When I arrived in Australia in August 2007, the first question everyone asked me was: "Who do you support?"
Being a World Cup year, my reply was always the same: The Boks! I was usually given the evil eye and I just assumed it was because I hadn't picked the Wallabies. It soon became apparent I had no idea what they were on about.
I'd seen a few footy games on TV and on the big screen down at the pub in London, but the game held no attraction for me. That was until I went to a live game! A total of 90,000 people watching two club teams chase a leather ball around an oval. Now that's atmosphere! I was soon hooked and began to spend weekends at the stadium with friends and family. At $20 a ticket, you can't really go wrong. In fact, most weekends I was going for free, thanks to unused season tickets or freebies.
By the end of my first season, I was a Bombers fan. Not that I had much choice: My Australian wife and my mother-in-law are Essendon supporters. The end of the season meant free weekends and football free newspaper pages. But it wasn't too long before it all started again in February.
By the second year I had learned some of the rules, the names of some of the players and the best way to eat a Four'N Twenty pie! My team played a disappointing season again, but thanks to a new coach they did perform a little better than the previous year. I went to more games including my first ever at Etihad Stadium. And to top off the perfect year, I was given tickets to the grand final between Geelong's Cats and the Hawthorn Hawks. What a day!
The MCG was packed to capacity with 100,012 spectators. We watched the pre-game entertainment and the passing parade of retiring players and medal winners. We saw a Qantas Boeing do a fly-by and we listened to Jet play a few songs.
And then the teams ran out and we heard the roar of the crowd! The atmosphere was spine-tingling to say the least. We didn't support either team, but this made the game even more enjoyable. The dry, sunny conditions allowed for a fast-paced, running game. By the end, the players were exhausted, the fans were hoarse and Hawthorn had won the game by 26 points. It was a day that I will never forget.
So, here's some advice for all you rugby fans out there who refuse to watch AFL: Don't watch it on TV. Get out and see a live game. You'll be amazed at how much better it is. Oh, and "Go Bombers!"
Note: The Four'N Twenty pie was first baked in 1947 by LT McClure in the Victorian town of Bendigo. At the Royal Melbourne Show the following year the Four'N Twenty pie became a hit and so began its long journey to success. The factory where the pies are produced is in Kensington in Melbourne and is claimed to be one of the largest pie factory plants in the world capable of producing more than 50,000 pies per hour. It is considered a tradition to consume a Four'N Twenty Meat Pie at an Aussie Rules Football match.