Sunday 7th April 2013.
As the boys walked onto the hallowed turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the MCG, the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun came out. 84,247 people stood up and cheered.
This was the Ajax Auskickers. A young group of 6-12 year olds who took to the ground at the half time break of the eagerly awaited Carlton v Collingwood round 2 match up.
My son, Max, was one of the lucky ones chosen to participate.
Auskick started as a national program in Australia to develop and promote participation in Australian rules football by children. It is now employed in many countries across the world as a strong vehicle for introducing young people to Australian Football. Auskick is known as Kiwikick in New Zealand, Footywild in the RSA and as Eurokick in Europe.
Standing outside the ground, waiting for the officials to take us inside I was more nervous than my boy. The MCG, or the G as it is affectionately known is the 10th largest stadium in the world. It is the most famous cricket ground in the world. It has hosted the Olympics in 1956, the 2006 Commonwealth Games and was the venue of some preliminary games for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It is known as one of the great sporting arena’s. It has been home to many famous sportspeople, celebrities, rock concerts and events. And now my son was about to play on the same ground! It was a huge moment.
The MCG Auskick co-ordinators told us that 3 adults could join the kids on the ground.
My heart stopped. Could I be standing on the MCG at one of the biggest games of the year in front of one of the biggest crowds? I needed to be picked. I had to be picked.
The Ajax co-ordinator looked around. I could see he was trying to work out who he would pick. I tried to look at him but not look at him. 20 years of school experience flooding back. I tried to appear not to care. Seem blasé . Nonchalant. I’m sure I could see other dads sticking their hands in the air and squealing like 5 year olds needing to go for a pee. But I stood my ground and continued the looking-but-not-looking game.
My heart was thumping. He picked 1 dad. Then another. He looked around. He was teasing me. Looking at me then away, at me then away. Come on you bas$%ard….pick me…pick me.
“Rob, you want to come on……”.
“yes” I said but nothing came out.
“yea ok” I said as innocuously as I could. A tear forming in my eye.
I coughed and rubbed my eye.
I looked at Max. Max looked at me. We high-5 ved each other with wide eyes.
It was going to happen.
We were taken inside and shown to our reserved seats at the edge of the ground.
The game started and 85,000 people went wild. This was one of the most anticipated AFL games of the season. The young coach and his old mentor facing off against each other for the first time.
At the 20min mark of the first quarter we were taken downstairs to the change rooms. Through the underbelly of the MCG to changing room number 4.
What a buzz. Not many get to do this.
The boys were given official Auskick shirts, shorts and socks, split into teams and told to change. The adults were given white jackets. White jackets! We were now goal umpires. Me – a goal umpire! It was getting better.
We took team photos, gushed like little girls and slapped each other’s back.
My role was to carry the 4 goal posts onto the MCG and place them in a specific location. Each adult was given a task with explicit instructions. The whole operation was timed to the minute.
With 5 minutes to go till half time we were ushered to the underground entrance of the ground – the tunnel. This is what it feels like to be a player waiting to run on. What a buzz. My heart was beating. We could hear the screams of the crowd. Max and his team mates were warming up and passing the ball around.
The siren went. It was game on!
I proudly walked onto the MCG, my head held high. My one job fixed in my mind. Place the goal posts in the correct position.
Ignoring the screams around the ground I placed the first 2 goal posts on the ground. I was about to place the 3rd when an official told me I had them the wrong way round. Panic. Flustered. 85,000 people laughing at me. Starting to sweat. I regrouped and with a little help we got it fixed up.
The game started.
We only had 18 minutes. But it was the best 18 minutes.
I was trying to film the whole thing while standing at the goal line with video camera at waist height. I made sure to soak it all in and looked around the stadium as 85,000 people looked back.
I’m not sure how many people can say they scored a goal on the MCG, but Max is one of them. He played great. Kicked one goal and 2 behinds and ran his little socks off.
I obviously had my eyes on my boy but the whole team played brilliantly. Everyone loved it. It was just a great day and a great experience for all involved.
We walked off the ground with smiles from ear to ear. Back to the changing rooms for a de-brief.
As the adrenalin subsides Max tells me his ankle hurts. Turns out when he took his first mark he landed on his ankle and badly sprained it. But like anyone who plays on the MCG he battled through it and played out the rest of the game.
So as the rest of the team left the changing rooms we had St Johns Ambulance wheelchair Max up to the first aid rooms.
30 mins later we were on our way home.
One bandaged ankle. One smiling boy. One proud dad.