Game on: Journalist Nick McAvaney is bowled over by Melbourne’s sport scene

UK-based journalist Nick McAvaney re-discovers his home city of Melbourne and is bowled over by its incredible sporting heritage…

Melbourne is synonymous with sport, there’s little doubt, and I love sport. But while I’ve spent many days shivering in the rain at the MCG, or baking in the sun at the tennis, it occurred to me while I was planning for my first trip home in some time, that I’m not as familiar with Melbourne’s sporting heritage as I should be.

It was time to address that secret shame.

Melbourne Cup: Gates at Flemington

I live in London now and tune in to the Melbourne Cup every year on the internet, but even when I was at home I never went to Flemington. Thankfully I ticked that off with our first stop on my day trip with Melbourne Sports Tours.

“It’s all crown land, free for the public to access all year round,” our guide explains, much to my embarrassment for never making the effort to see it before.

It is remarkably accessible to the public, which is the appeal of Flemington, aside from the racing of course. Built five years after Melbourne was founded, punters are free to wander through the stables and to the edge of the grass down which the horses thunder on race days throughout the spring and autumn.

They even have a better view of the finish line, if you arrive early enough, than the members, whose stand is situated off-centre to the post.

After a few snaps and brisk walk through the betting yard, we’re back in the bus and driving through Parkville and the former Commonwealth Games village from 2006. Our guide points out the National Hockey and Netball Centre, the Royal Park Golf Club, Princess Park and even the Melbourne Museum’s links to sport, where Phar Lap’s remains now reside.

Melbourne Cricket Ground

Melbourne Cricket Ground

As each stadium passes, we’re told the capacity, perhaps in an attempt to wow the English travellers joining me on the tour, but there’s no need to quote any figures at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) (100,000), with its behemoth size enough to bowl over – pardon the pun – the visitors.

Having spent numerous afternoons in the stadium in my younger years, I was less taken aback, but  I did enjoy learning the intricacies of the stadium as we were shown around, such as the three jail cells for unruly spectators, the single toilet with a window above the urinal to ensure an uninterrupted view of every ball during an Ashes Test, and the fact the lights used to help grow the turf are controlled from Holland.

What does blow me away, is the National Sports Museum in the bowels of the stadium. Rebuilt in 2008, it is furiously parochial, with a leaning towards Australian Rules Football, but my fellow tourists from England didn’t seem to mind.

Sports Precinct Melbourne

Sports Precinct

Three dimensional displays from Shane Warne and James Hird aside, the highlight on the day was clearly the Game On area, where you can test your football, cricket, netball and even cycling skills, or just park your children for a few hours, which was a clear trend.

It was a lovely sunny day, perfect for enjoying the fantastic views over Melbourne’s sports precinct the MCG provides. As I gazed at the cyclists from various nations riding to and from the velodrome beneath me on their way to the Cycling World Championships, I realised three truths:

1) Melbourne really does play home to many sports, 2) you do take things at home for granted, and 3) I will definitely need another trip just to discover the rest…

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