The magic of the MCG
Have you ever wondered how small kids would cope with a first time visit to a huge sporting stadium packed full of loud, boisterous and passionate football supporters? One young Hobart family tells how a visit to the MCG turned into one of the best days of their lives.
As five-year-old Dimitri and his eight-year-old sister Nikoletta marched towards the MCG, eyes wide, arms swinging with enthusiasm, Hawks scarves hanging proudly around their necks, their parents watched closely. This could go one of two ways.
Crowds were building, excitement and tension were growing. The young siblings had never seen so many people in the one place before.
“Coming from Tassie, you don’t have swarms of people like you do in Melbourne coming into the MCG. So they were getting excited purely just walking to the ‘G’ with everyone else,” says their mother Deb Exarhakos.
Parents Deb and Alex Exarhakos both grew up with football. Alex is a Hawthorn tragic and travels from their home town of Hobart to Melbourne to watch them play whenever he can.
But until this day, they had never had the chance to go as a family together. It turns out their reservations as to how their young kids would cope had been completely unfounded.
“To see Dimitri at his first AFL game ever and the excitement on his face… he was high-fiving strangers, yelling out to the players, he’s now football obsessed.”
Their day was about to get a whole lot better.
At half time, young Nikoletta noticed four familiar faces on the big screen.
“My daughter said, ‘We’re on TV Mummy!’ So we were all jumping up on our seats and waving, and I heard the man over the loudspeaker say, ‘Show some love to your family.’ So I kissed my husband, and my daughter kissed me, and we were jumping around, as you do when you’re on the big screen!”
Little did they know, thanks to Bupa, they had just won themselves some of the most sought after tickets in Australia - a family pass to the AFL Grand Final.
“Everyone was high-fiving us and saying ‘Well done, well done’, but It wasn’t until the Bupa people came up to us in our seats that we actually realised we’d won tickets to the grand final. It was very exciting!”
It was a dream come true for this Hobart family.
“As far as bringing families together, I don’t think you can actually get a better sport. I grew up in a family where everyone went for a different team, but that fun and banter is what it’s all about. There’s not a football game that goes on in our house that’s not watched by a big group. I’m talking cousins, the whole lot.”
There are a few quirky family superstitions in the Exaharkos household. During Hawks matches, everyone has to always sit in the same seat, in the same order. If the Hawks win a final, the next week everyone wears exactly the same clothes, the same snacks are eaten and the same drinks are consumed.
“So for the kids to actually see the players in real life was quite overwhelming. I’ve got some classic photos of when the team missed a goal, the dramatics of Dimitri falling back into his dad’s lap, jumping up and down and celebrating with everyone when they got a goal, and dancing at half time to the music. It was really one of the best days we’ve had this year as a family.”
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Nikoletta is what her mum describes as a ‘girly girl’ who previously hadn’t had the same fascination for footy as her little brother. But after their exhilarating experience at the MCG, she’s now following the Hawks with interest, and drawing inspiration from the new women’s football league.
“We were watching them on the telly and she said, ‘Mummy, can girls play football?’ I told her that if you try hard enough and practice, there’s nothing to stop you playing any sport you want to play, just because you’re a girl.”
The family plans to fly back to Melbourne together for the biggest footy match of the year, free tickets in tow, and the children can’t wait.