Driving around the streets of Melbourne with Anthony Grace of Melbourne Sports Tours, it’s easy to understand why Melbourne has been crowned the “Ultimate Sports City of the Decade.”
It seemed every few minutes Grace pointed out yet another sporting ground or landmark associated with a major sporting achievement. Melburnians’ accessibility to major sporting venues played a huge role in SportBusiness magazine’s decision to bestow its top gong on Melbourne.
“Melbourne has sports venues that are not only the best in the world, but are at the heart of the city, fostering a greater sense of engagement with the general public and fans when events take place,” the judges explained during promotions of the award.
Melbourne took out the one-off award ahead of Berlin, London, New York and Sydney. Melbourne is no stranger to winning the sports city awards. It has the longest running ranking of the world’s top sports cities, having also taken the gong in 2006, 2008 and 2010. This year it also won the awards for the Best Large Sports City and for the Best Sports Venues.
That so many sporting attractions are so close to the city is one of the reasons why Grace explains to his passengers that his sporting tours don’t just cover sporting attractions, but showcase Melbourne generally.
Sporting venues included on his tours, such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Rod Laver Arena, Flemington Race Course and the Formula 1 Grand Prix motor racing circuit, are all located within a few kilometres of central Melbourne.
To access these stadiums you pass numerous famous Melbourne landmarks, information on which Grace includes as part of his commentary. And it’s this commentary which ensures even a sports-loving local finishes the tour with more knowledge than he or she started with.
While venues such as the MCG and Rod Laver Arena can be explored independently through tours run by the stadium’s management, it’s handy, especially if time is limited, to have it all co-ordinated.
My tour, the half day “Melbourne Sports Lovers Morning Tour with Melbourne Cricket Ground” started with a trip to Flemington racecourse. Having only ever seen the course on race days, it felt strange to see the stands empty. However the advantage was the chance to do things not possible during a meeting—such as walking along the rose-lined path the horses take after each race—and strolling around the mounting yard and presentation areas. Watching and hearing the sounds of horses training in the distance added to the experience.
After learning more about a jockey’s race day experience and admiring Flemington’s famous roses, it was off to the MCG via the site of the 2006 Commonwealth Games Athletes Village in Parkville Gardens and Royal Park in Carlton.
Of all Melbourne’s sporting attractions, the MCG would have to be the best known and probably most loved.
Established in 1853, less than 20 years after the founding of Melbourne, it has featured prominently in Australia’s sporting history. It has been the home of Australian football since 1859 and is said to be the birthplace of Test Cricket in 1877 and one-day international cricket in 1971. It was the main stadium for the 1956 Olympic Games and 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Other sporting spectacles held here have included World Cup soccer qualifiers, State of Origin rugby league games and international rugby union matches. A guided tour is the only way to get an exclusive, behind the scenes peek and our tour included both the members and public areas. We saw where both the cricketers and footballers "hang out" and had the chance to walk from the players’ dressing room onto the hallowed turf.
After the MCG it was time for a drive around the Formula One Grand Prix track at Albert Park. Unlike race day, the speed limit here is restricted to between 40 and 50 kilometres and not all the track is open to the public—one assumes to prevent hooning. Thanks to Grace’s commentary, I now know where all the vital turns are on the track and more about pivotal racing moments.
While I left the tour after lunch at the Broadcast café by Etihad Stadium, those on the full day tour were off to Rod Laver Arena and the National Sports Museum. At Rod Laver they were to join a guided tour to visit the back stage areas used during the Australian Open Tournament including tournament control, the players’ change rooms, the walk of champions, David Cup Room and the purpose built Media Theatrette that hosts the post match press conferences during the Australian Open.
At the National Sports Museum, located at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the group were to explore the treasure trove of sporting history on show. The museum honours Australian football, cricket, Olympic Games, soccer and many other sports.
Exhibitions include “Faster, Higher, Stronger” which traces Australia’s participation in the Olympic Games and “Australia’s Game” which maps the history of the Australian Football game. There’s also a selection of the greatest VFL/AFL Grand Final moments and a wealth of material collected from the greats of the game. “Champions: Thoroughbred Racing Gallery” is dedicated to thoroughbred racing while “Backyard to Baggy Green” includes the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame and the Baggy Green Room, showcasing a collection of Baggy Green caps worn by Australian Test cricketers. The interactive “Game On!” gallery allows visitors to throw, shoot, ride, race and run to their heart’s content. They can test their goal-kicking skills against AFL players, compare cycling speeds and test their reaction times against elite athletes.
In many ways this gallery is a perfect way to end a day exploring the places where some of the world’s greatest athletes have entertained and thrilled their fans.