Monday, August 16, 2010

The MCG -- Melbourne

Football is big in Melbourne.  Australian Rules football, called “Footy”, is nothing like American football which Aussies refer to as “gridiron”.  (What?...oh, right.)  Its roots are in Melbourne where 10 of the 18 teams are based.  Originally the Victorian Football League (VFL), it only recently (1990) expanded beyond Melbourne and became the Australian Football League (AFL). 

 The Melbourne teams take their names from local neighborhoods, St. Kilda Saints, Carlton Blues, North Melbourne Kangaroos etc.  Sydney has only one team, the Sydney Swans (which is somewhat confusing as the Swan River flows through Perth).  Allegiance to teams is strong and attendance at the games is high.

We “barrack” for Carlton.  Max and Riley’s uncle Andrew is a “member” and got us 4 seats at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for a Carlton vs Richmond match on our last Saturday in Australia.  We four, Max, Riley, Will (age 6) and I sat in great seats in the huge stadium which seats over 100,000.  Andrew was there too, but had to attend to clients in his firm’s box.

Like soccer, play never stops and the players, 18 per team, wear no protective helmets or pads.  From the first bounce of the ball to the final horn there is continuous action, in fact, if one player holds the ball for more than a few seconds the fans jeer at him to kick it away.  The playing field is a huge oval about 150 meters long.  The ball is ovoid and slightly larger than an American football.

The ball is moved around the oval by kicking or hand-passing (hitting the ball off your hand) to a teammate.  If you have the ball you can be tackled which often causes a pile up and the referee then determines (mysteriously) who get possession of the ball.  Points are scored by kicking the ball through the 4 posts at either end of the oval. 

A game is four 30-minute quarters long and the stadium clock doesn’t stop during the quarter. However after a goal is scored the officials stop their clock briefly until play resumes.  This creates an interesting and sometimes very exciting tension at the end of the game. In a high scoring game, after the last quarter expires, there can be several more minutes of play until the horn blows announcing the end of the game.  Only the officials know exactly how much time that is.

The match we saw was high scoring with Carlton winning 156 to 67.  After the game all of the players shook hands in a wonderful display of good-sportsmanship, especially since they had been beating up on each other for the last 2 hours!

The boys lasted the duration with proper administration of drinks, “chips” and trips to the gift store.  Andrew met us afterwards at our seats and walked us out to where he had parked his car.  There is no parking lot per se; cars are parked in a semi-coherent way on the uneven grassy grounds around the MCG.  It looks a little crazy but seems to work just fine.

The next day we made a trip to Rebel Sport on Chapel St. in Prahran to buy some Footy balls for Max and Riley.  Miranda said, “We’re not taking those home, are we?”  Since we’ve been back we’ve practiced our kicking and hand-passing several times in Central Park!

Thanks Uncle Andrew for giving us a great day and a new experience! 

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