A good crowd assembled at the Bull Pub in Krakow for the 2021 AFL Grand Final Day for AFL Poland’s inaugural AFL Grand Final Krakow.
Aussie expats based in the southern Polish region of Malopolska were joined by those from as far afield as London along with Poles and other expats from Belgium, Mongolia and the Ukraine to witness the Western Bulldogs take on the 2021 minor Premiers in the Melbourne Demons, making for a truly international experience.
The Western Bulldogs sought to add silverware to the trophy cabinet after its 62-year drought-breaking premiership in 2016 whilst the Melbourne Demons, whose last senior Grand Final win came in 1964, were facing up with a 57-year gap between drinks out of the Premiership Cup.
The traditional home of the AFL Grand Final, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), again paved way for an interstate rival in 2021, this time the ‘Big Dance’ headed west to Perth’s Optus Stadium and with a twilight time slot, made for more friendlier viewing for those fans based in Europe with the game kicking off at a respectable 11.15am (CET).
61,118 packed the 60,000 capacity stadium with 3.9 million watching across Australia and many more abroad including three watch parties in the Polish cities of Gliwice, Krakow and Warsaw organised by AFL Poland.
Krakow’s the Bull Pub got right behind the concept, setting up a special Australian-themed menu for the occasion with Aussie breakfasts, burgers and pizzas all scoring a guernsey and in good supply throughout the day in addition to the Bull’s usual fare.
To add to the flavour, a jar of Vegemite was on hand for veterans missing the joys of home or for rookies willing to line up for a shot at a new taste from a land down under.
AFL Poland and Aussie Foods delivered the goods with major prizes on offer for the day’s winners of a range of free competitions drawn throughout the match with every attendee a winning chance.
This included vouchers for Aussie Foods’ wide selection of Australia’s favourite food and beverage brands delivered right to your door as well as AFL Poland merchandise up for grabs from the quality range of Polish Devils sporting goods.
The day got started with the usual prematch entertainment – this year fielding a distinct Western Australian flavour and a Welcome to Country by Noongar Elder, Richard Walley OAM – accompanied by plenty of good Aussie specials for the big occasion courtesy of the Bull Pub.
As the match kicked off, the crowd at the Bull increased in number with enough to field a team.
The Big V (Victoria) was well represented and new acquaintances were finding mates-in-common from back home as well as in their new lands.
The most important question of the day leading each conversation was, “what team do you support and who are you supporting in the Granny (Grand Final)?”
This unearthed a true blue Demons supporter, Nick, and partner, Hannah, who were on vacation from London and discovering the watch party with less than 24 hours to spare.
Nick was seeking to have his first taste of success on the last Saturday in September with Hannah having witnessed five Grand Finals featuring her Geelong Cats int the past 15 years alone including three Premierships.
For Nick, it had been 22 years since his beloved Dees had played off for the Premiership Cup and 57 years since they last won – well before his time.
For the rest of us, we were relatively split between supporting the Bulldogs and the Demons for the day.
With Melbourne winning the toss and kicking away from Perth’s city-end, perhaps influenced by Perth’s infamous Freo Doctor (an afternoon sea breeze from the Indian Ocean), it didn’t take long for the Demons to get off to a good start.
Star on-baller, Christian Petracca, drifted forward and was the benefactor of a turnover in Melbourne’s half, collecting the ball delivered into the forward line off his toes and turning on a 1 Zloty piece to kick the opening goal off a step from the 50m arc.
This scored new Krakow resident and Aussie at large, Angus, the first competition win of the day with an Aussie Foods voucher for the game’s First Goal Kicker.
After the Bulldogs hit the scoreboard with a major, the support of Polish local, Mark, was unleashed with a “woof, woof” evoking a sporting atmosphere for each goal scored by the sons of the west.
The second quarter had Mark in full voice and he was encouraged in good numbers by the most international entourage led by Josh (Australia) and supported by Anna (Ukraine), Błażej (Poland), Erdene (Mongolia), Mattijs (Belgian) and Wiktoria (Poland), who were also willing to put the Vegemite on hand to the test.
The hotly-contested encounter saw neither side dominating the first half with the Bulldogs taking an 8-point lead into the long break courtesy of a last minute goal by Bontempelli.
This resulted in plenty of excitement in the eyes and conversations of both the large contingent of expats and those new to the game.
After satisfying some hard-earned thirsts and taking in the Birds Of Tokyo set, the group got together on the dais for a quick photo and prepared for a blockbuster Premiership quarter (the third quarter colloquially known to be a key determinate to winning the Grand Final).
Having witnessed all sorts of finals over the years, the more experienced of the Aussies in attendance, Chris, Sharyn, Steve and Tim, were contemplating amongst a little travel talk whether we were in for a nail-biter of a second half or whether Melbourne would show its third quarter dominance for which had been a signature for the Demons throughout the 2021 AFL season.
The start of third quarter also saw those gathered at the Bull Pub eagerly awaiting the First Goal Kicker of the second half and it was not too long before Jason Johannisen launched on his goal line to set up an almost certain goal.
Judged as completing the mark out of the goal square, Johannisen was placed on a tight angle but opened up the angle when running around and kicking truly to see the Dogs take a greater lead and Hannah landing the Aussie Foods prize with an ensuing discussion focussing on whether the most sought after delights would be Tim Tams or Mint Slices.
With five minutes to go in the third quarter, the Bulldogs held onto the slimmest of margins with a solitary point lead.
However, a surge of Melbourne goals saw the Demons break open the game and enter the final break with a handy 24-point buffer.
The final quarter started off where the third finished with Melbourne continuing its run of goals, eventually setting a Grand Final record of 12 unanswered majors (goals).
However, even with such momentum and Brian Taylor’s commentary calling the game over with 15 minutes to go, the sole Demon supporter amongst us, Nick, was still in two minds about his team ending its drought.
But the Bull Pub was definitely not drying up and with a little more than five minutes to go, Nick quietly mentioned that he had just ordered champagne and was now expressing concerns that he may have gone a little too early.
But a lead of nearly 10 goals, and the theory around one goal a minute is needed to attain any scoring deficit, it was fair to say that Nick and his beloved Dees were in the hands of the football gods barring 19 of the Demons’ men being on the field at the same time (an encounter that would have seen Melbourne lose its entire score).
Bailey Fritsch’s sixth goal of the match for the Demons with minutes to spare put the result beyond doubt and importantly, this saw Melbourne’s margin extend into the 64+ point winning bracket.
An after-the-siren gaol by Tom McDonald put the icing on the cake and took the champagne off ice as the Bull began to roar with jubilation. Without a saber to mark the occasion, Nick popped the cork to celebrate his Demons breaking one of the longest droughts in modern AFL history.
Joining in with the celebrations were first-time viewers of the Australian game, Gdansk’s Matthieu and Ola.
The shear delight of witnessing Aussie rules’ biggest game of the year seemed to overshadow the day’s Winning Team and Margin competition which, with its 3-point brackets, was tightly contested.
However, Ola beamed with an even bigger smile when informed of the news that she was the benefactor of drawing Melbourne to win by 64+ points and quickly donned the match jumper of her national team, the Polish Devils, courtesy of AFL Poland.
Elated at learning that their country has a national team for the Australian game and being greatly impressed by the high levels of skills and competitiveness displayed throughout the day, Ola and Matthieu’s great joy went to the next level at the realisation that Ola was now in fact the proud owner of the Polish Devils red and white top for keeps.
It is fair to say that we have a few new AFL converts arising out of the day.
With the Grand Final presentations continuing on the big screens, and as the bubbles flowed, an Aussie celebration would not be the same without a ‘shoey’, especially following the recent F1 Monza win by one of Australia’s greatest exponents, Daniel Ricciardo.
Enter London-based Melbournian, Chris, who too was on vacation in Krakow. Opting for his right slipper, international onlookers unfamiliar with the celebration of sporting successes by Australians in recent years were somewhat mystified by the sight of a beverage being poured into a shoe to toast a sporting achievement.
Opting to remain with the champagne flutes, and perhaps in a style more familiar with Melbourne Football Club supporters, Nick’s celebrations were somewhat put on standby as the tallying of the Norm Smith Medal was being performed.
Drawing post-match favourite with 39 disposals, two goals and a Grand Final record of 896 metres gained, surpassing the record held by Bulldogs opponent Jason Johannisen in 2016, he was in the prime seat.
However, Fritsch’s (Tim) six goals along with Clayton Oliver’s (Anna) 33 touches, goal and ten tackles and Christian Salem’s 27 disposals and final quarter goal (Josh) for the victors were all in contention whilst for the runners-up, Caleb Daniel’s (Tim) 37 touches, Adam Treloar’s three goals (including two intercept goals in the opening half) and 27 disposals (Matthieu) along with Brownlow Medal runners-up for the AFL season’s best and fairest player, Marcus Bontempelli (Mattijs), finishing with 25 touches and three majors all in contention.
Topping the voting on all five judges scorecards, Christian Petracca, was adjudged best on ground topping off a stellar day for Nick who not only witnessed his team’s first Grand Final victory in his time, but landed a major prize with the Aussie Foods voucher drawing the Norm Smith Medallist.
We also wish Nick and Hannah all the best for the safe arrival of perhaps a future Demons’ champion (if Nick has his way) in the not-too-distant future and perhaps one can anticipate that Petracca may feature amongst the shortlist of names being considered if a son emerges.
Should any of Nick and Hannah’s family and friends be reading this and contemplating gifts for forthcoming celebrations, we are sure that in the coming weeks you will be guided by their selection of delicious Australian goodies from Aussie Foods.
There was one additional and special prize awarded on the day in a bid to change a run of bad luck which was not only evident with Anna having both Melbourne to win by 55-57 points and Clayton Oliver for the Norm Smith Medal, but attending the day sporting a visible injury to her left arm.
Given a newfound love for Australia’s own black gold, Vegemite, Anna was indeed a ‘happy little Vegemite’ when awarded with a jar of Australia’s favourite spread which can be sourced in Europe by Aussies and other rose-cheeked fans from the team at Aussie Foods.
We hope that one of her international crew will help spread the joy of Vegemite until she is back to full health!
AFL Poland President, Phil Forbes, said “it is great to see the interest in Australian Rules football growing across Poland. We are anticipating that events like the weekend’s AFL Grand Final being played at a more convenient time helps to ignite the flame across Europe even more and grow the game to include teams in major centres like Krakow.”
From all in Krakow, dziekuje bardzo (thank you very much) for the great support received from the teams at AFL Poland (Phil, Geoff), Aussie Foods (Jen) and the Bull Pub (Glen, Michal, Patrycja) for making the day such a hit and a truly special occasion for all attending from all parts of the globe – Na zdrowie (cheers)!