On Thursday I went to my first ever Australian rules football match, which is referred to here just as 'footy'. Spencer, wonderful guy and old school friend I'm staying with here in Melbourne, was kind enough to find another ticket for me. The match was the Carlton Blues vs. the Richmond Tigers at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Grounds). With well over 60,000 in attendance, it was considered a light turnout for the first game of the season. The MCG is a massive stadium, and as we rolled up to the 'Members' entrance (One of Spencer's pals is a 'member', which means you enter on another side of the grounds, must have a collared shirt, and you can't drink at your seat, essentially less 'riff raff' I guess). All that considered it is still very much a people's sport. Our tickets were the most expensive at $30. The first ever recorded game of 'footy' started in Melbourne, which has brought about an interesting element in professional sports, not unlike soccer in England. The city of Melbourne has NINE teams, and they used to have more. While cheering for Carlton, I was actually cheering for the neighborhood I'm staying in. You can literally cross a few blocks and end up in a different team's territory. So with a meat pie and beer in hand I enjoyed an exciting game of Aussie rules football.
For those of you who know me well enough, sports isn't exactly my thing, but when looking around at a stadium full of people, coming to watch what are essentially two neighborhood teams play, the cultural significance of this sport cannot be ignored.
The last time regularly attended sporting events was the Blue Jays in the early nineties. So one thing I never experienced until now was the drinking. The stalls were just lined up the entire game with people buying beer. There was an entire quarter where we spent watching the game from a set of screens next to the bar, and we among many who were doing the same. Spencer mentioned that it nothing like Cricket, where people are drinking all day, so there's an actual song people sing when the cops invariably drag someone away during the match. Something to the tune of "you're an asshole", I can't remember the exact wording of it.
After an early lead, Richmond started to come back in the 3rd quarter, but Carlton one out in the end. Not only are there still nine teams within Melbourne, but every Footy team has their own song, that you get to sing if they win. Of course I didn't know how the Carlton Blues song went, but Spencer, a staunch Footy fan, sang it aloud with joy. I found it on the internet:
We are the Navy Blues
we are the old dark navy Blues
we're the team that never let's you down
we're the only team all Carlton knows.
With all the champions
they like to send us
we'll keep our ends up
And they'll know that they've been playing
against the famous old dark Blues.