But on the beautiful last Saturday of September in 2008, no less than 100,012 fans poured into the stadium, cheering on the Geelong Cats and Hawthorn Hawks.
That makes the AFL Grand Final the best visited domestic club championship event in the world.
After a season of dominance, the Geelong Cats were not strong enough to stop the underdog, my team!, the Hawthorn Hawks.
The Hawks won the game with 26 points difference to win the title of Australian Football League (AFL) premiership champions.
What a beautiful day it was!
AFL Grand Final: Small Beginnings
The concept of the AFL Grand Final has been a gradual evolution since its inception in 1897 as an experiment by the Victorian Football League (VFL). Competition was adopted using an approach common to the Football Association in England and to many other competitions, where the team on top of the table or ladder at the end of the season is declared the premier. However, to increase interest and keep the competition exciting until the very end the concept of finals footy was introduced.
The first years the finals were played by the top four teams. They would each play each other once, and the team who won the most matches was declared the winner. The VFL thought this would be a way to increase interest and attendance monies. Years later a new right of challenge was introduced, giving the team who finished on top at the end of the regular season the right to play in the final challenge match, which came to be called the Grand Final.
In its current form the top eight teams do a type of play offs in four weekends in September with the first four teams having an advantage. If they lose the first game, they are not fully out of the running yet. And if they win the first game, they immediately go through to the preliminary finals in weekend three.
AFL Grand Final: Locations
Before the move to the MCG, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the early finals were scattered among various Melbourne venues. The MCG was previously unavailable to football due to preparing for its dedicated cricket season, until the VFL convinced the MCG to open up its doors to the Grand Final. The proven success of the event has brought thousands of screaming fans to witness this true exhibition of raw athleticism.
The MCG is by far the biggest stadium in Melbourne and it is only right that the Grand Final is being held there. It draws 80,000 - 100,000 visitors. Some of the big play-off games in the earlier weekends in September also draw big crowds; I went to a Hawks game in 2007 which, if I remember well, had 95,000 visitors. Yep, Australian Rules Football is big in Melbourne, and the finals are the biggest.
AFL Grand Final: Of Religious Importance to Players...
Players can win eternal glory and fame by winning a premiership. Even only playing a Grand Final is a big thing for the players. In 2008 the St Kilda Great, Harvey, burst out in tears after losing the preliminary final and his last game ever, knowing that he missed out on a Grand Final. On the other hand Hawks legend Shane Crawford made it to the Grand Final after serving the Hawks for no less than 17 years. He was very emotional after both winning the preliminary final and then after winning the Grand Final, with tears welling up in his eyes during the television interviews.
The player deemed as the best a field during the Grand Final is awarded the Norm Smith Medal, after the great player of the 40s Norm Smith who also grew famous coaching the Melbourne Demons of the 50s and 60s.
... To Clubs...
With almost religious significance, the Grand Final is the biggest prize an AFL club can win.
The winning club is awarded the AFL premiership cup, a silver symbol of the champions previously referred to as The Flag. It is now the Holy Grail.
The winning club receives not only the prestige of their triumph, but also a cash prize totaling AUD$1 million, as well as each victorious player receiving the premiership medallion.
.... And to Fans....
Finals footy is very important to the Melburnians. It is of a different level, players go that extra mile due to the all-or-nothing nature of the games. It is definitely the time when the most exciting footy is played. Numerous are the Grand Final barbeques that are organised at work or with friends. One year I spent the Friday before the Grand Final first attending a Grand Final morning tea, then a Grand Final barbeque which was followed by Grand Final drinks! Hey, we Melburnians like any excuse for a party!
Your team getting to the finals earns you bragging rights, making it through each round afterwards give you additional weekly bragging rights, but when your team wins the Grand Final you earn bragging rights for at least a year!
On the Friday before the game you can go watch the Grand Final Parade in which the players are presented to the fans in a tour through Melbourne CBD.
It is truly a monumental event.
In Melbourne in September?
Then make sure you get a bit of finals footy action!