Many months ago your writer was told by his wife, an award-winning dog groomer, that we were headed to Victoria for a competition at the Melbourne Royal Show – little did we realise until recently that it would fall on NRL Grand Final weekend.
Channel Nine would do the honours on the television and it would be just like watching from home – right?
The only difference was we were in the mouth of the AFL beast.
Nay, we had been injected directly into the beating heart of Aussie Rules.
Your writer loves Melbourne and has spent many trips falling out of famous pubs and while trying to get off a cheeky spew in a back alley, falling into another, less famous establishment.
It’s a beautiful city.
Compared to Sydney, which is a sprawling, long land of cities within cities, everything in Melbourne just seems ten minutes away.
In Melbourne, every suburb feels like they live on top of each other and perhaps that’s why it seems like it’s more intense before a big game.
We got to Melbourne on Friday evening expecting Collingwood Magpies flags dripped down from every building.
Instead, when arriving at our Airbnb in Yarraville, we discovered that you only see the AFL “guernseys” if you actually try to find them.
They were there but only if you squinted your eyes.
Perhaps it was our location.
But the people of Yarraville were split in two.
Those that loved living in a lovely part of Melbourne and others that passed through with a pump in their chest – jersey and shorts, going somewhere else.
Melbourne people seem to have an unwritten agreement.
One side lives and breathes the southern sport, the smaller minority just love great food, shopping and their coffee or wine.
Others had started again.
In a pub down the road, we met a barman that just moved down from Wollongong, his best mate graduated from Ambarvale High (my school) three years before me.
“Yeah it’s a weird sport but you kind of get dragged into it,” he said regarding Aussie Rules.
“What choice have you got?”
At the same place, it was revealed that if you wanted to play the poker machines, you had to ask permission from staff to take money out of the ATM.
Old mate asked at the bottle shop, while buying beers and tequila, who I “barracked” for.
Taking the lead, the response was subtle trolling and enjoyable.
“Mate, Wests Tigers, we’ve won two wooden spoons in a row, can’t get any worse.”
As we walked out, a pack of youngsters who could easily fit in Newtown discussed what they should buy for dinner.
“Let’s go to the butcho,” one yapped.
Forget ‘parmi’ versus ‘parmo’.
Who says ‘butcho’?
An old lady stops us and inquires about the ‘big game’.
I ask her who she thinks will win – Panthers or Broncos?
Doesn’t last very long after that.
“I don’t know about rugby.”
We get to Saturday afternoon and it’s time to sit down and watch KISS.
She barely watches any rugby league, even if she’s at the ground on the fifty metre line, but wife has some analysis for the AFL Grand Final entertainment.
“They’re not really singing,” she begins.
“Is that fake crowd noise?”
Despite all that, for days following, Victorians herald it the greatest pre-game of all time.
Paul Stanley gets a fake guitar handed to him, seconds before by a roadie, accidentally snaps it in half before the ‘pay off’ moment.
“It’s the best pre-game of any sport in Australia, ever.”
And like that, the glorious weather we had turned for the NRL decider.
Hours before in thongs, shorts and t-shirts.
By kick-off for the Panthers and Broncos, we were in jumpers, tracksuits and socks.
The NRL grand final of 2023 was arguably the best of all-time for its intensity over 80 minutes and what happened at the end.
We made noise but nobody else seemed to care.
Spoils of being in enemy territory for the weirdest grand final weekend of your writer’s life.
Now I know what it’s like to be an AFL fan in Sydney or Brisbane.