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Finding home in Melbourne: My first AFL experience

Confusion. Then celebration. Because this was a welcoming environment free of judgment, writes JAINARAYAN TIWARI

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

If you’re coming to Australia for the first time, be prepared to be shocked by specific sporting facts – some of which might disappoint you if you’re a cricket fan.

Growing up in India, I believed – like many others around me – that Australians are very much into cricket. They have, after all, won 10 major ICC trophies, which is the most by any team.

Very early after my arrival in Melbourne in July 2023, I noticed one day that people were heading into the Melbourne Cricket Ground in large numbers. As a cricket fan, I wondered: is a cricket match on today? How come I did not know?

I asked a group of people, is there a cricket game on at the MCG? A guy wearing a red scarf with ‘Demons’ written on it said, “Mate, we are heading for the footy, not cricket.”

I pretended I knew what ‘footy’ was, and said, “Hope you have a good time.”

Soon I learned that the most prominent sport people follow in Australia, especially in Victoria, is Australian Football League or AFL.

My first AFL experience was on TV: the 2023 finals between Collingwood and Brisbane Lions.

Why call it ‘football’, I wondered, if players can use their hands?

(Source: X/MCG)

I began reading the rules and regulations of this game, and told my dad on the phone once that the MCG is actually more famous for footy than it is for cricket.

Coming from India, settling into Melbourne can be arduous; I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone. Sport has been a major part of my own life, and I was lucky it offered me a great way to connect.

I’ve learned now that in Victoria, people can eat, share, and breathe footy.

I got to see my first game at the MCG recently, or ‘the G’ as they call it here. An Indian friend asked if I’d like to go for a Melbourne vs Geelong game; I said yes immediately. Who wouldn’t want to watch Max Gawn?

Max Gawn with 2021 AFL cup (Source: X/@melbournefans)

The energy was significantly different to the last time I was at the G, Boxing Day test match. At the footy, you can feel the hunger of the crowd.

The rivalry between the Demons and the Cats is terrific. Until last year, I had only heard about it. But this year, I witnessed it first-hand. My first AFL experience

The team colours turned the crowd into a sea of red, blue, and white. Luckily I was wearing a red hoodie, and my friend, who had already been for a few games, wore a Demons scarf.

I was witnessing a beacon of Australian sports culture.

(Source: X/MCG)

My first AFL experience

It was Melbourne’s home game, and their people vibed with the theme song, It’s a Grand Old Flag It’s a High Flying Flag. I was surprised to see my Indian friend join in!

Everyone in the stadium held a frothy glass of beer in their hand, and cheered for the Demons. Some fans came from Geelong to support the Cats.

The feeling was surreal when the ball was tossed in the air and the game started.

The sight for a first-timer was absolutely invigorating, because people were so emotional. The unknown crowd made me feel like I was their own, and I forgot that this was my first game. People next to me were explaining the nuances, their only demand being to cheer whenever Melbourne scored.

A few Geelong supporters were sitting behind me, and when their team scored, they showed the same enthusiasm as the Melbourne fans.

Since it was my first game, I asked my friend to take a picture so I could share it with my family back in India.

My first AFL experience
Jai Tiwari is an AFL convert (Source: Supplied)

Out of nowhere, a Melbourne fan enthusiastically jumped into the frame and photobombed us. The gentleman then shook my hand warmly and laughed, instantly striking up a friendly conversation.

As we chatted about the game, I felt as if I had known this sport for ages. His eyes widened when I revealed this was my first game. This spontaneous and heartfelt interaction made me feel genuinely welcomed, and underscored the incredible sense of community and passion that defines AFL fandom.

Melbourne won the game. Bayley Fritsch booted the final goal in the fourth quarter. As soon as the full-time whistle was blown, the crowd was on their feet, dancing like no one was watching. My friend, a Melbourne supporter, was well prepared and sang Melbourne FC’s anthem.

When I heard my Indian friend, a keen cricket follower like me, I knew he was a Melbournian at heart. My first AFL experience

Since then, I’ve embraced footy, realising that sports make unbreakable bonds, connect people effortlessly, and create a welcoming environment free of judgment in Australia.

The one vital rule for a first-time watcher is that if you don’t have a team to support, other fans will help you select your team, which you must make a pact to support as long as you live!

My AFL experience made me forget that I am miles from home; even with complete strangers around me, I became a part of the crowd.

Read more: Indians for AFL

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