No ticket no worries

I lived in Melbourne for the first seventeen years of my life and never went to a grand final.  I did attend the MCG on grand final day from 1978 to 1980, but that was to line the boundary with hundreds of other little league kids and let helium balloons fly.


After that duty, the kids were herded off the ground and into tents outside the MCG for a pie and a Big M.


By the time I moved to Brisbane in 1988, I had been to just two finals.  It wasn’t because I didn’t love footy.  I was either a kid or teenager and relied on my parents for funds…


Unlike a lot of Victorians who moved north to Brisbane, I didn’t dump my team in favour of the locals.  The love I had for North Melbourne could not be replaced by a start-up team called Brisbane who played on the Gold Coast.


There were barren years in Brisbane.  North seemed to get close to the finals but never broke through until 1993.  The club was building.  I became a member again.


It was no surprise to find me at the MCG for the 1996 grand final.  Watching my team win a premiership was an amazing experience.  It ensured all those barren years were written off as character building.


Then occurred the worst day of my life, under sunshine at the MCG in 1998, watching North lose the unlosable grand final to another scabby start-up side.  An old woman clad in Adelaide garbage told me to fu*k off as I walked disconsolately up the aisle.


I wondered what she’d been like when her hair wasn’t grey and her face unwrinkled.  Possibly a Port Adelaide Magpies fan.


Thankfully North bookended their glory years with a premiership in the 1999.  I was there, way up high in the Southern Stand.


Suddenly I found myself addicted to grand finals.  Melbourne in September became my main holiday of the year.  There was an old fellow, Kevin, I used to stay with.  Kevin fought for Australia in the Second World War.  Loved cricket, loved Essendon, loved the races.


He gave me the holiday suite, the double bed he once shared with his wife.  Kevin didn’t care what I did during the day, as long as I spent time with him.  I’d wake up in a fog.  He’d be ready to make awful coffee and cold toast.


Over the years, there is no doubt I got lucky with grand final tickets.  In 2000, when Essendon thrashed Melbourne, I was a 60-year-old dentist called John.  When Brisbane won their first premiership the following year, I was John again.  My mate played his wife, Dot.


In 2002, it seemed my luck had run out.  John wanted to be John at the MCG.  Anywhere I went, there were no tickets left.  On grand final day, as I lay in wretched hangover, Kevin knocked on the bedroom door.


‘Phone call,’ he said.


It was a mate.  Let’s call him Lucky Phil, so I can protect the guilty.


‘Wato, I’ve got you a ticket,’ Lucky Phil said.


My hangover was gone.  I listened intently.  I had to play a former VFL goal umpire, who was taking his sick boy home.  It was eight degrees and raining.  The boy was young.  The ticket cost me $200.


I screamed hard for Collingwood, but those damned Lions wouldn’t be denied.  I sat in the rain.  I can’t remember ever being that cold at the football.  The final moments of a classic, sodden grand final were played out in sunshine.


Study and work commitments ensured my absence from the MCG from 2003-05.  But I was back in 2006, great seats on the wing, to see West Coast in by a point.


The seats were in a similar area in 2007, when Geelong humiliated Port Adelaide.  I spent the 2008 grand final in the ABC broadcast box as Hawthorn upset the Cats.


In 2009, I sat in the media seats, behind the goals at the Punt Road end.  After the game I spent hours in the rooms with the winners and losers.


When Collingwood drew with St Kilda in 2010, I was on the wing again.  Though I could’ve got tickets for the replay, I stayed in Brisbane.


My ticket the following year was organised by a man who played for Collingwood and North Melbourne.  I was going for Collingwood.  It became a gloomy, glum day as Geelong ran away with the premiership.


And that was it for me.  I haven’t been to a grand final since.


Maybe I was lucky to get tickets to all those games.  They certainly cost me a bomb, $500 each, except for the media passes, which were free.


In 2012, the former premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, sacked thousands of public servants.  I could’ve gotten an expensive ticket, but finances suggested otherwise.


Knee surgery cost me $1800 in 2013 and ensured I stayed home in Brisbane.


Last year, I decided to stay at home, again for financial reasons.


Now in Melbourne again, despite the financial reasons.  The difference this year is I am without a ticket.  My damned AFL membership remains stuck on Silver, as it has since I joined in 2007.  I’ll be upgraded next year, but I thought some tickets might’ve been released on Tuesday to us Silvers.


The game is sold out.  Media passes are allocated.


An offer came though, a ticket for $500.  That’s a month of maintenance.  I said no.


It will be the first time I’ve been in Melbourne without a grand final ticket since 1987.  I’m not expecting an early morning call on Saturday.  This year will be without that kind of luck.


It won’t matter.  In my life, I’ve only watched one grand final in a pub.  It was in 2005, when I was in Mackay, a long way from AFL heartland.  The pub was half empty.  It was half rundown.  Some of the patrons didn’t care about the game.


When Leo Barry took a game-saving mark, I was cheering.


I’ll be in a Melbourne pub on Saturday.  There won’t be any indifference.  It won’t be half empty.  It will be something I’ve never experienced in Melbourne before.


Something to enjoy and savour.  Because next year, I hope to be at the MCG…


About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

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