Perth lit up by historic AFL grand final

There was plenty of Perth support for Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs at the AFL grand final.
There was plenty of Perth support for Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs at the AFL grand final.

The build-up couldn't have been much better.

A sunny September day, a sellout crowd and two quality teams in Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs - perfect settings for the historic first AFL grand final to be held in Western Australia, a proud and parochial football state.

Two separate coronavirus scares had been overcome after the AFL rolled the dice on a pre-grand final bye.

All that was needed was a good contest.

And for the better part of three quarters at least, the 61,118 fans packed into Optus Stadium couldn't have asked for much more.

Having trailed by 21 points at the opening break, the Bulldogs fought back through brilliant captain Marcus Bontempelli to snatch a halftime lead.

A close finish loomed until Melbourne produced a period of astonishing dominance to end the third quarter, booting seven straight goals.

With Christian Petracca (39 disposals, two goals) running riot to claim Norm Smith Medal honours, the eventual 74-point Demons win was a blowout.

But it was no less emotional for it.

At long last, the Norm Smith curse was broken and for the first time in 57 years, Melbourne were premiers - even if it wasn't in front of their MCG faithful.

Captain Max Gawn summed it up best.

"After 57 years of pain, it's coming home," the 208cm cult hero declared before joining coach Simon Goodwin to raise the premiership cup.

Media personality and Perth lord mayor Basil Zempilas had encouraged those at Optus Stadium to stand and applaud at the 20-minute mark of the first quarter as a sign of solidarity with those stuck at home in the eastern states.

The idea, which had been panned by some in Victoria, was roundly ignored.

But the sizeable portion of the crowd who had adopted a team for the day still made plenty of noise, erupting when Petracca booted the opening major.

The wait for the 5.15pm opening bounce must have felt like an eternity for both the competing teams and locked-down fans back in Victoria.

Outside the stadium and across the Matagarup bridge into East Perth, bars were packed all day with hopeful Melbourne supporters and Bulldogs fans wearing Aaron Naughton-inspired astronaut costumes and Bailey Smith mullets.

Smith had forgotten his accreditation when he arrived at the ground but the attendant had no problems recognising and ushering through the supremely-talented youngster.

As night fell, Perth locals Birds of Tokyo performed at halftime with the WA Symphony Orchestra, fans using their phones to light the stadium up.

Earlier, Indigenous rapper Baker Boy stole the pre-game show with a colourful and high-energy performance.

As the countdown began to the opening bounce, a fan dressed in neutral colours in the stadium's upper reaches turned to his mates.

"How good is this," he said.

Those lucky enough to have a ticket could only agree.

Australian Associated Press