Grand Final Preview: When the crowd rises with you


No-one can afford to go to the Grand Final anymore. No-one I know. Many a Tiger supporter mate is weeping right now. But it’s a bitter sweet tear. I mean – a Grand Final! After all they’ve been through! They’ll recover enough to watch it anywhere.


Really, it’s our New Year’s Eve! Not just a game, but our chance to revel! Here’s my one tip! I don’t give a rat’s who wins, really – where you watch it is just as important as the game!

As a kid, my dad would always brush palms with the scalpers. Back then, mate, it would cost him tens of dollars! Haha. I would stand on a pile of beer cans stacked three high in Bay 13 and get glimpses of Snake Baker taking speccies!


As an adult I stopped going. One time, in Apollo Bay, I watched it with the surfie crew. Half time we all staggered out into sunlight, blinking, drunk, and had a game on the street against the stoners, staggering out from their place across the street.


It was gold.


Sometimes I’d watch it with the loggers who would hire out the Otway clubrooms. Good people, a community. Families. Kids everywhere! It was all about the shitstir and the footy at those shows.


2008, living in Cow Bay, in tropical Far North Queensland, my girlfriend and I took my ute and dog along the winding gravel track, through river crossing after river crossing, to a nowhere pub with faded lion out front. Nothing else, not a house, for miles.


I barracked for the Hawks just because the locals barracked for the Cats. We all loved it! I made some ripper one-day, half-cut mates! That day was mighty! Come morning we saw a few crocs as we pushed back down into the rainforest again.


I watched one Grand Final with my old man. Dad, his brother, sister and Mum,  came to the country on a boat to escape the war. Didn’t know a word of English. Footy taught him how to speak Australian. How to belong. It’s still the thing we have most in common.


That year we shared something. A language our own, in a quiet rural pub. It was beautiful. I’ll cherish that one until I die.

Back in ’89 a mate and I drove to a pub in Geelong to see Ablett create mythology, and maybe get laid when the town’s roof blew off! But Geelong and we fell one goal short. Damn, it was worth it, though! To be in the belly of such passion. Surrounded by a wall of one-sided volume and fire!


Each goal, the whole room would get up and around!

Nick’s Grand Finals were always the best! He has a punch-drunk shed, full of holes and bird shit, to go with the punch drunk house, in the middle of a cow filled paddock, in the middle of a small, winding valley, in the middle of nowhere. He used a projector, wooden pallets to build three levels, and a dozen $5 op shop couches to create a footy cinema for degenerates! Eskies, straight spirits, half time kicking the pill, dodging cow pats, push on into the night. Damn, we had fun!


I went to an AFL Grand Final once. As an adult. Damn it was boring! Not embedded into either cheer squad, I sat in a see of people who had been given corporate tickets, who didn’t barrack, drink, or really, really care.


Leigh Matthews was being interviewed on the boundary, three flights below. I gave him my best: “HEY, LETHAL! SHOW US YER BALD SPOT!”


From that angle it was funny.


Nobody reacted at all.


That carried though to the game. There was no atmosphere. I spent the entire game kicking myself I wasn’t back in the bush, smashing out VBs with my mates, talking footy, picking a side, arguing about the Norm, barracking like loons!


Today, a reverse Richmond will take on a fully kitted Adelaide. It will be an epic game! It has to be! If I was a Tiger I’d rob banks to be there. To be a part of that cheer squad volume that will shake a nation. History!

But I’m not. AFL footy is, to me, about friendships. The game. Community. The Grand Final is the bonfire we gather around. And we’re all the crowd – being warmed by its flame while stationed at the South Pole, with family at home, on big city screens, phone apps, foreign bars. I hope you’re watching it somewhere mighty! That when Sloane fends off, and Jack flies, you add to its roar that consumes a nation with stories of your own.



  1. Great read as always,Old Dog and I get where you are coming from not for me today still spewing re the hypocritical afl and hearing;,Nathan Burke on the radio last Sunday grrrrr where is Ben Stokes when you want him !

  2. Good on ya, Mal. Man of his word! And cheers for the wrap, always!

  3. Nice Story Matt.

  4. We’re shaping up for a good one at the Imperial Hotel in Branxholm mate.

  5. Good one Matt. I spent the 89 GF in a bar in Edmonton. The bar keep kept the joint open for an extra three hours so we could watch it. Great night with mad Canadians

  6. “Footy taught him how to speak Australian. How to belong. It’s still the thing we have most in common.”
    Thats a beautiful statement. Football is something else.

    Thanks for sharing

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Gold Bert! Look forward to reading how it went.

    Thanks John. Cheers everyone!

    Tony, sounds like a dream GF to me!

  8. A fine read, Old Dog.
    I can very much relate to these sentiments: it is truly a day to spend with friends.

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