The AFL Will Make History By Holding the 2020 Grand Final in Brisbane
It's the first time the code's biggest game will be played outside Melbourne.
For the past 30 years, the country's professional Aussie Rules competition has called itself the Australian Football League, reflecting the growing spread of top-level teams across the nation. In 2020, it'll make good on that name in a way it never has before: by hosting the AFL grand final outside of Melbourne for the first time.
Come the night of Saturday, October 24, whoever earns the right to compete in this year's decider will be doing so at the Brisbane Cricket Ground, aka the Gabba. They'll be playing in front of at least 30,000 fans, too, with the Queensland Government's successful bid for the game allowing the ground to be filled to almost three-quarter capacity.
Announcing the news today, Wednesday, September 2 — and revealing that the Gabba beat out Sydney's ANZ Stadium, Perth's Optus Stadium and Adelaide Oval in South Australia — AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said that it was a difficult decision. He noted that a number of factors came into play, including the "safety and the best environment for all" and "integrity and the need for uncompromised games". And, he advised that if needed due to coronavirus social-distancing requirements, the capacity could be reduced — or, as a backup if cases surged in Brisbane, the game moved to Adelaide Oval.
In its date and timeslot, the grand final will also buck tradition — because shifting venues isn't the only huge change in 2020. Usually, the AFL's ultimate game of the year is held on the last Saturday in September; however, due to COVID-19 shutdowns from late March–mid June, the whole season has been pushed back and compressed. When the ball bounces to kick things off that evening (with the exact time to be revealed closer to the match), the game will also become the first grand final to take place at night as well.
It's all thoroughly unsurprising news given that every single AFL team has been based in Queensland for some part of the 2020 season, that the majority of the season has been played in the Sunshine State, and that hosting the big game with a crowd at its usual home — the MCG — is off the cards due to Melbourne's current coronavirus situation. That said, it really shouldn't have taken three decades for a competition that's not only named after the entire country, but changed its moniker in 1990 to reflect the fact that it was no longer just about Victoria, to host the decider in another city.
The game has actually been played at venues other than the MCG before — but still in Melbourne. The first four grand finals, between 1898–1901, rotated between locations, before settling into the Melbourne Cricket Ground from 1902 onwards. During World War II, from 1942–1945, it was staged at Carlton's Princes Park and St Kilda's Junction Oval while the MCG was in use for the war effort. And, in 1991 when the ground's southern stand was under construction, it took place at Waverley Park in Mulgrave.
Back when that 1991 match took place, the AFL only had four non-Victorian teams — and all four were less than a decade old or had only been based out of the state for that period. Now, eight out of 18 teams are from Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia, and nine out of 18 (including Geelong) are based outside of Melbourne. So, again, it's really about time the code shared the love around when it comes to the big game.
This year's move to the Gabba looks to be a once-off, though, at least for now. The MCG is still contracted to host the grand final for a significant period after this year — with its contact originally running through until 2057, and now extended until 2058 as part of the agreement to allow the game to be played elsewhere in 2020.
And, if you're a Victorian who has been missing the footy this year, you will still get the usual pre-grand final public holiday even with the game being played in Brisbane, as Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed last month.
The 2020 AFL Grand Final will take place at the Brisbane Cricket Ground on the evening of Saturday, October 24, with the exact kickoff time still to be announced. Details regarding ticketing released closer to the game.
Top image: Your Next Kid via Wikipedia.
Published on September 02, 2020 by Sarah Ward