Can a stadium say something about cultural strength?


In an edited form the below article first appeared in the Herald Sun in Melbourne on September 26, 2013 (here) a few days before the Australian Football League’s annual grand final at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground. It was reprinted in an amended form before the Boxing Day Test here. Andrew argues the greatest thing about the MCG is its cultural and not sporting impact.

The MCG is in our thoughts this week. The annual climax of the AFL season will
see 100,000 people descend on that great stadium ready to witness our sport’s
greatest battle. What a great ground it is. In the heart of Melbourne’s
sporting precinct, Melbournians see this field as hallowed ground central to
the culture of this great city.

But have you ever really
stopped to think how great and rare the stadium is? I don’t mean the building
itself. I don’t mean the memories, the concerts or even the sport.

I mean have you ever
stopped to think what the MCG says about us Melbournians as people? What really
does it say about our culture over and above the sport?

Where else in the world could
a 13 or 14-year-old girl say to their parents “hi Mum, I don’t, I’m going
to a mass public event with 100,000 people and no adult supervision” where
Mum responds “see you when you get home dear”?

I have never seen this in
stadiums in London, could never imagine this on a Mumbai bus or a New York

Yet in Melbourne on football
weekends this happens multiple times.

Where else in the world could this happen?

Where else in the world
can the family still afford to go to a major stadium and 100,000 people and get
home safely without any flares, riots or violence?

Not even Sydney, with a
culture closer to ours than London, New York or Mumbai, can this happen as our
northern cousin has no stadium big enough to hold 100,000 people.

In North America it is too expensive for a
family to go to a major sporting event.

In Europe it is too dangerous as there is often post
match violence.

In South America, like
Europe, the crowds are segregated by supporter base.

But not here in Melbourne. Here there is no post
match violence with supporters divided by lines of horse mounted police
officers, even as supporters of different teams mingle with each other after
close and brutal games.

For us in Melbourne the
MCG is more than just a stadium of battle. It is a place where we meet and
enjoy the tension of a game without it letting us lose sight of the community
we have. It is the place where the greatest parts of our culture emerge.

Even in times of high
tension, we as a people experience this. Remember 2010?

After 120 minutes of tight
football and high tensions the two grand final teams played a draw. In any
other country the high testosterone levels and passion that built to breaking
point had no release with no winner and no loser. What a disaster that could be
if our culture wasn’t as it is.

Rather than the
frustration of the draw resulting in violence with unsatisfied fans taking out
their frustration on each other, we saw Magpie turn to Saint and say ‘see you
next week mate’.

How good is that?

The next week I was
overjoyed on a  tram as I turned and
yelled ‘Good old…’ and the black and white army continued ‘…Collingwood
forever…’. The Saints supporters sharing the tram may have been sad and glum,
but they were never unsafe, even with the opposing team’s supporters so
boisterously happy. It was a camaraderie of both victory and defeat.

Video one: the great culture of the MCG

Sometimes we take some of
the best things in life for granted and fail to recognise how good some things
are. Melbournians do this with the ‘G’.

So if you are lucky enough
to get a ticket for Saturday, perhaps take a moment to reflect on our great
ground and think what it says about the positive aspects of our culture and our
people here in Melbourne. Enjoy it for more than the sport.

And even if you don’t go
to the hallowed turf, perhaps this week, take time to reflect that Melbourne is
in fact the World’s Most Liveable city and how lucky we are to live here. And
one of the best places in this town is the ‘G’ where on Saturday we hope the
best team wins and celebrate in the knowledge that  whomever wins everyone will get home safely –
even in a purple bus driving 3,000 km west.

Andrew MacLeod was the CEO
of the Committee for Melbourne and author of ‘A Life Half Lived’. He can be
followed on twitter @andrewmmacleod

More discussion like this is in: 


Home Video: Andrew and his brothers at the 2010 AFL Grand Final and Replay.

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