forward to 2007 and I saw a match between Hawthorn and Brisbane Lions at the stadium which was a good atmosphere and very exciting. It was a busy seven days of live sporting action for me on this trip beginning with the Melbourne Victory game in the A-League and the F1 Australian Grand Prix, and then I decided to add the country’s most popular sport to that list.
The majority of the AFL’s 18 clubs are from Victoria but Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland also have representation. “Footy” is something of a religion in Victoria state and often all the locals will talk about. To be present in a stadium for this fast-paced action-packed game was something I was keen to do as soon as I realised I’d be in town whilst games were on.
Across from the MCG is the Rod Laver Arena where Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic reigned supreme back in January of this year. The statue outside the arena is of Australian tennis legend Rod Laver himself who was the best player in the world in the latter half of the 1960’s.
Margaret Court is one of the greatest tennis players of all time and still holds the record for the most major women’s titles won. With a name like that, I just wish they’d called the third biggest venue Margaret Court (or even Margaret Court Court!) but the word Arena has been added to her name. I walked past that and some of the show courts which can be used by the public. Show Court 3 was open so I poked my head in for a quick look.
Other stadia in the vicinity of Melbourne Park include the Melbourne Arena (the same place where I watched the Australian Open in 2002) and the Holden Centre which was originally used for swimming and diving in the 1956 Olympic Games.
The AFL 2019 season began on my second weekend in Melbourne. I was faced with deciding between two matches at the MCG on that opening weekend but it was Collingwood against Geelong Cats on the Friday night which was the better option for me as it would free me up to spend the whole weekend with my family.
Kick off was at 7:50 pm and, after picking up a ticket for $27 (£15), I took my seat high up in the stands. I had no particular allegiance to either team beforehand but as the match progressed I started to sway far more for the Geelong Cats which may have been helped by sitting next to some ladies supporting them. For the record, there were Collingwood fans on my other side but they were a few inches further away and less vocal!
For those who have never seen this thrilling sport, it’s basically a dynamic mix of rugby, football and basketball and the match began with a frantic mix of drop-kicks, tackles, bounces, punch-passes (I’m not sure what the exact terminology is!) and so on. It had been twelve years since I last watched this sport and in all honesty it probably took me most of the first quarter to remember exactly how it all worked!
For the record, six points are awarded if the ball is drop-kicked between the middle two goal posts and a point is given when it goes just wide of them but of course within the outer of the four posts. Simple!
Rather annoyingly this match was on the same evening that rail work was starting from 11pm. Not wanting to take a much longer replacement bus service back I had no choice really but to leave the match just before the end. I was praying that it’d all be pretty much done and dusted by that time with one side on top but typically it was neck and neck going into the fourth and final quarter and I kept on extending my stay. It was an end to end game as the lead changed hands many times and thankfully I didn’t miss any goals as the score remained at 65-72 in favour of Geelong Cats.
Bonus: Here are three pictures from my visits to the MCG in 2001, 2002 and 2007.
Click here to read ‘Australia 2019 Pt VII: Fun & Games With The Family’