Ever since the sport was invented in Melbourne in the late 1850s, Australian Rules Football (‘footy’ to locals) has been a fundamental part of the city’s culture and lifestyle. Today the sport is fast paced, action-packed and best appreciated live.
If you truly want to immerse yourself in Melbourne’s culture, going to a game of aussie rules is a must.
The national competition is known as the Australian Football League (AFL). With 9 of the league’s 18 teams based in Melbourne (and a tenth down the road in Geelong), there’s always plenty of action over the weekend, with games split between The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and Marvel Stadium.
Picking A Game
Matches are generally played between Friday night and Sunday evening, with the odd Thursday or Monday game here and there. Over an average Melbourne weekend, you’ll find you have 3-4 games to choose from. You’ll enjoy the spectacle of the game no matter who’s playing but picking the right game can always enhance the experience.
Things you’ll want to consider:
- The MCG (or simply The ‘G to locals) is one of the best stadiums in the world. The giant stands that can accommodate a capacity of 100,024 people and the enormous, oval playing field combine to create an awe-inspiring experience. The ‘G is a must visit for any hardcore sports fan.
- Marvel Stadium is Melbourne’s newer and smaller stadium. Marvel doesn’t have the same magical atmosphere the MCG does, but it features a retractable roof, making it an attractive option on a rainy Melbourne winter day.
- While you’ll find great matches in every time slot, the highlight of most rounds is the Friday night match. As Melbournians get off work and converge on the ‘G, the city takes on a special excitement. Have a drink near Federation Square then soak in the atmosphere as you walk with the crowds through Birrarung Marr to the ground.
- Saturday afternoon games are also great. This is the ‘traditional’ football time and often features classic rivalries.
- For the best atmosphere, it’s usually recommended to find a game between two local teams (see our GUIDE TO MELBOURNE’S AFL CLUBS).
- Some particular rivalries to look out for are Carlton vs. Collingwood, Richmond vs. Collingwood and Hawthorn vs. Essendon.
- Check the ladder. As with any sport, a game between two top teams is likely to be more interesting than first vs last.
Your ticket preference will likely come down to how much money you’re willing to spend. Tickets can be purchased online in advance (afl.com.au/tickets) or at the gate on matchday if they haven’t already sold out.
The Cheap Option
The cheapest ticket type to a game in Melbourne is General Admission, at $26 for adults (as of 2019). This means you have no reserved seat and will have to find a place somewhere in the general admission section, which varies depending on the game.
For high demand matches, general admission seats are confined to the top levels. However, often for matches between a Victorian and interstate team, you’ll be able to find a decent spot (often near the away fans) with a simple GA ticket. There is also some standing room available but the view is often slightly restricted.
If you want to reserve yourself a prime spot to watch the game, this is your option. Prices vary by seat type and stadium. The best spot to sit, especially if you’re new to the game, is up one level and along the side of the ground (known as the wing).
While you won’t encounter fan culture on the level of a South American football derby, you’ll find the most passionate fans (known as the ‘cheer squad’) directly behind the goals at either end. Other than this, crowds are mixed throughout the stadium, so you don’t have to worry about being on ‘your team’s’ side.
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Before the Match
Once you know what game you’re going to, it’s a good idea to try and familiarise yourself with the sport. The game happens fast, so going in with at least a basic understanding of the rules will help you keep up. There’s plenty of resources scattered around YouTube and the rest of the internet that can give you an introduction: What is AFL? , AFL Explained Playlist.
Do some research into the teams that are playing and pick a side to support. Every team has their own song, which is played when they first run on to the ground and again at the end if they win, so if you’re feeling dedicated you can try and learn the words!
For pre-match atmosphere there’s two options to consider: the bars around Federation Square and the Yarra river will give you more of a city vibe while the pubs around Swan Street and Bridge Road in Richmond have more suburban character.
On the day of the match you’ll want to plan to get to the stadium at least 1hr before the game starts if you’ve gone for a general admission ticket or 45mins before with a reserved seat. This will give you plenty of time to get through security and settle in.
If you want a souvenir, the AFL Record is a great option. These are the matchday programs and they’re sold for $5 outside the ground. Inside you’ll find pictures to help you spot the players and guides to that week’s matches. You’ll also find merchandise stands around the ground if a team scarf is more your thing.
If you’re feeling hungry once you get inside, typical game-day food generally involves a meat pie (the more traditional option) or chips with tomato sauce, washed down with a beer. Be sure to engage in the great Australian tradition of cursing the fact your beer is only mid-strength while you drink it.
The teams will run onto the ground accompanied by their song and burst through their fan-decorated banners around 10-15 minutes before the match. This is definitely something you don’t want to miss, so make sure you’re at your seat by then.
Be sure to cheer loudly if your team’s captain wins the coin toss and then settle in for the match. There are four quarters which go for 20 minutes plus added time (usually around 5-10mins extra). At half time you’ll get a 20-minute break but be prepared for long queues if you plan on going to get food, drink or use the toilet.
After the game
Be sure to stick around to sing the song if your team won and then file out of the ground. If there was a big crowd at the MCG, you’ll often find a huge mass trying to get into Richmond or Jolimont station, so if the city is your destination, you’re probably better off walking. Otherwise you can always head back into Richmond and grab some food or a full-strength beer while the crowds die down.
Another option is the new AFL Women’s League. Featuring most of the same teams as the men’s competition, games usually start earlier in the year than the mens. AFLW games have free admission (as of 2020) and are played at smaller, more suburban grounds. Many of these grounds however (such as Punt Road Oval, Arden Street Oval or Ikon Park) are just a short tram/train ride from Melbourne’s CBD.
It will be a very different spectacle to the men’s game but still a unique cultural experience and a great option if you’re in town before the AFL has started.