For a mere $30, the Melbourne Cricket Ground/National Sports Museum is a must for any visitor to Melbourne. Sure you could go with the clichés and say that it's a must for any sports mad (male) (me) but I'm sure there's enough here for everyone, regardless of age or sex, as is shown by the demographic of my fellow tour goers for the day. The friendly and entertaining staff do an amazing job of showing you around the mighty G' and filling you in on the day to day workings of the impressive icon.
Our guide for the day, Jill, leads us from oval side beside the interchange benches right through the bowels of the stadium, up onto the fourth tier and into the exclusive old world charm of the members only 'Long Room'.
From our start off point at oval side we continued on to the booth cricket Australia use on match days. I could wax lyrical about retracing the very steps of Clarkey, Pointing and Co. walked that time they hit a 100 against the West Indies but I haven't a clue what I'm talking about, Cricket just isn't my game. We were also shown around the change rooms, were you get to see the various ice baths, physio tables, warm up areas that make up the modern game. It was interesting to see the room where the footy/cricket coach briefs players before, during and after a game; I'm pretty sure that room has seen some colourful language down through the years.
Past another couple of doors we were shown into the press conference room, Jill asked if anyone wanted a picture behind the desk I regret not putting up my hand (as the little boy inside me was practically screaming). I was the youngest of my tour group, a group who merely shrugged and smiled at the suggestion. My mind wandered to what it must feel like to be a coach receiving a grilling from a bunch of 'scribblers'.
For me the Ron Casey media area was fascinating, just to see where the collective media outlets ascend on match day. Upon reaching the fourth tier of this impressive modern day coliseum we were shown outside to an amazing view of Melbourne in the near distance along with the impressive sports precinct (AAMI Park, the Rod Laver arena etc.).
Throughout the tour we were informed we were skipping between both the general public and member's areas; you do tend to start to notice the stark differences. The member's only Long room is the definition refined class, an area full of ornate wooden hallways, plush decor and towering glass cabinets of memorabilia. Along with a strict dress code you get some splendid views of the arena. Jill informs us there is quite a waiting list for the member's area along with an equally weighty price tag. It's nice to see how the other half must enjoy a game of footy versus us commoners (honestly no sour grapes on my part).
Jill's friendly and approachable manner was refreshing, engaging each person of our group equally. She finished up by telling that on grand final day upwards of 2,000 extra staff are needed to keep the masses in food and drink. A quite baffling statistic bearing in mind the already considerable amount of full-time staff the G' employs. We finish the tour in roughly an hour and a quarter (I could have easily spent half the day on it), upon finishing, you can either leave it at that or do as I and a few others did and go onto the next part - the self guided tour of the National Sports Museum.
The equally friendly and approachable staff of the NSM greet you as you enter and give you a brief run-down of all that is on offer, before letting you explore at your will. You're given a headset and keypad which explains in greater detail whatever particular exhibit you are looking at. You punch in the number beside the story and the narrator does the rest. The museum covers every facet of Australian sports from there very origins up to the modern day. Soccer, Olympics, Rugby Union, Rugby League, Athletics, Motor Sport, you name it is all on display.
The two biggest areas of the museum cover the two biggest Australian sports (in Melbourne/Victoria anyway) AFL and Cricket. I found the AFL section fascinating, as every possible stat and memory is at your fingertips. Player and club profiles, extensive videos of past glories and greats, if you ever had a burning question about Australian football, I'm pretty such this place would answer your question. At the back of the footy exhibit is an interactive area were small (& big) kids can enjoy themselves. You can try your luck kicking a goal, bowling out a wicket (I've no idea), taking an interactive penalty (soccer), or have a go at some netball or archery.
For a person who doesn't appreciate the game of cricket (mainly due to my Irishness) I was in awe of the extensive and exhaustive cricket section. I have no doubt it is a cricket fan's wet dream; every notable Australian player and team is described and documented, the history of the baggy green cap (Australian cap for every international cricket match you represent Australia in), the history of today's international teams etc. However the highlight for me was the interactive/hologram exhibit of one of Australia's most famous cricketers/sportsmen - Shane Warne.
Warney himself (or at least a hologram of the great man) runs through his history of playing and representing his country and his personal love and memories of the MCG. Hats off to whoever created this masterpiece, I marvelled at the real life jacket that swings in the breeze as he walks past it, the locker door that springs open as the hologram approaches it and removes a bat; at the TV that flickered on when hologram Warney flicked the control. You become engrossed in the story as he talks us through the action on screen. About how he went from just being one of the lads swilling beer and eating pies at the G' to captaining his country to a famous world cup. There is an equally impressive interactive hologram display of current embattled Bombers coach James Hird talking about his footy memories but I only managed to catch the end that presentation.
At the back of the museum lies the MCG museum, which again in exhaustive detail outlines the rich history of the ground and its founding members and club (the Melbourne cricket club). This area tends to deal more with the cricket past of the ground. Fascinating stories meet you every foot or so, I was intrigued by the history of the ashes series held between England & Australia annually since the 1800s. About how the whole concept of the 'ashes' started off as a mocking obituary posted in several English newspapers of the time lamenting the death of the game as England lost for the first time to the Aussies, to the grand spectacle it is today.
I arrived at the MCG at ten O' Clock that morning and left at two in the afternoon, I left with the feeling I hadn't seen it all. As I stepped outside to a glorious Melbourne autumnal afternoon I paused and gazed back at the behemoth bathed in soft sunshine. A historic and living monument to not only the sporting prowess and proud history of this town but also of its people. An enjoyable and relatively cheap afternoon/day for all the family; it does help if you're a bit sporty though.