At the risk of boring those who responded to me before our trip, I will quickly point out that as a born-and-bred Yank who had never been to Oz, I have been in love with Aussie Rules for over 20 years back to when it started to be televised over here. Having bred Footy Fever into my son since he was three, this was finally the year we saw it in person! Back in March, I started to hunt for tickets to four games over two weekends during our trip to Oz. My plan was to contact two clubs-at the highest feasible level-and attempt to purchase a package that would include good seats and a game-day club function. My team-Footscray (Western)Bulldogs. My son's team since he was a toddler-the Saints. Naturally, it had to be while Liam was out of school.Fixture H&A to determine the weeks. I chose (back in March) Bulldogs vs Hawks and Magpies on consecutive weeks. Liam's Saints vs Geelong, and (just to see the MSG)on a walkup, game day purchase of general admission: Demons-Port.
Liam wrote to his 1st footy hero, Nathan Burke, who incredibly had the corporate function man email Liam within 24 hrs with a luncheon/speaker event with "the best seat in the house". Folks, that's how we came to be at level two Section 36 (right even with the ruck circle) for the Clash of the Undefeated 3 months later. What a game. It wasn't a GF, but the roof was blowing off in that titantic struggle and Gardiner's pack mark on a par with Leo Barry! WOW But the night before, we saw our FIRST live footy-My Doggies dismantling Hawks. Our 1st impressions were many that night. It's such a different world to US sports. First example, we happened upon a VERY pretty girl standing outside Etihad, playing the Hawks team song on the bagpipes(!). Now get the full picture. It's 4th of July, we're Yanks and the song is actually pinched from "Yankee Doodle Dandy". Liam and I momentarily wondered (blame jet lag) how in the hell she KNEW we were Yanks. LOL. While the coin I tossed to join the many others in her case hung mid-air, I figured it out. To salute the gratuity and seeing my Doggie gear, she switched to the Bulldog fight song. We were having great fun and we weren't even inside yet. And THAT proved a challenge. Since I enjoyed none of Liam's success at getting a package from my team (back to Dougie Hawkins years) I bought online. I forget whether Ticketron is in Oz and TicketMaster is here or visa versa, but they are identical-sell you the worst seats at the highest price. Anyway, my impression , first off, is despite the grass problems of past years, Etihad is a TREMENDOUS venue. Great sight lines, comfortable seating, ultra-clean, wide corridors and you can leave your seat after a goal and return with a Carlton draft and a meat pie (both quite nice) before the center bounce.
The game itself didn't surprise me after decades of watching it, but it's much more exciting in person and the immensity of the field must be seen first hand. Kicking into space was the biggest difference live..the lead often longer than TV makes you think. The skill level teriffic. handling balls that are bouncing or below the knees in general a real eye-opener. Pushing in the back seems to be less of a felony than in last year or so (thank God!)Soccering a goal or making one from a severe angle a precision skill that only live action captures. Obviously, the electric charge and hard hitting of next day's Saints/Cats was very special. We'll never forget it. Great endeavor, hard hitting. In gridiron, they say great defense beats great offense-it holds in footy too, it seems. The next week saw us watching the Dogs pipped by the Magpies 105-104. Footscray didn't lose, they merely ran out of time....great comeback from 41 down late in 3rd. Both Doggie games were on level two..but behind the posts. YES, many Collingwood fans were indeed feral; screaming "BALL" if a Pie is so much as breathed upon or a tackled opponent gets rid of the ball seconds ago,and quite willing to sledge other side's supprters (ok, sometimes return our sledging) at the drop of a hat HOWEVER a Magpie couple who journeyed from Hunter Valley sat next to us, and we struck up a friendship that has resulted in exchanging e-mails and invitations to stay with them next visit or they with us if they get to NYC. Like so many people we met in OZ-so warm and genuine. Lastly, we loved the "G" as well...the game was not the greatest (though I cashed at TAB on the underdog Demons)but being two rows back at the 50 meter arc-practically touching the players while sea gulls took the turf away from pigeons was great and both tickets combined cost us $22 AUD-where else that fun for that price??. Quick observations-love the betting update on the Big Screen between quarters at both venues and NOT knowing the time left before the siren was not a negative-quite the opposite.
Lastly a quick finale to this "novel", you note unlike my son's Saints shepherding us-they even posted the tix to our hotel waiting there on arrival- my luck wasn't as good with the Bulldogs (getting sledged on this by a 13 yr old a bit rough) Now, this wasn't all Footscray's fault by any means. Ok, their CEO didn't come through like Burkie. Subsequent email to their fan contact on the team site DID get a response of willingness to sell us tickets (no function involved)and I'm damn sure they were better than Ticketron seats but I never spotted the post amidst the spam in my email box-MY fault. Incredibly, what DID come closest to a memorable package? Long after buying online at League site, I sent (unrelated) a letter to Jason Akermanis saluting his reaching 300 games. I didn't really expect a reply. Imagine my shock when we arrived in Melbourne, fired up the laptop and saw "email from Jason Akermanis". He said he rarely goes into his mail pigeonhole at Whitten, appreciated my letter from outside the usual fan base and said "this may be reaching you too late but here's the mobile phone # of our corporate function man-I told him to expect your call-just ask him for what you think would make your visit more enjoyable and he'll oblige." I didn't really bother to try reaching the guy-we were all set by that time-but that a Brownlow winner would make that effort during the peak of the season impressed the hell out of me. It's all true and hopefully any footy fan reading this notes there seems to be a gulf between "image and reality" regarding Akers.