AS WE are closing in on the halfway mark of the 2022 Toyota AFL Premiership Season, I wanted to say thank you to all the fans who continue to support their clubs with a passion and loyalty that is unmatched across the world.

Before the season started, we talked about how, after two really challenging years, we all yearned to return to the footy rituals and routines that set the rhythms of our lives.

The need to continue to focus on getting back to football and going to football as we know it. With friends. With family. With certainty.

We know the ongoing COVID pandemic continues to throw up challenges across the country. We are currently seeing almost 300,000 covid cases a week nationally – and there are many more who don't report but just isolate for seven days.

Through all that – and through floods in Queensland and NSW, you – the fans – have responded. 

Of our top six crowds this year, Carlton, Richmond or Essendon have featured in every one of those matches.

To the nearly 1.1 million members from all the AFL clubs I want to thank you for your unwavering support of your clubs.

To the 2.7 million fans who have attended an AFL match so far this season – thank you for being part of the game's bounce back in 2022 after two years where footy has been so heavily impacted by COVID.

A wide shot of the packed MCG stands for Essendon v Collingwood in round six, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

While we understand there have been some challenges for all Victorian families, some we can control, and some we can't, which have resulted in our crowds being down on average a few thousand across the board compared to our record year in 2019, it has been fantastic to witness the sea of club colours across our games and to see our supporters are still turning up in numbers as we regain the rhythms of football.

On any given weekend the AFL has the largest crowds in the country and – excluding the return of the F1 Grand Prix to Melbourne – AFL matches own the top 10 sporting crowds in Australia in 2022, highlighted by more than 84,000 at the MCG on ANZAC Day, and most recently the 70,000 plus for Dreamtime at the 'G.

Of our top six crowds this year, Carlton, Richmond or Essendon have featured in every one of those matches.

Today's match between Carlton and Collingwood at the MCG is also approaching blockbuster status with the ticket sales driving well past the figure we forecast at the start of the week. It could well be one of the biggest matches of the season with all general public tickets – including standing room – sold out by Friday afternoon. We are closing in on a possible 80,000 crowd with the show rate of the MCC members along with club and AFL reserved seats members to be the defining factor in the total crowd number.

Whatever the final crowd figure, seeing the two tribes representing one of our great traditional rivalries streaming into the MCG and to hear the noise at the first bounce will be another sign that more of football supporters are rediscovering the rhythm of football. And hopefully also providing more financial support for those cafes, hotels, restaurants and shops in the city and surrounding suburbs.

We will continue to work to make the footy as accessible as possible and during the upcoming school holidays we are ensuring that all kids are admitted free at all matches at all venues across the country.

Mason Redman meets some young fans in Essendon's clash with Sydney in round nine, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Presently our annual Sir Doug Nicholls Round continues to go from strength to strength, and it was joyous to see all the clubs in their Indigenous jumpers and seeing the players involved in the celebrations pregame.

We also have seen community football return and to the thousands of volunteers and the tens of thousands of participants who are back at community football or Auskick clinics around the country, I also want to thank you as well for helping us to build our game and build the connection local communities have with football.

We need to develop an oval a week – every week – for the next five years to ensure we keep up with the growth in our game that is being driven by the growth in women and girls playing our game and we will continue to support community clubs to ensure the environment is welcoming and inclusive for all.

Finals will be upon as before we know it, and the traditional Grand Final slot of 2.30pm on the last Saturday in September will a perfect way to cap off our return after the most challenging two years the game has faced.

Thank you all for your continued support, see you at the footy.