AFL Rules September
THE AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL FINALS ARE ON THIS MONTH IN MELBOURNE. BY JENNY BURNS.
FOR MANY MELBURNIANS September means two things— the official end of winter and Australian Rules football finals. For most, both are causes of great celebration! For lovers of ‘Aussie Rules’ it’s the chance to see the best teams in the competition in action. For those not interested in the sport it marks the end of nearly seven months of continual talk about results of matches, injuries and speculation on who is likely to win the holy grail of football—the Australian Football League (AFL) premiership. If your team has had a bad year it’s the end of a very long season! Fortunately this year’s competition has been one of the most even in many years so at different times during the season most supporters have had some hope of team success.
2017 has also seen a minor changing of the guard with last year’s finalists Hawthorn and North Melbourne out of this year’s finals. Teams based outside Melbourne, including the Adelaide Crows, Greater Western Sydney and the Sydney Swans, have continued to perform well while the resurgence of local fan favourites Richmond and Essendon and the continued good form of Geelong have resulted in some huge crowds attending matches. Attendances of between 65,000 and 80,000 at ‘blockbusters’ at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) have been common. Games at Etihad Stadium, the other venue for Melbourne-based AFL Games, have also been well supported by fans.
Both grounds offer guided tours on non-match days, which provide AFL novices together with hardened supporters some fascinating insights.
The National Sports Museum, located at the MCG, is another must visit for anyone interested in learning more about AFL. The exhibition, “Australia’s Game”, traces the history of the game and includes a selection of the greatest VFL/AFL Grand Final moments and a wealth of material collected from the greats of this uniquely Australian game.
Here you will learn that AFL all began in Melbourne when in 1857 Tom Wills returned to Australia after schooling in England. He was football captain of a rugby school and a brilliant cricketer and initially he advocated the winter game of
football as a way of keeping cricketers fit during the off-season. The code’s first recorded match occurred between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar School in 1858. In the same year the Melbourne Football Club was formed and the game quickly blossomed. Today the competition features 18 clubs. There are 10 from Victoria—carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Geelong, Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda and Western Bulldogs; two from Western Australia—the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle; two from South Australia—port Adelaide and Adelaide; two from Sydney—the Sydney Swans and Greater Western Sydney and two from Queensland—the Brisbane Lions and the Gold Coast Suns.
Another exhibition on at the Immigration Museum, “Game Changers: Diversity in Football”, shows how cultural and gender diversity are changing the world of football and how the game has changed the lives of indigenous and multicultural players.
The exhibition focuses on the stories of two Western Bulldogs players: Lin Jong, the first Australian of East Timorese and Taiwanese descent to play in the AFL and South African-born Jason Johannisen.
Personal items from the players’ early years, treasured jumpers and awards are displayed alongside photographs and videos of the changing faces of the AFL.
Johannisen was one of the stars who helped the Bulldogs win last year’s premiership (winning the award for the best player on the ground). Bulldog fans are extremely hopeful he will again have the chance to shine on the last Saturday of September—when this year’s Grand Final is being played.
The eight teams who have made it through to the finals will play their first matches from 7 to 10 September. From this time on the atmosphere and crowds will gradually build until grand final day when over 95,000 screaming fans will descend on the MCG.
Like the game, Grand Final week has also grown over the years. Whereas once it was just the match on Saturday, these days there is a full week of celebrations. It starts with the Brownlow Medal (awarded to the best and fairest player) on the Monday night and finishes with the two competing teams taking part in a parade on the Friday. The State Government has declared the Friday a public holiday so all can enjoy the parade and associated activities.
Grand Final Saturday starts with official breakfasts attended by politicians, sporting heroes and captains of industry. Entertainment on the ground pre-match includes performances by local and international entertainers. The choice and quality of the entertainers is often as hotly debated as the outcome of the match!
The roar when the players finally take the field is deafening, as is the noise when the umpire bounces the ball to begin the game. The roar at the end of the game isn’t quite as loud—after all there’s always a loser. The look of joy and relief on the faces of the winning players and their fans is unforgettable. And for those whose team didn’t win the holy grail—well there’s always next year! For more information on the AFL finals visit afl.com.au
Etihad Stadium Tour. AFL football at the MCG. Photo: SDP Media. Western Bulldogs players Lin Jong and Jason Johannisen at “Game Changers: Diversity in Football” at the Immigration Museum. Photo: Museums Victoria. “Australia’s Game” at the National Sports Museum featuring Alex Jesaulenko’s famous mark in the 1970 Grand Final. Centre image, above: “Our Football Girl”, original cover art for sheet music, with special lyrics for Australian Rules, Rugby League and Rugby Union, at the National Sports Museum.