Despite the best efforts of various people (brothers, ex-boyfriends, and Miss Roberts in Year 9) I am more or less sport illiterate. I am also hungover and hot. It is a beautiful hazy Sunday in Melbourne and in the name of culture I am heading to the MCG to watch a game of footy. In my pocket is a soggy beer mat covered with sketches of positions and explanations of play. Words like ‘specky’, ‘sheppard’, and ‘no previous opportunity’ float vaguely around my skull.

The crowd trickles into the ‘G; little girls and old men all clutching their colours, eyes shining.

People are delighted that this is my first game, they keep nodding at me encouragingly and clapping me on the back. They seem almost anxious that I will love it like they do.

Inside and seated I look around. The ‘G is enormous. The whole of Melbourne must be here. The crowd fizzes with anticipation and I am slowly infected. The claxon goes. The stadium swells and diminishes as hopes are raised and dashed. The game is fast and fickle. Players crunch into each other with thuds that reach me all the way up here. Fights break out among the defenders but the game is uninterrupted, nothing will halt the pace. 

“Ball!” the crowd roars, rising to its feet, and I am with them, “Ball! Baaall!” I make a mental note to ask, at a more appropriate time, what ‘Ball!’ means.

I am going for the Demons. Apparently they haven’t won a game in the last 400 seasons and Ds fans, though loyal and brave, are slightly tired of losing. 

“Aw kick the bloody ball!” comes a yell from behind. “This coach is a dickhead!” I glance around to see who is shouting. There is a silver-haired lady. She is wearing pearls and a pastel cashmere twin set, draped with her team scarf. She is on her feet, hands cupped to mouth, sleek grey bob swinging passionately. I am as shocked as if it were my own granny standing there.

The points rack up, the crowd groans and explodes in turn. The score is close and the ‘G seems to have been designed to retain every drop of excitement ever shed in the name of sport. Not a breath can escape to the sky.

At half time my companions disappear, only to re-emerge with beers and pies. I am essentially a vegetarian but tradition is tradition and the footy is no place to be a pansy. And then it happens. I am introduced to the ketchup sachets. They are delightful, simple, logical. Why have I never seen this before? Why has this not been exported back to the UK?

I sit for a while in stunned silence as the crowd rages around me. The lovely simplicity of it all; beer and pies; a sport that unites across age, gender and class; architecture that incites joy and squeezes passions; and excellent tommy k sachets. 

Perhaps when it comes to culture, us old worldians have quite a lot to learn after all.The D’s win. They make a lap of honour and we rise with swollen hearts to bellow the team song. I catch something about the red and the blue for me and for you… it doesn’t matter, I throw myself tunelessly into the racket.

I am pretty sure that by the time I get to bed tonight, by the time we have finished celebrating, the game will have been thoroughly analysed, ‘baaall!’ explained and I will know every word of the Demons’ song.