Sunshiney days have arrived, at least temporarily. For the last few days the sun has beamed down and the temperature has hovered in the low to mid twenties. After a long, cold, wet winter it is a blessing for all. Like a flower that turns and opens its face to the glowing sun so to have many Melburnians. It’s too good to waste.
It started for me Friday night. I wandered down the river and met with some friends at Riverland. We sat drinking beer and eating fresh cooked bratwurst in a roll. Down the river before us the rowers went one way and the other, a little ferry chugged by with the inhabitants waving to us, and cyclists whizzed by on the bike path below. There’s no better place to be in Melbourne on a sunny day but Riverland with a cold beer in your hand. As such it was full on Friday of corporate types chilling out after a busy week, and supporters of the two Melbourne soccer teams pausing on their way to the ground to watch the first local derby.
As it happens that was our destination also. At 7 we upped from our seats and walked the short distance from bar to AAMI stadium. There was a solid stream of people heading that way, mostly in the blue and white of Victory, but also a surprising number in the red and white of Heart. Inside the ground the mood was festive. It was near to a full house and the mood expectant, excited almost at the prospect of the first ever derby between the two teams. There was the buzz of conversation and the odd supporter crying out. At one end the mass of Victory supporters chanted their familiar slogans, their voices raising and falling in a pleasing cadence. At the other end the Heart supporters responded, though in a smaller way. Their chants are still new and yet to be refined, and less in number they are more willing than impressive. Still they waved their over-sized flags, as did the others. Overhead the blue sky darkened, the players took the field and the game began.
As it turns out the game matched the occasion. Somewhat against the odds it was the Heart who took the initiative and held it for most of the match. They scored first and silenced the chanting Victory fans. It was different to anything I had ever experienced before. AFL is too quick for anything beyond the playing arena to develop. The action races from one end of the ground to the other, the crowd roars spontaneously as a big mark is taken, or the big hit, and as the great goals get kicked. I remember when I was a kid watching Dennis Lillee bowl and the crowd slowly chanting his name. That was a great experience, but sitting amongst the crowd on Friday night was the nearest I’d ever experienced to that. So this is what it’s like in Europe I thought.
The Victory equalised before half time, and the Heart scored again after the break to take the lead. With 20 minutes to go they had a man sent off. Flares went off as the Heart desperately defended a man down. They managed, and end of the game saw the two groups of supporters mingle as they poured out of the ground and onto the road. There were a few comments here and there, but most was light-hearted, no sheep stations at risk here.
I had a couple more pints with Cheeseboy at the London before heading home. On the tram a Heart supporter spotting my membership came over and high fived me. It made me smile.
Saturday I went to the vet with Rigby, did my shopping, did a bunch of cooking. Saturday night I had guests over for dinner. Everyone applauded the food, though I was indifferent to all but the dessert. More importantly we all had a good time, the wine flowed, laughter ensued, and all went home happy.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. I felt tired and sore, but managed to make it to mums for a barbecue. We sat for most of the afternoon in the sun, eating and talking, drinking crisp white wine and French champagne. By the time I got home last night I felt washed out. I curled up on the couch as the sun set, and watched from distant Delhi the compelling events of the road race – yep, another gold to Oz.