Why is Football so big in Melbourne?

Posted on 22 March, 2021

For many, Melbourne is considered the sporting capital of the world; where thousands flock to a range of events across the calendar year. 

In 2018, Melbourne was voted as Asia’s best Sports Tourism Destination, whilst the city was also named as the sports city of the decade in 2016.

After a lockdown interrupted 2020, which crippled Melbourne’s sporting offerings, crowds have started to return, with spectators present at a range of sports over the summer months. Yet despite the vast array of summer sports available, it’s the winter months which captivate the Southern sporting metropolis the most. The AFL is back, and excitement is building.

What is the AFL?

The AFL the highest level of Australian rules football, a unique game designed in the late 1850s to help keep cricketers fit during the winter months.

Whilst Tom Wills is often credited as the founder of the game, Australian rules football also has Indigenous roots, with many arguing it was inspired by the Indigenous game of Marngrook.

Unlike most football codes, the game is played on an oval, with each team fielding 18 players. Players kick the ball, with the aim of scoring a goal, worth six points, whilst a miss to either side of the goal yields one point.

Ten of the AFL’s 18 teams are from Victoria, meaning that the AFL is a major drawcard in Melbourne.

Limited crowds have returned to summer sports in Melbourne

What Happened Last Season?

The 2020 AFL season was significantly impacted by COVID-19, and the resulting restrictions. The season started without crowds, before being postponed after one round.

In light of the challenges, the season was shorter than usual, and required all ten Victorian teams to relocate interstate, as Victoria grappled with a second wave of the coronavirus. As crowds began to return in Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide, Melbournians remained locked down, and confined to watching their team from the comfort of the lounge room.

The Grand Final, which is typically held at the 100,000 capacity MCG, was relocated to the GABBA in Brisbane, with Richmond and Geelong, two Victorian teams, competing in the season’s decider. Richmond ultimately prevailed by 31 points.

The importance of Football in Melbourne

A 2005 study, conducted by Monash University’s Chris Baker, pondered the significance of sport and popular culture in contemporary Australia. Why does sport form such a key pillar of national identity?

Whilst Baker acknowledged that Australia’s mild climate may contribute to its sporting obsession, he posed that it held a deeper cultural value, as a mechanism to reveal Australian character. Such is the importance of Australia’s sporting culture, the AFL has organised games in China, in an effort to utilise the game as a vehicle to export Australian culture.

A sellout crowd watches on during the 2019 Grand Final

The cultural significance of sport is amplified in Melbourne’s connection with Australian rules football. The game began in Victoria, and incorporates both Indigenous and colonial Australia. Australian football is deeply entwined into Melbourne culture. From a passing interest, to a long held fanaticism, most people have a team. In many respects, it’s a mark of being a Melbournian. In a diverse city, with a vast array of cultural backgrounds, sport provides a common passion.

AFL and Indonesia

There are three Australian rules football teams in Indonesia; the Bali Geckos, Indonesia Garudas, and the Jakarta Bintangs. 

In Melbourne, AIYA Victoria members play local football for the Krakatoas, a club set up to bring together the Australian-Indonesian community in Melbourne.