The Lay of the Land
Our gang of footy-mad sports fanatics made their south together to Australia’s undisputed sporting capital, Melbourne.
We got to know each other on the first day over a massive pile of Korean friend chicken and other Korean delights. Looking forward to the weekend, we all discussed our favourite sports, players, tipping competitions, recent results and league ladders before heading back to our luxurious rooms at the Radisson Flagstaff Gardens to call it a night.
Friday was our introduction to Melbourne’s sporting pedigree. We met up with Ben from Sporting Capital Tours at Federation Square and were on our way.
We took in awesome views of Melbourne’s sporting precinct and learned the history of Australian Rules Football, including its connection to Marn Grook, a game played by the First Nations of Victoria with a stuffed possum skin ball.
As we moseyed along the foreshore of the Yarra River, we chatted sport and learned some great facts about sport in Melbourne. Arriving at Melbourne Park, we saw the iconic tennis venues of Rod Laver and Margaret Court Arenas as well as John Cain Arena which is used for many indoor sports including basketball and tennis. For a couple of us it was our second time there this year, having cruised down in January for the Australian Open with Trusted Travel.
After getting our fix of tennis factoids, we made our way down Olympic Boulevard and saw more of Melbourne’s iconic venues. The headquarters of Collingwood Football Club are homed in an awesomely retrofitted building that was formerly home to the Melbourne Aquatic centre which dated back to the 1956 Olympics. We also saw the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, known for sponsorship reasons as AAMI Park. We would be back here on Sunday for a game of Rugby League.
Next, we crossed a bridge and stood in the presence of Australia’s holiest of holy sporting cathedrals. The Melbourne Cricket Ground. This ground serves as home to the Melbourne Cricket Club, Collingwood Magpies Football Club, Richmond Tigers Football Club, Carlton Blues Football Club, Hawthorn Hawks Football Club and is the iconic home to the yearly boxing day test. It is Australia’s largest stadium with a capacity of over 100,000 people. The site was gazetted as an official sporting venue in 1853 when the first building was built.
Below the MCG’s members stand is the Australian Sports Museum. This space combines interactive exhibits like opportunities to try your hand at key sports skills with an amazing collection of authentic artefacts from cricket, Australian football, Olympic history and more. We particularly enjoyed an exhibition that showed a hologram of Shane Warne in the MCG change rooms talking us through some of the highlights of his career. We listened as Warnie broke down the “Ball of the Century,” the infamous delivery with an angle so sharp it left Mike Gatting bamboozled and would put one of our lift entries to shame.
We had so much fun at the sports museum that we missed the last MCG tour of the day – they had to wind up early for the big Collingwood vs Geelong game that night. The awesome staff at the MCG told us not to worry and organised for Malcolm, their most experienced guide to come in early the following morning and give us a personalised tour of this most sacred venue in Aussie sport.
This tour with Malcolm was an absolute highlight of our trip and – as numerous members of the group pointed out – a real bucket list experience for any Australian sports fan. We got to see incredible spots, deep in the belly of the stadium that members of the public seldom see. These included change rooms (for Aussie rules and cricket), coaches boxes, media facilities and exclusive areas for members and corporates. The halls of the members section were lined with cricket memorabilia including THAT famous signed image of Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar on The Don’s 90th birthday.
We even walk out the tunnel – just as the players do – and go out on the hallowed turf of this most famous of gladiatorial arenas. Talk about a surreal moment!
We made our way back to Southern Cross Station and headed into Docklands – now Marvel Stadium – for an afternoon showdown between North Melbourne and Essendon. It was the final home game for shinboner legend Ben Cunnington. It was an exciting game to the end but Essendon spoiled that party and kept their finals hopes alive coming in winners, 13.8.86 – 12.5.77. Our seats were on the bottom level right behind the team dugouts!
We had so much fun that, maybe … just maybe … it crossed some of our minds to move to Melbourne, chuck out our Rugby League gear and become fully fledged AFL fans.
We braved the weather (and the crowds) and pushed our way back to the station, boarded a train and burst into our hotel room with seconds to spare to watch the game that was stopping a nation. We ordered some pizza in and along with 4.17 million people tuned in to cheer on the girls in gold. After the longest penalty shootout in World Cup history, they did it! The Matildas were off to the semi-finals!
What a birthday for our friend, Neb. A private MCG tour, a live game of AFL and victory for the mighty Tillies. Happy birthday Neb!
Flying High and City Sights
We cruised out in the morning to the Queen Victoria Markets which were right near our hotel. We spent some time there before catching a tram down to Flinders Street and crossing the Yarra to South Bank. There we summited the Eureka Tower.
The Eureka Skydeck is 89 floors above the city and is Melbourne’s highest viewing platform. We were even brave enough to go outside and suck up the air 300 metres up.
It was a sports trip after all so we spent most of the time looking at iconic sporting venues and pointing out the neighbourhoods and suburbs that are home to Melbourne’s famous AFL clubs.
Footy as we Know it
We wandered along the Yarra to the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium ready for game two, a Rugby League match between the Melbourne Storm and Canberra Raiders. Being from New South Wales, this was a game we were much more familiar with. We knew the rules for a start. This was a big game as far as the final make up of the ladder went with both teams in the top 8 and both in top 4 contention. But it was Melbourne who ran away winners in a comprehensive flogging. It was party time in the home crowd as the Storm ran in try after try for a 48-2 victory.
Our final dinner together was at a beautiful Italian restaurant just up the road from our hotel. We ate well, laughed and reminisced. Let’s do it again next year everyone agreed!