I went to my first ever sporting event at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) the other week. A struggling Melbourne Demons hosted a rebuilding St Kilda in what promised to be kind of dull.
And so it proved.
The Demons fought hard in their best performance until then but still managed to come up short. With the result a foregone conclusion my mate Wal and I decided to hightail it back to the pub for some serious drinky-poos and telling each other what good blokes we are.
The next day I texted a Demons friend who couldn’t make it out to the game. She asked me how I enjoyed it and I had to reply that it was pretty shit – and, with a Victorian father, I’ve followed it pretty much my whole life.
Her response was interesting though.”Crappy weather and no one there. I watched it on TV.”
There were 24,798 people at the ground.
Fast forward to last Wednesday evening. Queensland played New South Wales in the first match of rugby league’s State of Origin series with the Blues trying to stop Queensland from racking up their seventh consecutive series win.
The match had been controversially moved away from Sydney in an attempt to both boost rugby league’s coffers and Victorian profile, and it worked to an extent with 56,021 cramming into Etihad Stadium to beat the ground’s all-time AFL attendance record 54,444 (St Kilda versus Geelong, round 14 2009).
Two days later the first-placed Melbourne Storm played the second-placed Brisbane Broncos at nearby AAMI Park. The Broncos rested three of their Origin stars but still had quality players like Peter Wallace, Ben Hannant and Matt Gillett. The Storm played all their Origin stars, including Queensland and Australian captain Cameron Smith, Queensland and Australian halfback Cooper Cronk, and the man many believe is the best ever, Queensland and Australian fullback Billy Slater.
Top of the table clash, home team with a total of one loss from 11 games, three of the best players in the world, including an all-time great.
There were around 13,200 people at the ground.
So this all begs the question, is Melbourne really Australia’s sports capital?
Don’t get me wrong, the Victorian capital hosts a number of world-class events each year. The Australian Open tennis, the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, the AFL grand final, the Melbourne Cup and cricket’s Boxing Day Test all call Melbourne home. But who’s to say they wouldn’t be as well attended if they were held in Brisbane, or even – dare I say it – Sydney?
All these events – other than the AFL grand final and Melbourne Cup – were once held interstate. The Australian Open moved permanently to Melbourne in 1972, Jeff Kennett engineered the Grand Prix move from Adelaide to Albert Park in 1996, while as recently as 1994 the Melbourne cricket Test began on Christmas Eve.
There’s no doubt Melbourne puts on quite the show for these events, but still, could others do better?
Then there’s the footy.
While this table seems skewed towards AFL clubs (possibly on the grounds that only two Melbourne AFL venues are used), what it does show is that AFL’s Sydney Swans get more per game than the NRL’s Melbourne Storm.
While the Swans are a handy side that could well ruffle a few feathers so to speak, do they truly have three of the game’s modern-day greats? Adam Goodes yes, but anyone else there truly great?
Anyone there considered the best ever?
What that comparison table does show though, is that Melbourne is madly passionate about their AFL.
Ridiculously so – and it’s not just me who thinks so, Richard Hinds recently wrote an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on the issue.
But before the AFL fans start frothing at the mouth and saying how much better their game is than that rugby league rubbish (the reverse also applies by the way), they should ask themselves whether or not they’ve watched a game properly with someone who knows what’s going on.
I reckon they haven’t.
And what should be galling is that Brisbane and Sydney seem more open to different sports – and thus more knowledgeable – than they are.