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Soccer at the MCG? That's Not Cricket

September 19, 2000|MIKE PENNER

They are staging soccer matches at the Melbourne Cricket Ground during these Olympics, a concept that, at the base level, sounds like playing a basketball game at Wrigley Field or a football game at Fenway Park.

It doesn't feel right--the dimensions are all wrong--but there's no denying the sense of history that permeates every corridor, every aisle, every bleacher seat.

The MCG (to borrow the local shorthand) is the most storied stadium in Australia, the site of the first international cricket match, played in 1862, and of the first test match between Australia and England in 1877, the virtual birthplace of Australian Rules football, the permanent site for the annual Australian Football League Grand Final and, of course, the main venue utilized for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

American soldiers set up camp inside the MCG during World War II. Evangelist Billy Graham spoke to a crowd of 130,000 there in 1959. And the structure was host to what has been called the greatest Aussie Rules match ever played--the 1970 Victorian Football League final between Collingwood and Carlton, forever etched into Aussie footy lore by Carlton's rally from a 44-point halftime deficit--also known as Australia's answer to the great 1993 Houston Oiler playoff collapse against Buffalo.

The MCG's circular playing surface is a bad fit for soccer, a bit like pounding a rectangular peg into a round hole, leaving spectators out in the cold--literally during these wintry Summer Games--and far from the multicolored ants kicking that sesame seed across the grass.

None of that, however, will matter much to American fans if the U.S. men's soccer team defeats Kuwait there Tuesday. That would send the Yanks into the Olympic quarterfinals for the first time--another slice of history for a venerable old building that otherwise has seen it all.

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