From the MCG to Soldier Field
It is precisely 3:20pm on Monday April 5, at the colosseum that is the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The “MCG”, or the “‘G”, as it is passionately known by Melburnians, and indeed Australians across the country, is packed with 50,030 passionate Hawthorn Hawks and Geelong Cats fans for the annual tradition of the “Easter Monday clash”.
The MCG is the birthplace of Australian Rules Football, an iconic stadium that boasts an impressive list of world-class sporting events including; the 1956 Summer Olympic Games, the 2006 Commonwealth Games, countless Australian Cricket Boxing Day Tests and over one hundred VFL/AFL Grand Finals. The MCG proudly ranks in at number one for the highest-attended stadium for an annual championship event; the AFL Grand Final.
The MCG is situated to the east of the Melbourne CBD, and stands as the center-piece of the Melbourne sports precinct. Melbourne Park, the home of the Australian Tennis Open is just a deep pass over the trainline from the MCG.
Iconic and historical moments including; Shane Warne’s 700th Test wicket in 2006, visits from Liverpool Football Club, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and even the Pope. The occupation of the arena by the US Army Air Forces, the US Marine Corps and the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II demonstrates the MCG’s ability to adapt and accommodate many different needs.
One AFL Grand Final however, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons and this took place in 2011. The one and only Meat Loaf took center stage for a confusing, and rather forgettable pre-game entertainment performance.
It doesn’t make for enjoyable listening; don’t say you weren’t warned.
At full capacity, the MCG can host over 110,000 fans, however with COVID-19 restrictions, today’s maximum patronage is set to 70,000 spectators.
The two sides squaring off today; Hawthorn and Geelong have enjoyed a storied rivalry going back over 30 years. One that could be best compared to that of the Bears and the Packers.
Their rivalry has been brutal. Tales of lost teeth, a split kidney, broken ribs, a punctured lung…. and a ruptured testicle.
And that was just the 1989 season.
Rivalry aside, it is well-worth checking our retired Hawthorn legend Cyril Rioli’s highlights package. Viewing that could only be compared to that of Tarik Cohen.
The siren sounds and the umpire slams the ball into the “hallowed turf” to commence proceedings. The two combatants muscle for position and contest “the ruck”; in a similar duel to that of a Basketball tip off.
This is what most fans in attendance today have waited almost 18 months for. Footy at the MCG. In the flesh, up close and personal, and in all its live glory.
The man with the beautiful left leg, the smooth-moving Chad Wingard slots a 50 meter (about 55 yards) bomb to give Hawthorn their first opportunity for points on the board. A booming punt kick that would make Pat O’Donnell thump his chest and nod his head with respect and approval. The Hawthorn crowd goes up in response and a sea of brown and gold are all celebrating in unison.
It’s high-fives to each of my two sons and one to the complete stranger sitting next to me for good measure. The people all around me are celebrating. The previous 12 months of rolling lock-downs, mass unemployment, illness and loss of life all escape our minds for one blissful minute.
Perhaps the only person around me not celebrating is my beautiful wife. You see, she’s a Geelong supporter and whilst it has made for some friendly banter over the years, our marriage remains as strong as ever. She smiles in support and perhaps knowingly, as she knows all too well that Hawthorn is in the middle of a rebuild. The Cats, coming off a Grand Final loss the year prior are the hot favorites, so a win for the Hawks today is likely to be remote at best.
Irrespective of the outcome, it’s just awesome to be out enjoying live sport with the family and 50,026 other fans. Friend or foe, it has been a tough year for everyone.
Hawthorn call themselves “the family club” and it feels great to be back home again.
In September, it will be Chicago’s turn for a homecoming of their own. For most, it will be more than 620 days since their last attendance at a Bears home game. The opportunity to finally return once again to Soldier Field to enjoy live Football, reconnect with old friends and escape the daily grind for three hours.
For those of us unable to be there, we will be cheering on the Bears from the comfort of our living rooms. For some living abroad, they will no doubt be awake at some ungodly hour but wishing they were there alongside their fellow Bear brothers and sisters.
It will be a special day for the people of Chicago, and after the devastation caused by COVID-19 over the past 12+ months, it will be a special treat for the Bears faithful that will be both much deserved and well overdue.
The pilgrimage to Soldier Field to join 61,500 of our “Bear mates” is one that my family and I will make in good time. A question of when, not if.
Until then, I will be shouting from the other side of the world, a touch over 9,650 miles away. It sounds a great distance but it really isn’t. Because here’s the thing; I have already made life-long friends and we speak regularly. In the short time that I have made these connections, we have already shared some amazing highs and some crushing lows. Both as Bears fans but also in our daily lives.
No doubt, when we do meet with our “mates” and extended “Bear family”, there will be many cheers, beers and maybe even some tears.
It has been a hell of a ride being a Bears fan so far. You could even say life-changing. It has opened doors I would never have thought of stepping into and I have created friendships that will last a lifetime.
The Hawthorn Football Club has a phrase for it’s newly-inducted players and staff, and that is; “embrace Hawthorn, and Hawthorn will embrace you”.
Perhaps a similar statement that can be so easily applied to Bears fans around the world is “love Chicago, and Chicago will love you”.