One of my grips about Melbourne is the lack of sporting culture. I know, I know. Melburnians like to call their city the sporting capital of the world. (And some seem to agree with them.) Sure, there are plenty of teams and sports venues to go around. And Melbourne hosts its fair share of world class sporting events. But what I’m talking about is a city-wide pride for one team.
None of these divisions between Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory fans in soccer (albeit, a lopsided division). Or Carlton versus Essendon in Aussie Rules Football. Or Carlton versus Collingwood. Where the entire city rallies together and collectively celebrates when their team succeeds. (We the North! Go Jays Go!) That unifying celebration of sport intertwined with pride for your city. In Melbourne, sports are most likely to divide rather than unify. There’s just too many teams to go around.
And where are the sports bars? I miss a good old fashioned bar that you go to with friends to share a plate of nachos (vegetarian, please), grab some drinks and cheer on your team — which also happens to be the same team as everyone else at the bar. Perhaps I just haven’t found them yet.
So the Australian Open (AO) Festival at Birrarung Marr was a welcome reprieve to this communal sporting drought. Located on the hills next to the Yarra River, the AO Festival offered a variety of food trucks, drinks and two large screens to watch the tennis. My significant other and I went on a Saturday evening to watch Serena Williams take on her sister, Venus, for the women’s finals. We went early, grabbed some burgers, fries and wine and picked a prime spot on the lawn to watch the match. As it became closer to game time, there was hardly a spare patch of grass to be found.
Food, drinks, crowds and screens — it had all the necessary ingredients for an outdoor sports bar. And it didn’t disappoint. I like to support the underdog, so I was cheering for Venus; however, the crowd heavily favoured Serena, making her seem like the hometown hero. They cheered and clapped her on just as people in Toronto would watching a Blue Jays game at Real Sports Bar.
Maybe it was the ability to finally watch a major sporting event during the evening (it feels somewhat perverse spending a morning or afternoon watching sport instead of being productive, though that is when North American sports air in Melbourne due to the time difference). Maybe it was being in a space where a large number of people were able to collectively experience and react to the same game. Or maybe it was the amazing views of the city behind the large screens. Because even though my pick lost, the AO Festival made for a winning night.