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Watching The AFL Grand Final In New York

Sitting in a pub with mates watching the footy

“I want to look beautiful for when I finally get to see The Martian.”

– A regular, elderly, female customer at Housing Works while shopping for a dress, who does come across as insane, but on this occasion was just going to see the Matt Damon film, I just didn’t realise at first.

Trying to explain Australian Rules Football, the Australian Football League, and especially the Australian institution that is the AFL Grand Final to people over here can be an uphill battle. “Oh, you mean ‘rugby’.” No. No, I don’t. The only way you can get it across is to compare the Grand Final to the Super Bowl; The Grand Final is the championship game of a completely unique sport that is really only played in our country, but we feel as if the entire world stops for it, however, in reality the rest of the world doesn’t really know it’s on and honestly doesn’t care. Still don’t understand? Let Wikipedia fill you in:

The AFL Grand Final is an annual Australian rules football match, traditionally held on the final Saturday in September or the first Saturday in October at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia to determine the Australian Football League (AFL) premiership champions for that year. The game has become significant to Australian culture, spawning a number of traditions and surrounding activities which have grown in popularity since the interstate expansion of the VFL in the 1980s and the subsequent creation of the national AFL competition in the 1990s. The 2006 Sweeney Sports Report concluded that the AFL Grand Final has become Australia’s most important sporting event, with the largest attendance, metropolitan television audience and overall interest of any annual Australian sporting event.
The winning team of the Grand Final receives the AFL Premiership Cup and the Premiership Flag, and all players in the team receive a gold Premiership Medallion.
Most clubs have played in at least one grand final, the exceptions being recent expansion clubs Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, and the short-lived University club. Adelaide is the only club to have never lost an AFL Grand Final which it has contested.

If you’re interested to know how to play the game, read this, but if you want to know a large part of the reason why we love watching it, then watch this throwback to the old days:

Anna just loves watching muscley guys running around in small shorts.

I’ve been living abroad for eight years now, but I’ve only ever missed watching one Grand Final, back when I was living in Daejeon, Korea, and my team, Geelong, set the Grand Final record for the largest margin of victory, defeating Port Adelaide by 119 points. Another occurrence of the “‘T’ Factor“? Perhaps, but at least that time the outcome was truly worth it. I’ve watched most Grand Finals since then either at home or at the pubs while living in Singapore, but this year we’d need to find a place showing it in New York. Anna has a colleague from Perth, I’ve got friends over from Australia, so we really wanted to watch this one, but there was a catch: Due to the time difference, this year’s match, Hawthorn vs. West Coast, would start at 12:30am, however, The Australian was screening it live, so that was the plan.

Hopefully this clears things up a little.

Hopefully this clears things up a little.

Friday, October 2, 2015
My day started off the same as every other day this week; I woke up, drank a cup of coffee while watching Maury and checking Facebook before I headed down to volunteer at the thrift store, and I just want to draw attention to this:
There had been yet another mass shooting on Thursday, the fifth with more than 5 fatalities, 10 on this particular occasion, and the 125th mass shooting in the three months we’ve been here! Go on, click that link, it’s insane! Facebook was full of articles about the shooting with endless comments from Americans arguing why they need guns to protect them from terrorists. Well, that logic makes no sense if you look at the graphic to the right. Instead of being worried each time a foreigner with a beard gets on a plane, they should be more concerned when a lone white guy goes into a school or a movie theatre.

Anyway, let’s lighten things up again, yesterday was wet and freezing due to hurricane Joaquin being on its way, but that didn’t keep the crazies out of the thrift store. In fact, I think they all went there to get out of the cold. There was the aforementioned woman who was going to see Matt Damon’s new movie, but needed my opinion on everything she looked at, a drunk man who got extremely angry with the person he was talking to for not showing him where the men’s shoes were, not realising he was standing in front of a mirror, and the guy who donated used dentist’s equipment. But the strangest part for me was the following exchange I had with one of the other volunteers when we were standing around chatting and she saw my wedding ring:

Volunteer: “So, who’s the lucky man?”
Me: “I am, we came here for my wife’s work”
Volunteer: “Oh, I just always assumed you were gay.”

I get gay guys hit on me a lot, I think most of the other guys at the store are gay, but very rarely do women look at me, admire my dirty old clothes and overall scruffy appearance and come to the conclusion that I’m gay. There’s a first time for everything, I guess.

Anna and her colleagues had their usual Friday afternoon drinks, but it was about 10°C (50°F) and pouring all day, so I took a train to meet them this time. We did the usual, had some beers and food, then Anna dropped a bomb on me that instantly made me feel ancient, “I think I’m going to need a nap before we go if the game starts at midnight.” And that’s what she did. Getting home would’ve been a lot more pleasant if she hadn’t given away her umbrella, though.

A friend that I used to play basketball with but hadn’t seen in almost 20 years, Ward Randall, was in town and had asked me to the Yankees vs. Red Sox game the previous night, because he had spare tickets. We couldn’t make it, but they wanted to come with us to watch the Grand Final because his girlfriend is a crazy Hawthorn fan. Anna’s colleague, Chandra, is a huge West Coast fan so he was coming, too. My other friend that’s in New York at the moment, Cristy, was too sick to make it, but the rest of us now had a plan in place: We were going to go home, Anna was going to take her nanna-nap, we’d go to the ramen joint around the corner, and then we would head down to The Australian at 10:30pm and the others would meet us there.

Inside The Australian

Inside The Australian

That plan came to fruition. We got to the bar, grabbed some beers and then the waiting began. In between the Aussie rock and pissed white chicks, Anna and myself chatted about how we felt like we had been transported back to Australia. Ward and his girlfriend eventually came and, although I had seen pictures of him over the years, I hadn’t seen him in person since he was about 15 and he has grown a bit since then. To help those who know me personally to visualise, Ward is now the same height as me, plus 50% extra bulk. It was freezing and wet outside, so they had the heat turned up inside The Australian. As more and more people entered, the room got hotter and hotter and Ward got sweatier and sweatier, forcing him to go take solace in the breeze near the front door. Maybe he was just trying to get away from the body odour of the guy in front of us.

Then it happened, that moment of every Grand Final day I dread, but bogans embrace; The song Holy Grail by Hunters and Collectors came on the TV, accompanying a slow-motion highlight reel of AFL Grand Final moments. Men threw their arms around each others shoulder, swayed, and sang and pissed chicks danced and flicked their hair. Finally, “Holy f____ing Grail” finished and the telecast was underway. The game was great, despite Bruce McAvaney‘s incoherent ramblings, dropping names at random, describing everything as “Special” and constantly referring to “September”, despite the fact that the game was being played in October this year.

A great night was had by all, I had a blast catching up with Ward, despite the fact that several people had a hard time seeing when we stood next to each other. Anna had a couple too many wines and there was no way she was going to last until the end, so we left at ¾-time, when it was clear that Hawthorn were going to win. Actually, that was clear the entire match and they did so for the third straight time, 107-61.

Tonight I’m catching up with Cristy one last time before she flies back to Australia and then heading out with Ward again next Saturday.

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2 Comments on Watching The AFL Grand Final In New York

  1. Is this place still open?

  2. As far as I’m aware, but I left NYC over a year ago

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