BALLARAT embraced AFL footy again on Saturday – and judging by the queue for tickets, it embraced it more than many expected.
The queue for tickets was still metres long at quarter time as Carlton were ahead of North Melbourne by a goal.
Click the image above to see more photos of the crowd
There were rows of footy fans surrounding the ground itself from well before the opening bounce.
The largest proportion wore royal blue and white – illustrating either a healthy degree of “home away from home” support for the Kangaroos or the fact their fans were prepared to travel to watch a glorified hit out.
Either way, it gave credence to the handout posters declaring Ballarat was Kanga Country.
There was also a strong contigent in navy blue, not used to being outnumbered by North supporters in their home state.
Several, perhaps with a little embarrassment, insisted looks were deceiving.
“There are plenty of us,” said Wendy Hucker of Ballarat in her Carlton jersey.
“We’re just scattered, that’s all.”
And then there was a sprinkling of footy fans in black and white stripes, black with yellow sash, navy with red yoke.
This game wasn’t just for the North and Carlton loyalists, it was for footy fans across the region.
It’s fair to say the boys in royal blue and white were probably getting some quiet support from those in brown and gold, black and red and the rest though.
Footy can divide families. Bridget Campbell and Jacob Lench had come to the game together. Bridget barracked for Carlton. Jacob said he was barracking for anybody but Carlton. He got a bruise on his arm for mentioning it.
Even as Carlton kicked the first goal to the eastern end of the ground, the merchandise tents and food vans were doing steady business.
The crowd, despite its decent size for a regional venue, was somewhat muted to begin with. If the NAB Challenge is something of a practice match series without a formal cup anymore, perhaps the fans were practicing being super excited.
As the players got into the swing of things, so did the fans.
At half time the score was Carlton 0.9.3 (57) to North 0.5.6 (36). Numbers or not, the Carlton supporters were making more noise. It’s amazing what happens when you have your nose in front.
Meanwhile the North faithful were throwing out the phrase “practice match” to everyone and anyone who might listen as the Blues established a 23-point margin at three quarter time.
If the Blues thought it was all over, they might have been wrong. The Kangaroos found something and so did their supporters.
In the end Carlton did enough to take the imaginary practice match points 1.14.7 (100) to 0.14.9 (93) – less than a super goal.
The ground announcer asked the crowd to stick around for North Ballarat versus Carlton’s VFL-affiliated Northern Blues under lights. A decent proportion did.
The next step for Eureka Stadium is to host an AFL match for premiership points.
While Ballarat footy fans of different colours might not agree on much, there appeared to be plenty of unity on that issue.