Melbourne's annual Reclink Community Cup has built a remarkable cult following over the years, its rules and culture deep rooted in the history of the city. Featuring a celebrity Aussie Rules match and performances by notable Australian bands and musicians, it's an event made by the people for the people.
Conceived in the early 1990's in the bottom bar of the famed Hotel Esplanade in Melbourne's eclectic suburb of St Kilda, the event came of age in 1997 when Megahertz - composed of community radio station employees - first took on Rockdogs, a team of local musicians past and present (topped up with bar staff from the "Espy") in an old school football match which today some say resembles more the indigenous game of marngrook than the professional AFL game.
All funds raised go to Reclink Australia who works to deliver sports and arts programs to disadvantaged individuals around the country. This year, over 10,000 people turned up to the event, raising over $100,000 in the process.
As a local to the neighborhood where the event is held, I looked forward to 'game day' all week. When the time came on Sunday, I donned my 'Dogs beanie, jumped on my trusty old bicycle (the only appropriate transport for such an event) and pedaled the short distance to Elsternwick Park.
Upon arrival, I chained my bike to an available pole and joined the rowdy queue of die-hard fans that make the annual pilgrimage.
Held during the split round in the AFL season, the match provides many highlights with folk of all ages (and their dogs) allowed to invade the ground during the breaks for traditional "kick-to-kick". With streaking not only tolerated but actively encouraged, this is a game of Aussie Rules like no other.
Even the umpires feature a mix of comedians and notable music industry people, this year including RockWiz host Brian Nankervis, who performed the task - adorned in a tuxedo waistcoat - with considerable pomp and strut.
After some robust encouragement from a volunteer to enjoy my day to the fullest, I made my way onto the ground, sitting cross-legged on the grass in the brilliant winter sunshine to listen to the dulcet tones of Adalita from the main stage.
With kids laughing behind me and the occasional footy whizzing by - and a dog or two coming over to check my credentials - it was a very relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon. After patrons were asked to leave the ground to allow the players to make their way out, I found a likely spot in front of the makeshift bar to watch the game.
Preceded by the Megahertz cheerleaders, led by a spectacular crew with handles such as Maximum Flizz and Blonde Jovi - and to the tune of Gary Glitter's anthem "Rock and Roll Part Two", ("We are cultural aesthetes/we are superior athletes/Megahertz") - out came Megahertz.
Not to be outdone, Rockdog's cheerleaders (Captain Mermaid and Sincitty Kitty among them) heralded the arrival of the opposing team.
The match itself (expertly commentated over the PA by the likes of Leaping Larry L.) proved the usual smorgasbord of high jinx and tomfoolery mixed in with the occasional display of actual footballing prowess.
From my vantage point, it was most enjoyable to watch the teams - quite rightly made up of both genders - run around, but the high note of my day was the connection with the people around me. By the end, I had made some new friends, enjoyed a few beers, had a good laugh and helped support a worthy cause. We had no idea who won.
But the result is never really under any scrutiny - in fact the scoreboard at the ground is deliberately unmanned. For the record, Megahertz kept Rockdogs at bay and avenged last year's loss, opening up an early lead and winning comfortably by 27 points.
As well as Adalita pre-game, renowned Aussie acts The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra provided the halftime performance while Graveyard Train kept the exuberant mood going after the final siren had sounded.
However, the musical highlight came earlier in the day when Aussie music royalty Paul Kelly played a cover of Dave Graney & The Coral Snakes' award-winning "Feelin' Kinda Sporty" as the teams lined up before the opening bounce.
Kelly has a long and coveted history with the Cup, even spending three years as the Rockdogs' coach. Back in 2010, donning a gabardine overcoat in a respectful nod to past AFL coaching greats John Kennedy and Norm Smith, the "People's Poet" aimed a pre-game barb at the opposition now immortal in the annals of Rockdog history.
"They're record collectors. They want to be us."
With the sun set and the evening growing chilly, I made my way through the stragglers and headed for the exit. As I looked around, I had that moment of understanding what it means to be a connected to the town in which you were born.
I cycled past my aunt's place, past the café where I met my wife, past the last house my mother ever lived, and pulled up outside my home. Walking my bike up the garden path, I thought of the big-hearted, music-loving, sports-mad community that makes Melbourne what it is, and how it's the simple things that unite us.
In the words of The Age's senior football writer Rohan Connolly, who, in memory of his brother, presents The Steve Connolly Medal to the person adjudged best afield, this "massive success of a great cause doesn't need anything but a ground, a footy and some lovers of music ... pretty simple formula, really".
By David Packman, International Sports Editor, The Good Men Project
This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.
Photo Credit: Mandy Hall
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