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The lyrics to the chorus of this classic song by The Rolling Stones were reverberating through my head as I sat down to write aboard a Qantas flight bound for Auckland. I had spent the past four days in Melbourne, attending the Australian Game Development Conference. This was the first time I had visited any Australian city for longer than a stopover period, and I felt it prudent to explore the home of so many of my transtasman cousins. In all, my time in the Victorian city left me with many positive experiences, and a desire to return at some time in the future.
A visit to the home of the Melbourne Storm, however, left a sour aftertaste in my mouth.
Melbourne has a plethora of stadia. The sports mad city is home to the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground, as well as the Telstra Dome, the Rod Laver Arena, the Melbourne Sports And Entertainment Centre, and the Vodafone Arena, not to mention the many training grounds that accompany many of these facilities. But when I initially entered Olympic Park, I thought I was in the wrong place, simply because of the size and state of the stands.
Looking back in hindsight as an air stewardess assisted a nearby passenger with his carry-on luggage, what I had failed to remember was that Victoria is well and truly AFL country. Rugby league is a minority sport. I didn't manage to generate a single comment by wearing a New Zealand Warriors jersey during my brief stay. I doubt many people even recognised my article of clothing for what it was. The Telstra Dome had a giant AFL sign above the entrance. Olympic Park had a Melbourne Victory logo, representing the local A-League soccer team. There wasn't a Melbourne Storm sign in sight, unless one happened to notice a small two storey building behind a nearby Aussie rules practice ground.
Okay, so Olympic Park was less impressive than my expectations had allowed me to believe. But where am I going with this? I suppose I was provoked to comment on an NRL fan base less fortunate than my own. Back in New Zealand, many rugby league fans such as myself complain that we are in the minority - that in light of the All Blacks and their world dominating achievements, the Kiwis and the Warriors don't receive enough recognition, particularly in the media. And yet in contrast, many of the locals I spoke to in Melbourne were unable to follow my train of thought as soon as I started mentioning NRL teams, such as the Roosters, Bulldogs, and Rabbitohs.
In essence, this was a case of counting one's blessings and opening a second eye before complaining into the microphone.
With the airline captain introducing himself over the intercom system and me relaxing into my seat, I pondered my own bias towards the subject of Melbourne's minority sport. My home city of Auckland has a long history with rugby league, and, although the City of Sails is considered a rugby union stronghold, rugby league fans and parents still turn out in their hundreds each Saturday morning to watch their children attempting to emulate their rugby league heroes. And the home ground of the Vodafone Warriors, Ericsson Stadium, has just completed an upgrade, with the Eastern Stand now capable of seating many more people and with protective roofing and new training facilities. With that as my background and usual surroundings, it is hardly surprising that Olympic Park's comparatively smaller and less sophisticated stadium caught me somewhat offguard.
Such an experience has enabled me to observe the situation of rugby league in my own life and city with a warmer gaze. It isn?t the ignored sport we have claimed it to be ? well, not as ignored as it is in Victoria. And that must be a good thing. With the captain speaking up again and requesting each passenger to turn off our electronic devices, I realised that it's times like these that allow us to remember how fortunate we are before jumping onto our own soap box. With my PDA about to be turned off and the aircraft beginning its journey down the runway, those lyrics continued to circulate through my mind...
You can't always get what you want, You can't always get what you want, You can't always get what you want, But if you try sometimes well you just might find, You get what you need!