There could be no grander day for a parade of ute-borne footy godsSeptember 29, 2023
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Who could imagine a grander day for a grand final parade in Melbourne?
A late September sun beamed from a blue sky. Crowds in their tribal colours, Magpies and Lions, came early and built into a throng vaster, surely, than the 100,000 organisers had previously imagined. Small children kicked footballs in shaded parks, and their parents, taken by the mood of a Friday public holiday, joined in.
Josh and Nick Daicos soak up the atmosphere.Credit: Eddie Jim
If you got down low and peered from a certain angle, you could very nearly say the Yarra glittered.
Happily, the parade stayed off the actual river. No one wanted to remember the AFL’s dandy idea of last year to mount the players in boats and float them down the middle of the broad stream, a strategy that turned the stars into distant, almost unidentifiable waterborne miniatures.
On Friday, the chosen of Collingwood and the Brisbane Lions, and the other football heroes, were mounted on sturdy tradie utes, and they stuck to dry land.
It meant the great congregation — is it too much to speak of this assembly as that of worshippers? — was almost within touching distance of the ute-borne gods for the entire mobile ritual.
Collingwood fans lined the parade route.Credit: Eddie Jim
The Yarra was not entirely shunned. It flowed at the shoulders of the stars as they cruised along the first third of the parade, for this was a determinedly sporting precinct-proximate parade.
The old familiar pre-pandemic route through the city, every office window above crammed with rubberneckers, into Spring Street and downhill from the Treasury, has gone the way of lockdowns and the flotilla on the river.
This year the event began at Melbourne Park Oval, barely containing the multitudes crammed there, giant screens hung high to serve those who couldn’t see through the forest of bodies.
The utes, led by marching bands and a Magpie and a Lion teetering on stilts, cruised along the riverbank to Birrarung Marr, the park seething with the tribes there, too – the Lion-clad much outnumbered by the black and white of the hometown Magpies – before looping back across William Barak bridge to the welcoming arms of the Yarra Park precinct.
The captains get their hands on the cup.Credit: Eddie Jim
You could have chosen any spot along the route and have found yourself barely out of sight of the great temple that gave the parade its meaning, the colosseum we call the MCG.
But just as the motorcade was about to leave the bridge, preparing to enter the home stretch along Daniher’s Way, the procession suddenly halted.
The crowd alongside interrupted its cheering and stretched its collective neck to try to comprehend what was happening. The AFL premiership cup held aloft by former Sydney Swans captain Josh Kennedy in the lead ute caught the sun, almost blinding onlookers, and booing broke out. Surely no one would boo the sacred cup?
Of course not. A small group of climate action protesters had clambered into the path of the parade, causing a mass application of brakes.
Brayden Maynard proves he’s ready to rumble.Credit: Eddie Jim
“Get them out of there,” went up the cry, and security did just that. The protesters filed away, wearing T-shirts reading “you can’t play in 50 degrees” and “Climate breakdown has begun”.
“What position is climate playing?” called a wag, and the easy humour of the fine day was restored.
A strange chant went up as Collingwood’s Mason Cox floated by, his lanky frame sprawled alone in the tray of a ute. “USA, USA, USA,” fans cried, reminding us that this most Australian of games occasionally reaches across oceans to import its heroes.
Darcy Moore, Collingwood’s safest pair of hands on the backline, rode the final vehicle to motor alongside the MCG.
“Is that all?” a child inquired of his mother as she produced a tube of sunscreen, the crowd breaking its trance and streaming away across the park.
Not quite, the child’s mother might have said, but didn’t.
There’s still the showdown starting at 2.30 Saturday afternoon, when the gathering won’t be as polite and the combatants won’t have an easy ride on the back of a ute.
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