Footy: The great Australian pastime

31 August 2011

Written by: Samantha Afetian

Ah, Footy. When I came to Melbourne from California, it was made abundantly clear that it is the only Australian sport to watch.

‘We don’t play rugby here in Melbourne,’ the cab driver tells me. ‘We play Aussie rules, which is better than rugby,’ he says.

I imagine that he was choking back the urge to say ‘Rugby is for girls.’

I recently went to my first footy game, the Melbourne Demons versus the Gold Coast Suns at the MCG. Despite the fact that neither team has a stellar record this season it was interesting nonetheless and displayed to me the irony and beauty of the footy experience.

Sitting in my chair, wearing red and blue, I was excited to experience my first game of footy, the sport crucial to the meaning of being a true Australian (or so footy fans have made me believe).

And then the anthems start.

Amidst the cheers and claps of the crowd I hear a familiar tune. After a minute I realise why it’s familiar; the anthem of the Melbourne Demons is an American patriotic song, ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag’.

‘That’s funny,’ I thought to myself. ‘A uniquely Australian tradition of team anthems and they use an American song.’

It’s already weird enough that the Gold Coast Sun’s anthem sounds like a show tune being sung by men wearing glittery leotards, waving jazz hands.

Then there is the stadium. I’ve often heard the MCG toted as one of the ‘best sporting arenas in the world’, but I quickly realised that isn’t saying much. The MCG is rather subpar to the modern day sporting arenas elsewhere in the world. Take for example, the multi-billion dollar Dallas Cowboys Stadium in the U.S. The fully covered stadium has the second largest high definition television screen in the world, hung centre field for all to see. The MCG has two small screens and is still hosting large, hand-held banners before the game.

Sure, the MCG is big, but I don’t really see why it is world-class.

However, despite the cheesy anthems and lack-lustre arena, the thing about footy that stands out the most is the fans.

Footy fans, you are arguably the most entertaining crowd I have ever witnessed.

I have never heard such colourful language screamed at referees before. Cheers to the men in the standing section at the back of my row—I think my vocabulary of swear words has expanded. How these referees walk off the field with their masculinity intact is beyond me.

Even the players are subjected to a good bashing when deemed necessary by the fans. When Melbourne was up by at least 20 points in the third quarter, fans still demanded perfection and made sure to let the players know.

‘Come on, Melbourne. Get your heads in the game,’ said one fan sitting in front of me.

‘Let’s go, boys. Use your bloody bodies!’ shouted another.

I am now convinced that footy fans would go to war for their teams. And that’s what truly makes footy great—the fact that people paint their faces and don their colours to their team’s last game of the season. They scream and cheer just as loudly as if it were the finals, as if it would actually change the outcome of the season.

Samantha Afetian is a Journalism student at La Trobe University, currently on exchange from San Diego State University, and a member of upstart’s editorial team.  You can follow her on Twitter: @Sam Afetian.