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AFL Grand Final day is much more than just the game - why change something so important to our sporting culture?

Roar Rookie
11th October, 2023
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Roar Rookie
11th October, 2023
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I stepped off the tram at 3.30pm on Grand Final day, making my way to South Melbourne for an obligatory Grand Final barbecue with an eerie silence in the streets. With the sun shining at 29 degrees, the usual hustle and bustle of South Melbourne was unusually quiet.

The question on my mind was simple: where had everyone gone? Walking past pubs, bars, and restaurants, the answer became clear. Every establishment was packed to the rafters, with patrons’ eyes glued to the screens.

The AFL Grand Final during the day isn’t just a game; it’s an Australian cultural phenomenon. No matter where you are on the last Saturday in September, it’s a day to gather with loved ones, whether at a barbecue, a family home, or a local pub to watch the footy. It’s a sacred ritual, the very essence of Grand Final day culture.

Darcy Moore celebrates Collingwood's 2023 premiership win.

Darcy Moore celebrates Collingwood’s 2023 premiership win. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

The day starts early for many. Some place their bets, others fire up the barbecue and for the fortunate 100,000, it’s a Grand Final breakfast or an early journey to join the throngs heading into the G.

Once the final siren sounds, Melbourne comes alive. Regardless of team loyalties or even a lack of interest in the sport, the city celebrates. Streets are filled, lines for venues stretch around blocks, and barbecues transform into dinner parties. Families with children can get the kids home at a reasonable hour, whilst others can rest and recuperate, or continue the festivities.

Yet, there’s a looming shadow over this tradition – the proposal to change the Grand Final from its 2.30PM slot to a twilight or evening game. This shift might satisfy TV executives hungry for ratings or provide for a better pre-game spectacle but these crowds gather for the football, not the entertainment.

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According to the most recent AFL Fans Association (AFLFA) survey, a staggering 73% of fans want the Grand Final to remain in the afternoon. The game belongs to these fans, the dedicated supporters who show up every week, regardless of their team’s performance.

Steele Sidebottom and Scott Pendlebury celebrate a Collingwood goal.

Steele Sidebottom and Scott Pendlebury celebrate a Collingwood goal. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Ask the general public, and the sentiment likely remains consistent. Grand Final day is beyond the fans. The day belongs to everyone. From those not interested in the footy to those lucky enough to witness their team have the ultimate success. A quick scroll on social media reflects the diversity in the celebrations on Grand Final day. From tourists uninterested in the sport, to newcomers to the sport, to the diehards who support their team week in, week out.

The day belongs to the public. The day brings people together.

In the heart of Melbourne as the suns begins its slow descent and the streets eagerly await for anticipation, Grand Final day stands aside as a day of unity. It’s not just about the footy, it’s about community, about tradition and about a shared experience. A cultural phenomenon that’s strictly Australian.

The day is one about celebration, from as far north as Broome to the bustling streets of South Melbourne. It’s one day where differences are set aside and the attention turns to heroes and villains on TV screens, an experience shared across decades.

It’s day that belongs to everyone. From the newly arrived backpacker to the diehard fan. A day Grand Final unites Australians in the language of sport and changing that would be a shame.

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