Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mark Twain, A Race and a Footy Match

Well today is a Public holiday in Melbourne. There is an event that happens here every year on the first Tuesday in November. A horse race called the Melbourne Cup.

I guess it is somehow typical of Aussies that one of our biggest public holidays, a spectacle that brings the state to a halt, is a horse race.
And I really mean to a halt. Today is an official public holiday which means employers are obliged by law to pay anyone working today two and a half times their normal pay. Not surprisingly most businesses shut up shop for the day.

To be fair “The Cup” has a long tradition as a big event, this year sees its 150th Anniversary.
Mark Twain was in Melbourne in 1895 and he said of the day:“Cup Day, and Cup Day only, commands an attention, an interest, and an enthusiasm which are universal—and spontaneous, not perfunctory. Cup Day is supreme it has no rival.”

Now that is all I have to say about The Cup. I enjoyed the day off but I didn’t go to the Flemington Racecourse to watch the race run.

Instead I will talk about another sporting event that would arguably be even more important to Melburnians. The Aussie Rules Grand Final which happens at the end of September.

In Victoria there are two sports that really grab the public attention. Cricket in the summer and Australian Rules Football (or footy) in winter. Footy would be the closest thing there is to a universal passion in Melbourne. If you want to have a conversation with a Victorian a good starting point is almost always footy. The passion for the sport somewhat bewilders me as I am from Queensland where Rugby is the local "footy" and I have to admit I am not much interested in that either. I maintain I am the quiet writer type :-)

However this year Deb and I went to the Grand Final.
Deb is a big fan of The Saint Kilda Football Club and they were playing. More to the point Deb was given a pair of corporate tickets worth… Well I dread to think what they were worth, the face vale was $345 each but I know they always sell for $700 - $1500. Safe to say we wouldn’t have gone unless we had been gifted the tickets.

So the big day came Deb and I arrived very early to avoid the worst of the crowd. We walked from Flinders Street Railway Station towards the Melbourne Cricket Ground the home of footy (the MCG also affectionately known as ‘The Gee’). We used a footbridge to cross the lines running into Flinders Street.
The view from the footbridge back to the Melbourne CBD

As you get close you realise just how big the stadium is.When we arrived the stands were fairly empty.The teams came out on to the ground to warm up.Deb snapped this shot of me to prove I was there.

“Entertainment” was provided like this ‘footy’ shaped hot air balloon.One of the coaches discussed kicking with Nick Riewoldt the St Kilda Captain.
Who then had a go himself.INXS played their hit “Suicide Blonde” as the ground continued to fill.They are starting to look like old rockers.
QANTAS did a flyby with their latest Super Jumbo.And the players (who had disappeared as INXS played) made their formal entry to the field.
The first ball up was held by one of the referees (there are four on the ground plus two goal keeping umpires) and the game was on.I won’t even try to explain the rules, the game is very different to any other form of football (the closet is Gaelic Football played in Ireland). If you want to get some idea of the rules you can go here.

Probably the most important thing to understand is the game is fast, very fast. Often scores of 130 or 150 are achieved by both teams.It is also very intense as you can see by the face of this St Kilda player.The ball flies high and the players leap high into the air to try to ‘take a mark’ which gives them a free kick.The whole crowd scream their heads off. Deb screamed (so much she lost her voice that night), and even me, the least football minded person on the ground, ended up screaming my lungs out.

The writer in me has filed this experience away. The atmosphere is amazing, very much as I imagine the feel at a Roman spectacle must have been.

The result a draw!

Collingwood kicked 9 goals and 14 behinds for a score of 68, while St Kilda kicked 10 goals and 8 behinds for a score of 68.Under AFL rules the teams would have to come back to play again the next week. This is only the second time this has happened in over 100 years!

A word about Aussie crowds, as you can see when the ground is at its fullest fans of both teams are intermingled. There seems to be little or no ill will between the supporters of each team.
I think this has two causes: first Aussies tend to be relatively laid back, we aren’t generally aggressive to each other; and with such high scores the supporters of both teams get plenty of outlet for their passions!

So that was the (first) Grand Final of 2010.

The day had a final treat in store. As we walked back towards Flinders Street the evening light and a rapidly approaching storm did wonders for the light over the city.The Eureka Tower in particular looked spectacular.The colours of the building have some symbolism. The gold face represents the gold of the 19th century rushes. The red represents the shed blood of the Eureka rebels and the blue and white stand for the colours of the Southern Cross flag they fought (and died) under. I may say more about the Eureka Rebellion around the anniversary later in the year.

Ps. In the replay St Kilda were defeated by Collingwood (but as Deb is still smarting I won’t say any more).


Kyna said...

Everytime I try to explain Gaelic Football to people, my first go-to similar sport is Aussie Rules Footy. But then they always say, 'But what is that?' LOL I have, however, played Aussie Rules, and it's awesome. When the men's GF team in Calgary, Alberta was looking for players in their tournament, they recruited the local Aussie Rules team to try GF. They took to it pretty well, except they were REALLY vicious and their short shorts got laughed at lol.

Anyway, looks like a great day Al!

http://www.samposey.com/ said...

Footy looks like a curious sport. They use a football but it looks more like soccer. Ah, you Aussies.

Old Kitty said...

Right!!! I understand footy!! I think!! Not! :-) Awwww but these are fabulous pics!! They capture the atmosphere and excitement and all these testosterone whizzing around! Ahem! :-)

Glad you had a great day off!!! Thanks for the info about the reason why today is a public holiday! That's just the best explanation ever to declare a public holiday!! And why not!!

Thanks for sharing, take care

Roxy said...

Thanks for these amazing pictures! To think I've lived all these years without learning about Footy. It looks like great fun. I'm definitely too sheltered and uninformed.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you had a day off. What a good idea to have a public holiday at this time of year. Here in UK we have nothing between the end of August and Christmas.

Anything relating to men in shorts running about in pursuit of a ball is lost on me, but I can imagine that, as a writer, it is worth tucking away that experience of the atmosphere, as it will probably come in useful at some point.

My favourite pic is the one of the city in the evening light.

Hart Johnson said...

I was recruited about 4 years ago as an Adelaide Crows fan. I certainly prefer footy to American rules because the physiques of the players are so much easier to see... though rugby has that, too...

Those storm shots are amazing! I love a stormy sky, but with all that glass and such--great contrast!

Lisa said...

Great piccies! I do not understand a sport where you can get to the championship and not have some kind of a tie-breaker in place. What do they do if the two teams tie a second time?

Al said...

Hi Kyna,
You must be the only person from your continent I know who has actually played Aussie rules (notice I did not call you American). Aussie rules is so fast it is easy to call it awesome. You mean the Aussie rules players were vicious? I’m kind of with them on the shorts.

Hi Shellie,
LOL. Aussie rules is soooo different from soccer. Soccer can go for 90 minutes with no score. Aussie rules usually has points every couple of minutes at least! But I agree it certainly is very different from American Football.

Hi Jenniffer,
Look I don’t understand footy myself, so you have no chance ;-)
It works as an explanation for a holiday doesn’t it?

Hi Roxy,
You are most welcome ;-) It is fun to watch and the atmosphere at a ground is pretty amazing!

Hi Christine,
The Cup falls at a convenient time.
I have to agree with you to a point, I am not generally a sports watcher. But even against my better judgement I got swept away with the crowd!

I lover that piccie too!

Hi Hart,
The Crows? I wonder how that happened? I have to say the players in shorts don’t do much for me ;-)
I’m glad the piccies were to your liking.

Hi Lisa,
I am pleased you like my piccies.
I understand your confusion. But then our other national sport is cricket, the ‘pure’ form of that game consists of a match that is five days long in which a draw is almost as likely as any other result.
I guess we think it is the playing that is more important than the result in sport.
LOL it’s never happened, but I guess they’d play again the weekend after ;-) What do you expect of a sport invented by Aussies that was derived from a game played by the Irish!