In north-east Victoria lays a gem of country football.
Tucked in a pocket of rolling green hills 30 kilometres south-east of Wodonga is Sandy Creek Recreation Reserve, a venue that plays host to the Tallangatta & District Football League (TDFL) finals and grand final.
It’s known as the “MCG of the bush” and the best spots around the ground are reserved days in advance.
But unlike the Melbourne Cricket Ground itself, there are no grandstands or any seats to speak of.
Instead, if you want the best seat in the house you have to get creative and get in early.
And fans of the Chiltern Swans and Kiewa Sandy Creek Hawks did just that.
Ute beauty: Fans catch the TDFL action from Ben Ozolins’ mobile double-couch setup.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Bransen Gibson)
The early bird gets the worm spot
Prime spots along the fence are claimed days, sometimes weeks, in advance.
Grand final-goers park their cars along the boundary during the week to reserve a spot, then returning for the game.
Ahead of this year’s big day, cars were already there on Tuesday and, by Thursday evening, there wasn’t a space along the boundary fence remaining.
Parking spots on the fence are secured days before the games.(Facebook: Tallangatta & District Football League)
Robert Newnham was one of the lucky ones.
“I got here on Thursday night at about 5.30pm and I was surprised to see nearly every spot was taken except for one, so I just backed into that one remaining spot,” he said.
“Someone told me that a lot of these cars have been here for the full finals series, they just book their spot and keep it there.”
Robert, Janice and Isla Newnham enjoy their spot they were lucky to snag.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Bransen Gibson)
Sitting in a camp chair by the back of his ute under the shade of a gazebo, he was there with his wife, grandchild and other family to cheer on his son, Connor Newnham, the spearhead forward for the Hawks.
With the sun beaming down and the temperature a balmy 24 degrees, the conditions were the exact opposite to the grand final 12 months prior between the same two senior sides.
“It was freezing cold last year,” Mr Newnham said.
“The cars were getting bogged everywhere, and the wind was blowing almost horizontally with the rain.
“You couldn’t stay dry, you couldn’t stay warm and it was a terrible game of footy.
“It [today] has been fantastic. It is a beautiful day here at the MCG of the bush.”
BYO car, chair and couch
What’s the key to having the best seat in the house? Bringing your own.
That’s exactly what Ben Ozolins did, allowing him to create a grandstand of his own.
Parked behind the goals is his ute, with two couches he picked up ahead of the grand final snugly placed in the back.
Ben Ozolins and his mates scored a prime spot behind the goals.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Bransen Gibson)
On the back of the ute is a dump tray, meaning Mr Ozolins can lift it slightly to give the set-up a grandstand-like tiered effect.
“I went to go pick a bed up for my sister for free off Facebook and this guy was in a storage unit and he told me he had two couches so I just grabbed them and it was perfect,” he said.
Well, almost perfect. Some expert craftsmanship was required to get them to fit.
They pack in tight for a view of the game. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Bransen Gibson)
“I had to cut one of them in half so it fits now because it was an ‘L’ couch,” he said.
Mr Ozolins said his car had been at the ground for over a week, but how long it remains there was up in the air.
“It’s just been sitting here. It actually doesn’t start at the moment, so it is staying here,” he said.
No chair? No worries. Fans make the most of the balmy conditions.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Bransen Gibson)
A seat worth of envy
At the opposite end of the field, Mitchell McMillan and his friends are enjoying their fourth weekend in a row at the footy.
With their utes parked up behind the goals as well, they are loaded with seating space.
Mr Mitchell’s crew arrived on Wednesday and snagged three spots, squeezing another two cars in between on game day.
“It was chockers, everyone gets in early … you have got to be first in, best dressed,” he said.
Mitchell McMillan (front row, right) and mates have a soft spot for country footy.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Bransen Gibson)
They have couches on the back and camp chairs on top of dog boxes too, with anyone still without a spot perched on the rooves of the cars themselves.
But one luxurious seat in particular stands out – a fold out sofa.
On it sits Mr Mitchell and two of his friends, their legs comfortably stretched out in front of them.
Chiltern Swans reserves players and coaches sing the club song after defeating Yackandandah in the reserves grand final.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Bransen Gibson)
“We got it off the marketplace for free,” he said.
“A couple of blokes were selling it, they were moving house, so we grabbed it. It is a pretty lousy couch, but it does the job.
“You’ve got to bags your seat otherwise if you go to get a drink people will take your seat, so you have got to make sure it gets saved. It’s hot property.”
Chiltern’s day in the sun
When the final siren sounded to end the senior grand final it capped off a memorable day for the Chiltern.
The Swans trailed all game against the Hawks, but they erased an 18-point, three-quarter-time deficit to snare an equally dramatic and memorable three-point victory.
After ending a 24-year drought against the Hawks 12 months earlier, the Swans had now earned back-to-back premierships.
A packed house at the Sandy Creek Recreation Reserve for the TDFL grand finals.(Facebook: Tallangatta & District Football League)
Chiltern’s seniors weren’t the only ones celebrating – it was a case of double delight for the Swans as their reserves downed Yackandandah by 54 points to capture their second consecutive flag as well.
And Kiewa Sandy Creek had reason to celebrate too as the Hawks prevailed in the A-grade netball decider, defeating Yackandandah 41-37.
It was a perfect day at the perfect venue, a quintessential country footy experience at the “MCG of the bush”.
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Source: AFL NEWS ABC