AFL Grand Final 2010, take 2

Something strange happened to football on the occasion of the replay of the 2010 AFL Grand Final. With all sponsors, corporate freeloaders and once-a-year ‘opera goers’ sated the previous week, the gates were flung open to the average punter. For the first time in years, a ticket to the Grand Final was within reach of the humble football fan. The mood at the MCG was markedly different from the week before. So was the result.

In any football season, domestic harmony rests on me keeping my confidence about Collingwood’s chances, however misguided, to myself. Living with two Saints zealots, punishment for anything resembling ‘Collingwood arrogance’ is delivered swiftly, mercilessly and in stereo. This week, the eerie uncertainty triggered by last Saturday’s draw worked in my favour.

The draw proved a godsend; bewilderment dampened belligerence. There was plenty of footy talk but most of it reflective, responding to the many perverse solutions offered to the supposed dilemma of a dead heat. The draw brought out the managerialist in most pundits, as if the sole point of the game was an ‘outcome’. But in August 1858 the first footy match ended with neither a result nor howls of disbelief. You can’t yap on about tradition then ditch it when it ruins your plans for the next weekend.

With the announcement that Lionel Ritchie was providing the pre-match entertainment the household found itself in furious agreement for the first time all season. Melbourne is a rock’n’roll city, not a rest home for relics of the Countdown era. Sticking a pin in Friday’s EG gig listings would have delivered better.

But behind the apparent détente, suppressed tensions were brewing. On Friday night, for the first time since I was a kid, I dreamed I was playing for Collingwood. My contribution to the game was to kick everything off the bedside table at about 3 am. There’s a new column for Ted Hopkins and the team at Champion Data to add to their spreadsheets.

The game itself was a joy. (There girls, I said it.) Yarra Park unencumbered by corporate marquees and sideshow tents. Masses of flags glittering in the sun like a painting by Monet. If this is what a bare bones Grand Final looks like, let’s have more of them.

Strangely, the first quarter had the rhythm of a soccer game; circling and blocking players swimming in waves of cheers. By the third quarter, a succession of snaps from packs at 25 metres had shattered St Kilda’s hopes. Around then, the realisation that the Pies had the flag in their grasp sunk in. And with it, the recognition of what I now had to negotiate. Lionel Ritchie’s words came back to torment me. ‘Easy like Sunday morning’? Are you kidding? Tell that to a Collingwood fan as he drives two close-mouthed Saints fans to the Moorabbin family day.

Original publication: ‘Bare bones Grand Final’, Sunday Age, 3 September 2010.

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