Almanac Footy: Why we’re missing the mighty MCG

 

 

WHY WE’RE MISSING THE MIGHTY MCG

 

 ONE of those pop-up questions that litter Facebook asked this week: “Where have you been that you will never visit again?” To which I replied that I was starting to think the answer might be the MCG. I am only half-joking – because I consider myself part of a very large cohort to whom this is no laughing matter.

 

 The Old Lady of East Melbourne, as I often used to refer to the iconic stadium in the public prints, has been my second home for the best part of 50 years, more than 30 of them as a member of the Melbourne Cricket Club.

 

 I have spent thousands of days there watching footy, cricket, soccer, both rugby codes and athletics, for work and pleasure, as well as attending a wide range of social events and even the final farewells of numerous friends and professional acquaintances, while up in the Press Box a Media Hall of Fame confirms, I’m pleased to say, that most of that time was productively spent. Some of the rest of it, I happily admit, has been spent patronising one of its most popular bars, named after my great-uncle, the distinguished footballer, cricketer and sportswriter Percy Beames, which is another good reason why I enjoy the place so much.

 

 Now very few of us have any real idea when we will be allowed to frequent our favourite place again, and the MCC itself – in a letter to members this week – seemed no better than hopeful that we will be able to re-assemble for the Boxing Day cricket Test, which of course is to be against England this summer.

 

 In any normal year – hands up who remembers “normal years”? – the Baggy Greens v the Poms would be the biggest date on the MCG calendar except for the Grand Final, and even then there wouldn’t be much between them in attendances. It is certainly at least the equal of Anzac Day footy, or preliminary finals between any two clubs.

 

 Attendance? Who remembers what that is?

 

 Being there, on the spot with like-minded friends, fans and foes, absorbing the atmosphere and the frisson, is far and away the best way to watch sport. But it is quickly becoming a distant memory, just like the Grand Final itself, which has now been exported to other states for the second year in a row, with not even a token elimination match to go on with this time. Nothing – not that it probably makes all that much difference if watching on TV is the only option.

 

 On the fabled last Saturday in September, the “G” will stand empty, abandoned, silent and soulless except perhaps for muso Mike Brady belting out his traditional anthems, watched “live” by only a cameraman.

 

 For the competition’s longest-suffering cohort, the Demons supporters who have in many cases never seen their team win a premiership, and for whom the G has truly always been their traditional home since the year dot, this has the potential to be the ultimate bitter-sweet experience.

 

 Brisbane made a good fist of the occasion at the Gabba last year and Perth will probably do even better at its superior (to the Gabba, not the MCG) state of the art stadium, and good luck to them – the West Australians have always been a heart-and-soul footy community, which Queensland never will be.

 

 But Melbourne is the undisputed home of the game, its birthplace and its emotional constituency, and for Victorians this is a … hmmm, one hesitates to employ the word tragedy because the fall-out from the pandemic has had many far more dire consequences than the relocation of a sports event. Nobody needs reminding what they have been.

 

 But yes, in a symbolic sense, a tragedy it is. Melbourne revolves around the MCG more than any other physical, cultural or inspirational landmark or institution, and seeing it hanging out to dry is every bit as evocative of the nightmare we are living through as the sparsely populated streets of the business district and the shuttered theatres, pubs, clubs and shops.

 

 It is so much more than just a playing arena, an expanse of grass with a fence around it.

 

 This sad syndrome probably won’t stop there.

 

 The internationally famous spring racing carnival is now well into its early stages but we obviously aren’t going to the races any time soon, and perhaps Flemington – the second most esteemed sports venue in the state – will also be deserted for the second year running on Melbourne Cup day. That might be averted if the vaccine numbers are where they need to be, but that’s going to be a photo-finish by the look of things. If not, it will be another major symbolic setback.

 

 And what of the Australian Open tennis in January? It got by last year with great difficulty and the Government has made it clear that this time vaccinated players will be made much more welcome than those who are not, which is a certain point of dispute if not a potential deal-breaker.

 

 A random rumour surfaced on talkback radio a few days ago that a contingency plan is in place for the tournament to be moved to Dubai. It sounds highly unlikely but in the current environment you wouldn’t automatically dismiss any such suggestion. For tennis fans, too, this is going to be a nervous wait.

 

 Will the English cricketers actually make it here? Rumours persist that several might be scratchings because they are unwilling to be subjected to unreasonable covid protocols, but this smacks of an ambit claim to try to force Federal and State Governments to relax the rules if they are deemed too draconian.

 

 But is in nobody’s interests or inclination for an event of such historical heft and financial importance to be called off, and it is almost impossible to imagine that it will be. Almost. It is less difficult to envisage that it might be played anywhere and everywhere except Melbourne and Sydney, which would be the case if it was scheduled to take place this month, and that would also be a massive disappointment for all concerned, the players no exception.

 

 Meanwhile, I have renewed my (discounted) MCC membership and look forward to being able to avail myself of it … when? Who knows? It got me to only three games of footy this season, the last of which was Carlton v Geelong on July 9, which was also attended by at least one virus spreader.

 

 That cost me (and my wife) two weeks in isolation and long hours sitting in queues waiting for no fewer than three covid tests and dealing with repetitive phone calls from contact tracers who never got around to asking me obvious questions such as where I’d been and who I’d been with, their left hand clearly not knowing what their right hand was doing.

 

 That’s an observation rather than a criticism because it is obvious that these people have been massively under the hammer for most of the past 18 months, and for a while there it looked like they had kicked enough goals to win the premiership, so to speak. Now they’re playing catch-up again, big time.

 

 I don’t want to whinge any more than I am already inflicting on the poor dog, who is happy to soak it up as along as he gets his daily walk and six feeds. It is not lost on me that there are countless thousands, probably millions, far worse off. I don’t have a job to lose or a business to go bust and I haven’t gone broke, I certainly don’t have young children going bonkers with boredom (that’s just me!), there is food on the table and wine in the fridge, I’m relatively fit and well, touch wood,  and even though I’m in a highly vulnerable age bracket which in itself generates trepidation I have sufficient if not quite fully formed faith in having been double-jabbed well over a month ago.

 

 I get why people protest about the many negatives but it is not helpful to the rest of us and not achieving anything tangible.

 

 So there is nothing for it, alas, but to just get on with groundhog day, week, month and year and hope that the happy day will eventually arrive when we can get back to the G and meet a few mates for a beer in the Beames bar. Or anywhere, really.

 

More from Ron Reed can be read HERE

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE

 

 

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Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Cracking read Ron! Nothing like the ‘G with a full crowd supporting their team.

  2. george smith says

    I’m ambivalent. My memories of grand finals are bleak indeed. 1977 part 1, 1980, 1981, 1992 (I was supporting the Moggies)

    Good memories of the MCG – 1 point win over Melbourne in 2010, Buckley kicking the winner against Geelong in 1994, the win over the Essendon Boo Squad in 2019, the only win in a final v the Showponies in 1978.

    But we now have a national comp. I want to see Port v Adelaide in a grand final at Adelaide oval or Weagles v Freo at the new Perth stadium. But as a neutral venue you can’t beat the MCG, after all it is everyone’s home ground.

  3. Chris Weaver says

    A great article, Ron. I think you’ve summed up my feelings (especially as a Melbourne fan and MCC member) very well.

    One point to expand upon with regard to lost events is that Melbourne is – at heart – hugely reliant on events to ensure it can retain its existing hospitality industries. Sport, music, theatre and festivals – they are the drawcards for a city that doesn’t attract visitors on the basis of climate, landmarks or location. So until the events return – and with them both domestic and international visitors – then the city will continue to contract.

    Fingers crossed for a better 2022!

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