METERelbourne is known for its many quirks. Coffee snobs and trams, street bars and festivals, multiculturalism and confusing weather. Stereotypes aside, however, it is also a city famous for its love of a soccer code born and raised in the southern state.
There are magical days in Melbourne’s colder months when a frosty morning is overwhelmed by a clear blue sky and the glare of radiant sunshine. The best use of these impressive days is to start an early afternoon at the CGM. The walk from Richmond Station to Brunton Avenue, closed to cars, the bustle of bustling record sellers and irritating bagpipe players, the smell of overpriced fries, undercooked cakes and watered down beers, and the roar that accompanies the opening bell. siren.
These were the distant dreams of 2020 in closed Melbourne. There were no football trains, no shouts of “ball” or “stop”, no boos or saliva flying towards the referees. Melbourne was, for 112 days, between July and October, as sterile as still.
Melbourne’s best days were wasted indoors. There were no brunch dates or street expeditions. He doesn’t show up, there are no concerts and there is no sport. During an extraordinary season, there were no crowds at Victoria’s football. After a handful of rounds, there was no football at all.
Melbourne, usually a vibrant place, was overwhelmed by a raging pandemic and a seemingly endless lockdown. Our dose of entertainment was a daily press conference. The contest was between hostile reporters and a challenging premier.
We were not only bored, sad and isolated, we were humbled. We support not only the confinement, but its relentless politicization. We suffered the ridicule of the Sydney jocks and the criticism of Canberra. And we saw the game we love to pack to play elsewhere. Crowds cheered in Queensland, Perth, Adelaide, even in the NT, without Covid, but our football was not coming home.
Hubs became the new territory for 10 Victorian clubs. There was no full house on Anzac Day or Easter Monday. There is no closed roof atmosphere on a humid day in the Docklands. There are no hostile trips across the Westgate to Kardinia Park. Not even a half-empty house when Fremantle or GWS came to town.
There were only our couches and televisions. Those televised soccer games, a few weeks every night, were both our salvation and a reminder of our torment. For four short quarters, we had a live, real, competitive sports contest to enjoy. We couldn’t shout from the stands, although we could disturb our neighbors. But we were easily reminded that while our club fans, and neutrals, in Adelaide or Brisbane could be there, we couldn’t.
We were caught on a long road to freedom. Slowly but steadily, the numbers dropped. When the end finally came, it was jubilant. Our cafes reopened, the pubs turned on the tap again. But for Footy, it was too late. For the first time in VFL / AFL history, the grand final would be played outside Melbourne.
The great last weeks bring Melbourne out at its best. Pubs are packed, barbecue invitations abound. Wherever you are on Saturday afternoon, you are most likely glued to the game.
My first big last week was blurry. Unlike my anxious father and uncles, I was not old enough to remember Geelong’s four losing decision makers in the 1980s and 1990s. He was excited, but hardly nervous. Geelong was clearly the best team in 2007 and on Saturday, he was going to MCG to see them win a prime minister. And they won it, they did it. It was an amazing day!
I have been fortunate to be in the stands for eight grand finals. Some with friends, some with family. In four, I saw my own Cats: three wins, one loss. The rest, I was like neutral. Some were classics, others forgetfully one-sided. When the cats weren’t there, he just wished they were.
Meanwhile, I left some smashed preliminaries. Hopes that Geelong was destined for another grandmother were dashed. Our final performances were lame imitations of the high-flying roundtrip seasons. They teased us like chokers. We were labeled as flat track thugs who could no longer win on the big stage. Chris Scott was called a lucky coach who had touched a flag with a roster he hadn’t built. Our hopes were dashed year after year.
So how cruel the universe seemed that the year we broke those curses, we would spend the season locked up. Geelong’s unlikely race to the 2020 grand finale brought me both an escape and a new sense of emptiness. A cruel twist of fate that should be there every time we get lost, but locked at home when we finally return.
On those most beautiful sunny days, it allowed me to entertain fantasies. I suspect we all did it locked up. I was looking forward to catching a train to Richmond and walking down Brunton Avenue to take our seats at the Great Southern Stand. While awake I dreamed of seeing the Cats in action again, with the extended family clan. We would scream, we would cheer.
We’d get a little tingly when the roar of the crowd celebrated that first clearance by Dangerfield, that first goal by Hawkins. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in sad and isolated Melbourne who dreamed of coming back to life as before.
This week, those dreams come true. The MCG will roar again. The Victorians will return to football. Melbourne’s recovery has been slow but steady. We endure, we win. We are almost ourselves again. When that opening siren blasts through the air, we will. Footy is back. And also Melbourne.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism