AFL Grand Final – take two // 1 October 2010

Ridicule of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s stripey barnet aside, the only mass hysteria worth getting involved with this weekend is the AFL’s Grand Final.
Aussie Rules, you see, is a religion here, and its annual final match is Christmas, Hanukkah and Eid rolled into one. As far as national sports go, its popularity rivals the US’s NFL and the stadium crowd alone is 116,000.
Last week’s original ‘GF’ was, for the first time in AFL’s 133-year history, a draw, so – as per the traditions set out in AFL rules – tomorrow’s game is a rigmarole of a rematch and the stakes are higher than ever.
The crux of the hype spins on the facts that this is one of only three rematches in AFL GF history (yep, if it ain’t an abbreviation, it soon will be), and the teams in question are both from Melbourne, which is the home to AFL (or as it was once known, the Victorian Football League). It’s the equivalent of an FA cup final between Man U and Man City, washed down with VB, coloured in black, white and red and with mountains of historical context weighing it all down.
The underdog, St. Kilda Saints, are pitched against the much-villified Collingwood Magpies.
Jim, my insider pundit, echoes the sentiments of most I’ve come across: “I’m hoping St Kilda will win – my heart says Saints and my head says Collingwood.”
The “massively unpopular” ‘Pies owe their reputation to their home geography – they’re from the wrong of the tracks, their fans and tactics are of dubious origin, or, “because they’re dirty” as my cousin put it.
Collingwood is a traditional working-class area, their supporters are rough and whilst “gentrification and all that” has ironically made the area trendy, old habits die hard.
And whilst one rematch may be one rematch too many for some fans who paid $1000 for last Saturday’s game, there can be no more than two finals played. Tomorrow’s score cannot be a draw.
The rarity of such an occasion has some rubbing their hands together with glee – it’s another money-spinning week tacked onto the end of the AFL season, a bumper viewing-figures certainty and a sponsorship goldmine.
It’s also a bit of an inconvenience to those who, like a friend, chose to put his wedding back by a week to avoid clashing with the original GF date last Saturday. His ceremony begins at the end of the fourth quarter, whilst another wedding that I’m heading to starts at the end of the third quarter. There is no clock-watching according to GMT tomorrow – just hours before kick-off and quarters thereafter.
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