You folks might remember my recent post about going to the AFL. That’s the nationwide league for Australian Rules Football here. Well, if you’d like a chance to see Australian Rules Football a bit more like the way it used be, there are state leagues with games on most weekends during the winter. It’s salt of the Earth type stuff with the football a bit more rough and ready, the abuse a bit easier to hear and a lot less protection from the elements.
BUT you’ll get to see how football here has been for so many years. Today, the AFL is glossy and packaged with rooved-stadiums and incredibly over-priced yet watered-down beer. The suburban grounds though, where in Victoria the VFL (Victorian Football League) is played, have a lot more character of their own. Thirty years ago, most AFL sides had their own home ground where they played home games, today, all the Melbourne sides play at the MCG or Etihad, the South Australian sides play at Adelaide Oval and the Perth sides both play at Subiaco Oval. So if you want a taste of grass-roots footy whilst you’re in Oz, and really there is a strong link to our culture through it, head on out and stand in the wind and rain and watch the VFL boys go round.
My AFL started its own team this year, going back to its roots it’s called ‘Footscray’, based in the suburb of the same name. A marketing decision changed the AFL team’s name back in 1996, so it was great to be able to go back to the old oval in West Footscray, the ‘Whitten Oval’ (named after one of the club’s greats, and watch the team do battle with Box Hill.
It was a fierce battle, a close game which Footscray lost by seven points. The scoreboard was really small, and hard to see, and me and my mate Paul moved position according to the intermittent showers that passed over us. In typical Melbourne fashion, it was sunny one minute, cloudy the next and raining the one after, and then back to sunny!
It was something of a pilgrimage., making my way out on the Watergardens train to the west of Melbourne – I live in the South Eastern Suburbs so I don’t go out that way much, but back on the nineties I did, every other weekend to see my side battle it out at the Whitten Oval. In 1997 we moved grounds, in 2000 we settled at the covered Etihad Stadium.
One thing you see at the VFL is the ground being open to spectators – the ground that the players play on that is, the physical ground. At quarter, half, ¾ and full time, people run onto the ground and kick the football to each other and have shots for goal. The coaches address their players whilst this is happening, and people come and gather round to hear what’s being said and encouraging their team. It’s really special and a part of the game almost forgotten today.
Afterwards, I went with some friends to Williamstown, a great suburb and worth visiting, to the Prince Albert Hotel to watch the AFL game live on TV, because we were playing in Cairns. It was a great little place too, full of character and atmosphere and a Bulldogs pub through and through. And yes, we did have a win in that one! So, if you’re around Melbourne, or Adelaide or Perth and fancy seeing a state league game, don’t hesitate. It’s a great experience!