Friday, 5 June 2015

My Night at the Footy!

The zombie horde on the way to the MCG.
I've lived in Melbourne for eight years now and have never had the inclination to go to an AFL game - until now!

An invitation to the Richmond versus Essendon Dreamtime game from my workmates, combined with a desire to broaden my horizons, found me marching with the zombie-like horde towards the gates of the MCG on a chilly Saturday night.

After feasting on a dinner of reasonably priced hotdogs and pies, we entered the hallowed grounds of the MCG, where we were efficiently processed and marched towards our seats.

I felt a giddy thrill as I stared out at the grounds. I think this was more a result of the steep incline of the stands, a fear of the altitude we found ourselves at and a shortness of breath from the climb, than any genuine love of the game.

It was something of a mad scramble for everyone to get to their seats and there was a lot of sitting and then standing to let others pass. There was a polite level of apologising that you would expect in a crowded outdoor event. I considered this to be just part-and-parcel of the game and living in a civilised society.

There were a group of about four or five girls directly in front of us, however, who took exception to this constant interruption.

They stood out immediately to me because they were dressed as if they were heading to a nightclub more than a sporting event and were speaking loudly in a bored, spoilt, privileged and entitled tone that can only be reserved for one dreaded section of society - the American tourist!

"I'm literally dying!!" a girl with a cowboy hat drawled, as she stood to let a sheepish and frail-looking couple in their 60s pass.

The dialect of these girls was classically Californian from the 'Valley Girl' school of mangling the Queen's English. I listened intently to their conversations. They would often try and parody this type of speech, but they seemed unaware that it was only marginally different from their own way of speaking.

The 'view' from my seat.
Before we arrived at the MCG, we went to the pub, where I was passionately arguing that there are good people all over the world and ultimately we are all the same. I still believe this, but watching these girls getting up every five minutes to buy beer and pizza, swinging their selfie-stick dangerously over the heads of punters in front of them and only watching the game through the screen of their smartphones, made me briefly reconsider my stance.

I sat next to my friend Jo. She also sits next to me at work. I always considered her to be a very gracious, polite and caring person who would not hurt a fly, but once the game began and she let loose with a barrage of taunts for the opposition, I suddenly began to fear for my life. I was worried the players would not be able to hear the half time siren and wouldn't know when to stop. She was so loud she was even able to briefly distract our American friends from their endless selfies!

It was clear from Jo's barracking that the team we were supposed to be supporting was Essendon.

I could really only tell what was happening on the field by the reaction of the crowd, which was not helped by our physical distance from the ground. I have to admit to often getting distracted by a lone seagull that was circling overhead and sometimes not remembering which end of the ground my new team 'Essendon' were supposed to be running towards. I was relieved that my friend Andy explained to me after the game that the teams swap sides every quarter. I could now rule out my fears that I was suffering from early-onset Alzheimers or was about to have a stroke.

Luckily, our American friends got bored at about half time and left, which made it easier for me to concentrate on the second half of the game. I was actually getting swept up in the barracking, but it was clear from at least one Essendon fan behind us that things were not going well. He went from being broadly encouraging at the start of the game to referring to the team as 'a bunch of retards' by the second half.

In spite of all my attempts to remain positive, ultimately Essendon was defeated by Richmond - 59 to 71. My friends sat in silence as I grappled with a new, strange and unfamiliar feeling of solidarity. Eventually we decided to go for a drink, even though we were in the middle of the Richmond heartland. This would make the defeat all the more bitter.

As Richmond fans filed past our seats, I realised I had gone from being neutral to finding a new kinship with Essendon supporters. I even felt a bit of animosity towards one Richmond fan who gave me a superior grin as he filed past my seat, resplendent in his yellow and black scarf and beanie. I reluctantly stood to let him pass.

"I'm literally dying!!" I thought to myself.

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