It was free to visit the ‘G’, so I took the opportunity. It was at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the mighty MCG, then, now and forever Australia’s greatest sporting venue, that I became a sports tragic. The G has changed dramatically, but my feelings about it have not.
‘They’re eight down at lunch, love,’ said the lady at the folding table by the entrance, ‘so be quick.’
I’ve queued for tickets with nearly 100,000 others at the MCG, and was part of the record crowd that saw Australia v West Indies in 1960/61. There were no queues today.
A Sheffield Shield cricket match between Victoria and Tasmania was in its death throes.
At test matches commentators and spectators fill in time by estimating the size of the crowd – ‘Over 70,000 would you say, Jim?’
Today I could count the spectators. 58, with maybe a few more in the members’ bar.
A school class on an end-of-year excursion was getting a lecture from one of the Victorian coaching staff. A visiting Indian family was being led on a tour of the ground by a blazered older gentleman, who may have witnessed some of the highlights I count among my favourite sporting moments.
(1) In 1956 my father got the family Olympic Games tickets, to see Aussie milkman Dave Stephens run the 10,000 metres. Vladimir Kuts, the short Russian in red, ran lap after lap with the tall Englishman Gordon Pirie at his shoulder. The Flying Milko finished 20th.
(2) My grandfather took me to my first Sheffield Shield cricket match, to see Neil Harvey and Norman O’Neill put on a hundred for NSW against Victoria.
(3) At New Year, 1972, I watched Garfield Sobers smash 254 for a Rest of the World XI, an innings described by Sir Donald Bradman as the greatest he had ever seen. I read later that Dennis Lillee had annoyed Sobers in some way.
(4) I saw Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan called for throwing. He went on to become cricket’s greatest ever wicket-taker.
(5) In 2001 my brothers and I witnessed one of the greatest comebacks in Australian Rules Football history as our team, the Essendon Bombers came from twelve goals behind to snatch victory from the Kangaroos in the final quarter.
There was little excitement in today’s match.
When batsman Clint Mackay smashed a six into the Great Southern Stand, there were no spectators rising to try to catch it, then hold it triumphantly aloft for the TV cameras. There was no applause. The Tasmanian fieldsman had to climb the fence and go looking for the ball under the empty seats. The next over Mackay was caught on the boundary, Tassie won, and we all filed out. There was no queue of cars at the exit gate.
It left me plenty of time to wander around the perimeter of the ground.
Outside the MCG a series of statues by Louis Laumen celebrates the heroes. There have been plenty of them since the MCG was founded in 1853, but most of the sculptures honour more recent sporting luminaries.
On Boxing Day, December 26th 2011, Australia play India at the MCG. For some Australian cricket fans, it may be the last chance to see Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting. There should be at least 50,000 spectators. I’ll be one of them.