Australian Rules Football is a BIG deal. The highest professional level is the Australian Football League (AFL). After a season that lasts throughout the winter, the playoffs, finals, and grand final take place in the beginning of spring. This weekend is the grand final/premiership match, which takes place here in Melbourne, at the 100,000 seat Melbourne Cricket Grounds, MCG, or The G for short.
To celebrate, the entire state of Victoria has a holiday on the Friday before the match. On that same day, the teams participating in the Grand Final parade through the streets of Melbourne’s CBD.
After getting into footy in the short time we’ve been here, we decided to go to the parade.
We arrived an hour before it was to begin and snagged an amazing spot about halfway through the route, right along the barrier in the front row. Already, crowds were beginning to gather in the absolutely gorgeous weather.
The crowd, which averages about 100,000 for the parade, was in excess this year as a Melbourne suburb team is the the Grand Final– the Western Bulldogs, based in Footscray. The doggies have not won a premiership since 1954, so for most fans, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event. About 180,000 people lined the 2 km parade route, including some up in trees!
The other team is the Sydney Swans. Sydney is not too far away, so there were a good amount of Swans fans as well. Melbourne and Sydney have a city rivalry anyway, which is now heightened by the passion people have for their footy team.
Since we were there pretty early, we got to see some of the pre-parade set up, including the arrival of the teams to the starting point.
In order to keep everyone entertained as the parade made its way down to us, a band (dressed as footballs) preceded the parade.
When the parade started, it was kicked off by an army band (wearing Australian hats).
The 2016 premiership cup was shown off next. A new cup is made every year and the wining team gets to keep that year’s cup in their clubhouse forever.
Australian Rules Football, we’ve been told, stays popular because of their great grassroots and youth programs. One of these is Auskick, a kids program for learning how to play footy. All the little footballers in the parade were adorable.
The Brownlow Medal goes to the fairest and best player in all of the AFL and is the highest honor a footy player can win. This year it was Patrick “Patty” Dangerfield from the Geelong Cats, another Melbourne suburb team.
Earlier this week, there was an Oscar-level red carpet at a Melbourne casino with the AFL players and their partners for the Brownlow ceremony. It’s the fanciest event in Australia and its sports-related–really shows the culture focus here.
Now, on to the main event… the players.
Each team had a local marching band leading them in, as well as their mascot. The coaches and 22 players for the game (18 on the field and 4 on the alternate bench) came in 2-by-2. Toyota sponsors the entire AFL playoff season, so their new Hilux trucks were the method of transportation for everyone in the parade.
The Swans came first as they were the away team.
They were followed by the Bulldogs, who received a lot more cheers and applause. We could even see an interview being conducted with one of the Bulldogs players mid-parade.
The short-lived parade finished out with a kind of strange interpretive dance troupe. Afterwards, there was a mass migration of the people in our area down to the ending of the parade at the MCG and the AFL Live Zone– a day full of footy.
The entire city had footy flags and advertisements for the game. In the many parks located throughout the city, people of all ages could be seen playing kick-to-kick footy on the lawns. Every single family I saw walking around the city on Friday had at least one footy with them. A true national pastime.