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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Getting sporty in Melbourne

Since we couldn't be around for yet another Jays home opener, we decided to get sporty, Australia-style over the weekend. We'd previously caught bits on TV of the strange spectacle that is the Australian Football League (AFL), and since Melbourne is true heart of the league, we figured it was about time to check out a live game. And people are REALLY into it here...

Basically, this version of football (or "footy") involves two teams of 18 guys each wearing tank tops and short-shorts, running around a gigantic circular field and kicking a ball through the goalposts (not to mention beating each other up along the way). The season runs from late March to early September, and it's by far the most popular and well-attended sport in the country. The league began as a solely-Victoria league, which is why many of the 16 teams are Melbourne suburbs-- only recently did the other state capitals get their own teams in the league. Naturally, we have to cheer for Carlton, not only because we live here, but because they're pretty much the worst team in the league (yay underdogs!). So we got on our Carlton Blues scarves and watched as our guys nearly beat the Essendon Bombers... but then lost.

The game itself is surprisingly not at all boring and pretty easy to follow, unlike American football. Aussies often ridicule American-style football because of the players' padded suits-- "That's not real football, mate!"-- which we can now understand, since these guys play just as, if not rougher, in outfits fit for the beach. Luckily, it's not too hard to understand: there are four fast-paced 30-minute quarters and a few strange rules about how to pass the ball. Our favourite scenario is when one player has the ball, and everything's on pause as he readies himself to boot it, while members of the other team stand a certain distance away and do jumping jacks in his line of sight (presumably as a distraction). Quite funny to watch from the nosebleeds!

At the end of the game, the winning team's "song" comes onto the staticky loudspeakers, and the fans sing along. In our case, we got to hear Essendon's song, which was very 1940s/WWII/creepy. Perhaps time for an update? The best part is how much people get into the game. We sat behind two moms and their teenage daughters-- one mom had a hand-knitted Carlton-colours scarf on-- and they were screaming louder than the jock types sitting on either side of us. From what we've heard, the rivalries run deep, and the queues to score a seasons' ticket or a member's seat will commit you for decades- word is locals sign up their kids at birth! Seeing as many of the teams have been around since the 1800's (Carlton's club dates back to 1864), there's a bit of that old-school Yankees/Red Sox legacy flavour, where fans wear their scarves proudly and take every win and loss very seriously. [You can read a little of the history here!]

Although attendance was more than 64,000, there were still many blocks of seats empty in the MCG on that chilly autumn evening (isn't SkyDome around 50,000 at full capacity?). The Melbourne Cricket Ground (or the "Mc G", as we call it, waiting to stand corrected) is an enormous open-air stadium, and shares with the retractable-roof Telstra Dome for all of our local games. It was definitely a good time to be part of a cheering, excited mass; almost-- but not quite-- a substitute for baseball!

3 comments:

Steve of Jayscast Podcast said...

Jays are only averaging around 25,000 a game so far this year, but yeh it holds just over 50,000 (have to go back to the glory days to reach that consistently)...anyway, i always like to check your blog when i can and i'm glad things are going so great for both of you Dayle & Adrian! Cheers!

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