From the archives:
Melbourne is a city famous for many things. Coffee, primarily. Aussie rules. The MCG. Regularly topping, or thereabouts, the annual quality of life list. Football; not so much. In fact, you could say the same for Australia as a whole. Not that I’m a fan of sweeping generalisations, but I was curious to see how this beer swilling, pie munching, thong wearing, bush people would offer their take on the beautiful game.
Patricia Coffee Roasters, possibly the greatest coffee in the world, was closed, so I took my refreshment at Manchester Press. It seemed apt given that Melbourne City is a club squeezed from a spot on Manchester City’s back (note: I like squeezing spots). This gem of a side-alley café was in the opposite direction to the stadium from my flat, but one must travel for quality. Like any hardened football fan whose pre-game ritual takes in rich, dark, smooth cups of bliss over flat, piss-gold larger and strained blood vessels about the face, I know where to source some class A.
I took a tram back to Spencer Street, shoulder to shoulder with Victory and City fans alike. For the most part they seemed like friends or family with divided loyalties, chatting amiably, joking around, scoffing Tim Tams and stroking the on board kangaroos. Even though this was Mel Classico, the atmosphere was never openly hostile. The home fans did march toward the ground en masse, but still, this was about supporting the team with a raucous atmosphere, not smashing community property or breaking the bones of people who prefer a different shade of blue.
This being a central location fans are spoilt for choice in regard to high quality snacks and coffee. There are more independent cafes here than edgy men with beards, and that’s saying something. If one is so inclined, however, there is a large Coles supermarket nearby. You can walk to the game, like one particular gentleman, gorging on a whole rotisserie chicken.
The stadium itself is in Docklands. A multiple use facility with a retractable roof, it hosts AFL, cricket, concerts and one-offs such as UFC. It’s lacks any defining features inside and out. It’s a very basic three tiered ring around a spacious oval green. The dimensions of the playing area sat awkwardly here, looking much too small on such a large swathe of grass.
What soon became clear as kick off approached is that a European fan culture is keenly felt with both teams. Melbourne is a multicultural city, and a combination of nationalities, with locals, of course, have taken the city’s football teams to heart. On top of the aforementioned pre-game festivities outside, there were a host of familiar chants, a prominence of flags, and even a Poznan.
Tedious fans in Europe will say it’s copying, but they’d be missing the point. There are such things as developing football markets without the history of the European game. They see ours and think it looks fantastic. What’s wrong with encouraging that? I know what you’re thinking, and yes, not all of Shakespeare’s ideas were original either.
Scarves were held aloft around the ground as the teams entered to Stand By Me by Ben E. King. It’s a great song and all but –
Gerhard, dad’s doberman, was put down aged seven. Dad sat out on the patio for hours after burying him in the garden. He didn’t once take his eyes from that bumpy square of grass. He polished off a whole bottle of limoncello. A portable radio beside him squeaked tinny songs. With sudden haste, he tried to run inside to vomit but the back door was locked. I rushed to try and open it, but it was too late. Our eyes locked the second before he chundered hard against the window separating us. When the chunky, golden liquid oozed away, I peered out to see him lying in a heap on the floor. From the radio squeaked Stand By Me. I cracked the door ajar and went to bed.
The players lined up either side of the halfway line, facing each other about five yards apart. My heart was already racing, but this was too much. How long could they stand there making silent eye contact? What would they look at if not the opponent directly before them? They’d have no watch to check, no phone on which to read imaginary messages. Were they allowed to talk about the weather?
Mercifully, as my chest heaved, the game got under way. While most of the stadium was general admission with a commingling of fans, there were also segregated areas for what I presume were the hardcore element, shall we say. Both were in fine voice, waving flags. The City fans threw some flares for good measure.
Now that attention was on the pitch, it was impossible to miss the seagulls. Fucking seagulls everywhere. Swooping around, landing on the pitch, then fluttering off when the action rolled near; repeat ad infinitum. With Victory comfortably 2-0 up at the break, I began researching if there was any truth in the urban legend of feeding birds enough dry rice to make them explode.
Amongst the commingled fans the atmosphere was pleasant throughout. There were plenty of c*nts, wankers, and tossers being thrown around, but this was a social gathering in Australia so there was never any malice behind it.
Even when City made a comeback, drawing things level at 2-2 with two brilliant goals, their outnumbered fans in the mixed areas were always endured, if not enjoyed. Their little pocket of segregated ultras went absolutely ballistic. Honestly, how can anyone prefer cricket to this?
With the game finely poised in the dying minutes, and seagulls swarming the goalmouth like a Hitchcockian portent of doom, Besart Berisha popped up to head in a winner. Strewth!
It’s not true about the rice and the birds. The only full proof way to kill them would be poison I suppose. Or limoncello. If you’re so inclined the nearby Coles might stock both.