Last night I went to the centre of the world's third (some say second) largest Greek speaking city to the arena where 95,000 people gathered to watch Greece, the European Football Champions, take on the Australian 'Socceroos' in a pre-cup 'friendly'. Thousands more gathered in the city to watch the game on big screens. I volunteered to help out on the Salvo Face-Painting team as a bit of a personal warm-up for the World Cup. The crowd, as happens on these occassions, was happy and determined to enjoy themselves at a big Footballing event. These things happen only rarely here, about once every four years, as Australia tries to qualify for the World Cup, and mostly fail. It's been 32 years since the last time the Socceroos featured in the Tournament, (and most of those qualifiers have been torment - so close, but no..)
Anyhoo, I got to do a spot of face-painting, and it was pretty good. I got there a bit late because I had to come from work, but for the first hour I painted mostly the blue and white of Greece, or most popularly, a Greek flag on one cheek, and the Australian on the other. Many people with divided loyalties, but then Greek Australians are a large part of what make Melbourne the Multicultural city that it is. It wasn't until the last 30 minutes that I finally started to get more Australians to paint.
It's the first time I've been to the MCG since they've completed the new stand. They got it finished in time for the Commonwealth games. And it's a huge place. 95,000 is a sell out, although I think the ground can actually hold just on 100,000. We were set up outside Gate One, the new Ponsford stand. After we packed up and the game had safely started, I was able, with the help of a Restricted Access pass, to enter the actual stands, and, well, stand! It didn't entitle me to a seat at all, but I got to soak up some atmosphere, and I was there when Josip Skoko scored. Yay! Australia one nil. Had to leave shortly after that, but I saw the goal!
In the heart of the city, Federation square was packed, and Greek flags and Greek Australian accents were heard everywhere. I spent half an hour there, until my train was due to take me home. One thing you can say about Melbourne and Melbournites, they love an event and will come out in droves for it! It's not every day that the local team gets sent of to the biggest competition in international team sports, and we meant to celebrate.
In a couple of weeks I will see first hand how this happens in another country. I've seen big crowds here at Commonwealth games, Rugby World Cup, and now soccer, and know Australians are generally well behaved and friendly at such events. How will the crowd dynamic be different? I'm not a sociologist, I never sought to be one, but one might be interested...
And now some Scores. Australia won, Greece, nil. And last week at the Fusion retreat we played our own soccer friendly. We divided into two teams (that seems to work best for Soccer), and imaginatively named them One, and Two. I was at one with the twos. The result of that game, the Ones Won, with the scoreline reading One 2, Two 1.