The MCG welcomed back fans to the Football for the first time in 577 days last night. Image Source: @MCG. Twitter

Football returned to its heartland on Thursday night as Melbourne came home to the MCG. It's cathedral and heartbeat of the city.

Every city has a distinct thing that makes it tick. It might be an event it might be a sound, a smell, an aura. A measuring stick that tells the tale of the health of a community

It’s the hustle culture of New York City and the crowded streets and subway lines. The sounds and the smells coming from the markets in the streets of Jerusalem. The history and architecture of Paris tell story upon story and is the capital of European tourism. The quirks of old London town. The rain, the weather, the drinking tea, and the royals. They’re all catchments that draw you into what is the magnificent lure of its city.

In Melbourne, that thing that makes the city tick is football.  The unquestionable heartbeat of the city.

It returned just over six weeks ago when AFLW started up again on a magnificent summer night at Ikon Park. Melbourne was only starting to re-awaken then.

It peeped its eyes open for the Boxing Day Test a month earlier before letting its feet properly hit the ground as the opening rounds of the AFLW and the Australian Open took place. The things we loved were slowly coming back.

The streets were filling up, the coffee shops were flowing, the pubs overflowing, and the nightlife on Chapel St was starting to come back to the way it was before the with hoards of people, lines to get into venues, and individuals going about their daily lives with simple pleasures.

For a city that had been locked down, pretty much cut off from the rest of the country, and had something that is so uniquely theirs ripped away from its heartland for well over a year, Thursday night was always going to be a great night in Melbourne town.

The rhythms and sounds of the city were close to properly re-announcing themselves as the city emerged from its 2020 lockdown and the most recent circuit breaker actions. You could feel the buzz across the suburbs as it ticked down towards Thursday night.

For those who were lucky enough to get a ticket, it was a homecoming.

Our cathedral, our home of sport which had not seen a football crowd for 577 days had opened its gates once again. A small but significant moment in this city’s recent history. Men’s football had returned to its heartland.

The rituals, the routines, the old duffle coats getting dusted off as we prepared to go to the football once again. Whether it meeting friends at the old watering hole a stone’s throw away from the ground or partaking in the pilgrimage from Richmond station or through Birrarung Marr, up the path towards the MCG.

Hearing the screams of “get your footy record” and smelling the hot jam donuts that projected from the food trucks in their regular places on the doorstep of the great stadium.

The pageantry and sentimentality of this particular night was also a key part of the buzz and the build-up, as Richmond basked in its dominant era and unfurled two premiership flags in front of its adoring tiger army.

Like many in this town, a large fan base waiting to see their side take the field again, but a large fan base who have waited probably more patiently than the rest of the city to see their team live again and bask in it all following recent successes.

Then it’s time for the game as the five-minute warning siren sounds around the MCG. The screeching sound is fleeting but it’s also symbolic of a moment that within a matter of minutes, the city is about to spring back to life.

Even as an opposition fan, you can’t help but be swept up in the feels and the emotion as the teams run onto the hallowed turf to start the season, bopping along to the respective theme songs as the customary “Yellow and Black” is screamed from all corners of the grandstands.

As a city, Melbourne has waited a while. The long and painful days of lockdown were tough as the simple pleasures of the things we loved were taken away from us. Yet when the clock struck 7:25, the umpire held the ball aloft and the siren rang out around the MCG to signify the start of the match and a brand new season, it was a sign that the city was back.

The caldron-like atmosphere that was generated at the MCG as a high octane game of footy took place between the heavyweight champions Richmond and the rising mid-carders Carlton. A mismatch on paper but the lesser team were up for the fight until the champs – led by their superstar Dustin Martin did what they do best and ground the opposition away.

Result of the game aside, Thursday night was the clearest sign in the last 12 months that Melbourne was back, with its heartbeat back thumping stronger and louder than before. The City has re-awoken and is ready to storm back bigger and better than what came before.

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