I will be uploading a daily(ish) blog during my 3 week stay in Australia, and this trip is made possible by SportsHosts. The following is a part of this series. You can also find this on the SportsHosts blog here!
The time had come to head down to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). I had been looking forward to this day for months. The build up from every person I talked to made me slightly nervous that it couldn’t live up to my expectations.
My time outside the MCG before heading into the stadium was a bit of a whirlwind. I was trying to talk to as many fans as possible. I had heard a lot about Collingwood supporters and how they have a similar reputation to those fans of my hometown, Philadelphia. Just like my Philly fans, it felt like Collingwood fans get a bad reputation just for being so passionate.
I had the chance to meet a group of fans from Pies Nation and learn their song. I also met with the owner and founder of True to the Red Sash – an online community for Essendon supporters. One thing that stood true for all fans I talked to was that, while the game and rivalry mattered, the match was also about a celebration of the Anzac spirit and paying their respects to the Defense Force.
After interviewing a number of fans, it was time to head inside the stadium. I was going to be seated in the members section, and a key note is that there is an actual dress code to enter. Men have to wear collared shirts and no ripped jeans among other things. While some people expressed a frustration of this, most appreciate the tradition. Additionally in the members section, you are not allowed to bring alcoholic drinks to your seat.
Once inside the stadium, I grabbed a drink and took a moment to let the whole experience sink in. It felt like I had been running around for hours on hours and hadn’t had a chance to fully appreciate the moment. Just how special this traditional Anzac day match is, and how lucky I am to get to be here. When I think about how sport and culture are tied together, hanging with Australians on a major holiday at a sporting event like this is the perfect example of this linkage.
One thing that everyone talked about was the national anthem and the moment of silence inside the stadium. I often forget how different America is in that we always sing the national anthem before every sporting event. However, it is unique to go to an Australian sporting event and hear the anthem, so I was very fortunate for that. The moment of silence was intense and almost chilling. I’ve never heard silence like this before – nearly 90,00 and not a single word from fans or a yelling child. All you could hear was the sound of the rain on the roof of the MCG. Moments like those are the ones I will never forget.
Towards the end of the anthem the crowd goes from complete silence to a boisterous roar. It is game time. And, woah, there is a lot going on the field during an Aussie Rules football match! Luckily I had amazing hosts who explained the basics to me. I really love the fast and fluid gameplay of footy. I also got to learn some of the things fans yell out during gameplay when they feel a penalty should be called. Things like “50!” or “deliberate!” or “in the back!” Given that it was my first ever footy match, I am slightly fuzzy on why these things were yelled. Good thing I will be going to another game this weekend and will get to learn more.
The crowd energy throughout the game remained at a high level. One thing I found very interesting is that the crowd doesn’t seem to cheer much when their team scores just one point, called a behind. The only seem to cheer (in regards to scoring) for goals, which are worth 6 points. That said, they make plenty of noise throughout the entire game. I was expecting fans to be sectioned off, like you see in soccer in Europe. Where fans on one team have their sections and fans of the other have theirs. Instead, all supporters (aside from the cheer squads located behind the end zones) are mingled together in the stands. Fans are passionate about the game, but know how to have fun with each other. There is a lot of banter that goes back and forth between opposing fans. I am sure there are cases where it goes too far, but for the most part it felt like they really enjoy the back and forth ribbing.
Essendon won the match this year, and my day was not over at the end of this game. I had about a 5 minute walk over to AAMI Park to watch the annual NRL (rugby) Anzac day match between the Melbourne Storm and the New Zealand Warriors. Sport is a key part of the Anzac day tradition.
I arrived just as the pre-game entertainment started, and I am glad I got to see this as the haka was done from the New Zealand side. They also sang the national anthems for both countries. Another one of those moments that I will just never forget.
I had two amazing hosts for this game as well who taught me the basics of rugby league. I was more familiar with rugby than the AFL, so learning the gameplay for this match was a bit easier. While the venue was smaller, the crowd was just as hyped as they were at the MCG. There are a lot of people from New Zealand who live in Melbourne, meaning that the crowd was full of Warriors fans. The Warriors opened up the scoring, but it was ultimately the Storm who took home the win.
I feel like I could easily write another 1,000 words on being in Australia for Anzac day and getting to see and do so much. My day started at 3:30am and ended around 11pm… and I had nothing to worry about; every bit of this day exceeded my expectations.