After the trauma of participating in sport in Singapore we’ve taken a more relaxed approach in Australia.
We’ve been to the Melbourne Cricket Ground twice in a week. It’s pretty cool – it’s the biggest stadium by capacity in the country and the 13th largest in world, after the football stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea and a bunch of American college football grounds. It’s so well designed that the gap between one tier and next allows a view of the pitch from the bar – well done, Australia.
The cricket was great. Fantastic atmosphere with a big mix of supporters. The Aussies and Kiwis were well-represented, of course, and there seemed to be a strong contingent from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, in particular. There wasn’t as much abuse as I was expecting for wearing an England flag all day (thanks for the gift, MJC!).
It was a bit of a shame that the game was so one-sided. NZ fans were pretty flat from half way through their innings, and the Aussies just got steadily more drunk without ever worrying about the outcome. Michael Clarke received a huge ovation from all quarters when walking off from his last ODI match, and had a sporting handshake from the Kiwi captain for whom defeat was ensured by Clarke’s innings.
On Thursday we returned to see the opening game of the new season of the AFL, Aussie rules football. The MCG turned the cricket ground into a football pitch in just four days, remarkable. Nine of the 18 top-flight AFL teams are from Melbourne, and this opener was between Carlton and Richmond, two Melbourne suburbs. It seemed to be a home game for Carlton, judging by the entrance of Captain Carlton before the start, doing doughnuts on a hovercraft all around the field, chucking balls into the crowd.
Aussie rules football is nuts. I’d done some cursory research before the match to try to work out the rules, to no avail. Based on our two hours of exposure to this madness on a circular pitch:
- We think the two teams have 18 players each. There are also 9 umpires who conduct themselves with the most amazing enthusiasm and look like a third team, and two guys dressed entirely in pink who seemed to run the width of the pitch from time to time. We have no idea what they were doing, but they seemed unrelated to the army of drinks carriers who had pink vests and ran on every minute or so.
- There are four goalposts at each end. Kicking the ball through the middle two gets you a big goal worth six points, and getting the ball between any of the posts otherwise gets a little goal worth one. (This is the only bit we’re sure of!) When there’s a goal of any sort the goal umpire races to the midpoint of the goal, stands to attention and does a funny pointing thing with one or both hands. Then he waves some flags, and then the goal umpire at the other end waves his flags back. Some sort of semaphore?
- If you catch the ball from a kick then no-one is allowed to tackle you for a little bit, and the opposition players danced around a bit with their arms out wide until it was kicked over their heads. Otherwise, it seems pretty no-holds-barred, and there were players piling on players all over the place. The kicking seemed to be pretty wild sometimes; there was a lot of booting it miles, with no obvious reason to suspect that it would reach a player on the same team.
All in all it’s thoroughly confusing. By the end the score was Carlton 11-12-78 and Richmond 15-15-105. All of Richmond’s numbers were bigger, so we think they won. There was a great bit of sing-along at the end as Richmond’s team song blared out (“YELLOW AND BLACK!”), while the Carlton fans sloped out looking sad.
We’ve not been entirely static since Singapore, and we’ve been out for a run most mornings, trying to get in the habit so that we can justify our cake intake. On the day we arrived in Melbourne, while walking from the tram stop to our little flat, we ran into a guy Jo knows from British Military Fitness boot camp classes in London, an Aussie who moved back here recently – quite the coincidence! He invited us to his boot camp class on Tuesday morning. It turns out that the Australians don’t have quite the same all-weather policy as BMF, and if it’s raining “or if the grass is wet” they do the session inside! They were impressed that we’d turn up at 0630 while on holiday, so I feel like I’ve made up slightly for the pathetic showing running in Singapore.
And with that, it’s probably time for more cake…