Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Footy at the ‘G

Written 18 May

When visiting a place, I try to do things that are quintessentially that location’s own. It means seeing the Grand Canyon in the Southwest US. It means seeing the Opera House in Sydney. And last night it meant seeing a footy match at the MCG in Melbourne.

It is hard to get a more Australian expeience than an Australian Rules Football match. It is even in the name. And Melbourne is the capital of footy here, with more than half the teams in the league being from in and around the city. The MCG is the best stadium in the city. And the match we went to see was a pretty good one to have as a starter.

The matchup was Collingwood vs. Geelong. They hadn’t met on the field since last year’s grand final match. And on top of that, Collingwood is the most polarizing team in the league. Everyone who has an opinion on teams either loves or hates them. They are the Yankees of footy.

Mom and I walked to the game from the hotel. The directions were simple enough: follow the crowds. We followed the masses and headed to the giant lights in the distance like moths on a direct path. Our clothing gave us away as clearly supporting one team.

I’ve shown up to games before indifferent and oblivious, only to find out that one team’s primary color happened to be the color I was wearing. In the states that seems to be more the way. Are you red or green? Orange or purple? But here the color choices were a bit more specific. Are you black and white vertical stripes or are you dark blue and white horizontal stripes? It was more the direction of the stripes than the color that indicated a team given that it was a night game. And yet, due to temperature, my mom was wearing her scarf, one that matches all of her outfits for the trip. It is a great travel scarf for that reason. It also happens to be black and white lengthwise stripes.

I was a bit less accidental in my attire. I had picked up a black and white vertical striped shirt for a costume. It just so happened that I support that team as well.

As a side note for Australians reading this: yes, I am a Collingwood supporter. I know, I know. But the hostel that I love so dearly, my college dorm home here in the country, my current mailing address within the country, the place my car is currently parked – that is Collingwood. I love Melbourne, and I live in Melbourne as a more general idea, but specifically, I live in Collingwood. So yes, I support them when it comes to this.

The game itself was amusing. The rules are relatively simple, though I’m sure that I don’t get all of them. The basic premise is 18 people per side trying to get a rugby-shaped ball down the cricket oval by any means possible other than throwing. Think basketball with an oblong object you can’t toss. And yes, that includes the occasional dribble. You can block, tackle, and largely do anything you feel (that wouldn’t count as assault) to get the ball from the opponent. And in so doing, play never really stops. There are pauses for a few seconds if it goes out of bounds, or if one team scores (by kicking it through the upright posts at the end), or if the ball gets locked in a tackle. But otherwise play moves on. It makes watching American football, with its 3 second plays followed by 30 seconds of resetting, look to have the pace of baseball. And I warn everyone back home that when I get back and I see you watching American football, I will point this out. That goes double for people who watch American football but hate baseball.

The men on the field were all in terrifyingly good shape. After all, they run back and forth without pause for over an hour, kicking the ball mid-sprint. There were no bruisers and no tanks. But given that it is a full contact sport with tackling – and there were some impressive collisions and crunches in the match – there didn’t seem to be anyone tiny either. Even the very lean guys still had punch-through-a-door arms.

The match was entertaining as well, though I don’t know much of what to say about it. People ran around a lot, the ball moved around like in basketball or hockey, and the action was constant. There were some kicks that seemed to head in the direction of no one at all, but far more that were spot-on 20- or 30-meter passes right into the hands of a teammate. That punting an oblong ball while evading pursuit at full throttle to another person who is doing the same with sniper-like accuracy is a skill that you can learn is something most impressive. Though admittedly both teams had some moments of accomplishing all of that, minus the part about it being a teammate’s hands.

Collingwood was up for the duration of the match, some times more so than others. And Geelong, despite having more attempts on goal and more goals, were terrible for accuracy, constantly hitting 1-point goals rather than 6-point ones. But even at that, Collingwood seemed to stop trying halfway through the fourth quarter and Geelong had a couple impressive drives to even up the score. The match had been close all night, but never tied. And so, with about 2 minutes to go, Collingwood punched the ball out of the melee, kicked it from player to player, and within about a minute had a 6-point goal to pull back ahead. And with a deft display of skill, another 20 seconds after the ball was put back in play, repeated that feat.

Mom and I were screaming and clapping. The fans around us (who happened to all be Geelong supporters) all threw their hands up with exasperated sighs and shouts.

And the final horn blew. Collingwood 84, Geelong 72. Pretty good choice for a first match.

2 comments on “Footy at the ‘G

  1. Steve Grace
    May 21, 2012

    You failed to tell ME you were a Collingwood supporter when you were living under my roof!!!!!
    Probably a good thing.

    • Itinerantics
      May 21, 2012

      Sorry, sorry, sorry. I didn’t realize it till I had to choose for the game. I have failed you, the man who explained the rules of the game to me. May Port Adelaide do well this season.

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This entry was posted on May 20, 2012 by in Australia, Victoria (Melbourne).

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