A Weekend In Adelaide For Gather Round

Faultless footy, cutting-edge cars, and an atmosphere like no other: a weekend in Adelaide for Gather Round

If there’s one thing Adelaide is known for, it’s turning it on when major events and festivals come to town. During the 2024 edition of the AFL’s Gather Round – otherwise known as the festival of footy – the city didn’t disappoint. Men’s Health was on the ground to soak it all up, exploring the city in select Toyota vehicles. Similar to the round itself, the cars from the AFL’s premier partner live up to the hype.

THERE WERE TIMES during the opening match of the 2024 AFL Gather Round between the hometown Adelaide Crows and visiting Melbourne Demons that the proceedings threatened to turn ugly. The Crows stuck with the Demons during the opening passage of play and even lead for extended periods, but by the fourth quarter, Melbourne had jumped out to a commanding 73-45 lead. It was around that point when I found myself wondering why the crowd remained so passionate, in the face of a game that looked to be all but over.

Gather Round’s detractors have criticised the event for giving Adelaide-based teams an advantage over their opponents. It’s a message that has ingrained itself to such an extent that when I met Crows stalwart Elliot Himmelberg minutes before the towering forward took part in an exhibition wheelchair footy match, he immediately came to the round’s defence. “I don’t think it’s an advantage. It’s a national competition and events like this remind everyone that the AFL isn’t just in Melbourne,” he said.

While Himmelberg can deny that Adelaide teams benefit from Gather Round, no one can dispute that the atmosphere in the city operates at an elevated level. Truly, the buzz around town during Gather Round is unmatched in its spectacle and magnetism – it’s near impossible not to fall in love with the festivities. Himmelberg takes a similar view. “Adelaide tends to get up for things like this. We really embrace all the events like Fringe that come to town and you can feel it just from walking around the city,” Himmelberg said. “Traffic is never an issue in Adelaide except during Gather Round.”

The uptick in excitement is apparent as soon as you touchdown in Adelaide. At the airport, I was met with Aussie Rules-inspired pop-ups in nearly every open space. Around the CBD, every streetlight was adorned with a billowing flag urging locals and travellers to get in on the action. Closer to Adelaide Oval, the footy festival hub sits across the river Torrens, with countless activations, stalls, events, fan zones and challenges – including a test of accuracy and strength that involved kicking a ball towards a target on the Torrens which, I will admit, saw my ball go further upwards than outwards. But nowhere is this lively atmosphere more apparent than at a game, especially at the round-opener.

While fans of every team flocked in their thousands to Adelaide, it was clear the Crows were buoyed by their home-field advantage. Faced with such dismal prospects on opening night, a lesser crowd would’ve given up hope early on, but the Adelaide faithful stuck with their team. The Crows fought back in the final quarter to reduce the deficit to just 13 points at one stage, evidently spurred on by the palpable support of the 48,000-strong crowd, who reached fever pitch when captain Jordan Dawson booted the Sherrin through the sticks late on.

 

Gather Round

Getty Images | Dylan Burns

 

The Crows were ultimately felled 78-63, but there was hardly a frown to be seen among fans, who I joined in wading out of the stadium and back across the Torrens at a snail’s pace – a task made all the more difficult by the fact that I was travelling in the same menagerie as former AFL player and TikTok sensation Daniel Gorringe. Upon close review, Gorringe might be the most recognisable person in Australia, or at least among the skewed demographic that attended Gather Round. Leaving the game, he attracted Taylor Swift-levels of attention and at two metres tall, stood out from the crowd like a sore thumb.

A day later, the Crows’ cross-town rivals Port Adelaide dismantled Essendon 111-42, harnessing the support of an extremely friendly crowd. That’s not to say interstate fans weren’t on the scene. AFL CEO Andrew Dillon estimated that more than 265,000 people descended on Adelaide during Gather Round, many coming from outside of South Australia. Such a sizeable number probably demands due questioning, but as evidence to the claim, you need only to have seen the 43,000 supporters utterly absorbed by the final game of the weekend between Collingwood and Hawthorn at Adelaide Oval – a neutral ground.

Still don’t believe it? Take it straight from the horse’s mouth. I made it a point to spot a fan sporting the colours of every AFL team over the weekend and managed to do so by Saturday morning. I even encountered a visibly chuffed Apple Islander decked out in Tassie Devils gear. A slightly premature display of support? Perhaps, but you can’t fault the enthusiasm.

Gather Round’s allure isn’t only based on the promise of a few good games of footy in close proximity, it’s on the setting of the event. Adelaide has become known as a domestic tourism hotspot, and for good reason. Boasting some of the nation’s best wineries, a thriving arts scene and a booming food culture, Adelaide is as tantalising as it is underrated. And how better to take in the city than behind the wheel of a premier Toyota car?

 

Gather Round

 

Admittedly, I am something of a Toyota veteran. I drive a beat-up 2006 Corolla Ascent which, as a testament to Toyota’s quality, is still going strong with minimal complaints. So, when I was offered a choice between driving a RAV4 or a hybrid Corolla hatch – of a far newer build than my own – the Corolla was the natural choice. Although, there were a few initial teething issues.

Toyota cars are known for their durability and tendency to tackle just about anything you throw at them without much difficulty, but the brand has also strived to implement the latest in cutting-edge innovations in every vehicle. What this meant in practice was that I was forced to adapt to technology absent from my 2006 Corolla on the fly, which took some time.

Initially, I wasn’t certain I’d even started the car correctly, as the hybrid engine makes for a silent ignition, and as I repeatedly reached for a phantom handbrake – which the Corolla replaces with a far more compact button that automatically switches on and off – my passengers made frequent ribbing of my struggles. It was similar fare when the Corolla’s advanced road sign and lane trace assist alerted me of impending changes to traffic conditions with a gentle beep and I continually responded with dismay rather than acute understanding. Whipping my head around to check my blind spots while sidling up for a tricky reverse park, only to be informed that the car has a reverse camera, was also cause for an eruption of laughter.

All of this made me realise two things: 1. I badly need a vehicular upgrade. And 2. The hybrid Corolla would be an exceptional choice.

Over the course of the weekend I took the Corolla through Adelaide’s bustling CBD where it admirably tackled some of that Gather Round traffic Himmelberg warned me about, through suburbia on the path to Brighton Beach, and along Adelaide’s rolling hills on my way to the fabled wineries of McLaren Vale. The car not only held up to snuff on all of these drives, it continually surprised me with how it did so with ease.

Power is always the biggest concern motorists hold when assessing hybrid and electric vehicles. That’s a non-issue with the Corolla, which utilises both a petrol engine and electric motor that work in tandem to produce a fuel-efficient system that is eminently responsive at the pedal. The car also charges while you drive, ensuring you have the power needed to always be quick off the mark with easy acceleration.

If I were to compare the hybrid Corolla to an AFL player, which seems appropriate given the occasion, I would have trouble landing on any one player’s skillset. The car has the compact frame of Lachie Neale, the power of Max Gawn, and the revolutionary talent of Nick Daicos. The combination of these skills would make quite the player, such is the quality of the hybrid Toyota Corolla.

All in all, Gather Round was a resounding success for the AFL, the state of South Australia, and all those who were lucky enough to attend. Total crowd numbers were up 60,000 on the previous year, and the round is locked in to remain hosted by Adelaide until at least 2026. Hopefully, 2024 Gather Round won’t be my last. It certainly won’t be my last time in a Toyota.

 

Gather Round

Getty Images | Mark Brake

 

Related:

Isaac Heeney and the pursuit of the ultimate prize

How to get an AFL player’s body

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

More From

Bobby Hill
Bobby Hill on chasing another premiership, overcoming cancer and the importance of Indigenous Round

Bobby Hill on chasing another premiership, overcoming cancer and the importance of Indigenous Round

Following a whirlwind couple of years that saw him become a father, recover from testicular cancer, win an AFL premiership in his first season with a new club and take home the Norm Smith medal for best on ground in last year’s grand final, Collingwood forward and Whadjuk-Ballardong Noongar man Bobby Hill is still pushing for more. As he explains to Men’s Health, that includes showcasing his culture on the nation’s biggest stage