Six months ago, while I was passing through the arrivals lounge at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport, I was whacked in the head by a bright yellow egg. Turns out, I’d just walked into a group of lads chucking about an Aussie Rules football in the arrivals lounge. This was my first experience of Aussie Rules football and since then I became hooked on the sport.
“Chuck us back the footy there mate” they shouted over the bag carousel, as I stood there holding what, me as your average Brit, would not typically call a football. If you’re unfamiliar with the sport, Aussie Rules, or “footy” as it’s colloquially known by Australians, is the most popular sport in Australia, with its premier sports league, the Australian Football League or the “AFL”, attracting average attendances of around 30,000 per game.
For an outsider, the sport can seem a bit chaotic and confusing, and it definitely took me a while to figure out what was going on. I even tried to describe it to my friends on the Tube last week, and all I could say was that it is just a more thrilling and chaotic version of rugby.
It’s fast-paced, there are collisions of the same magnitude than those seen in NFL, and the sport always has a great atmosphere and camaraderie, similar to what you might find if you went to a rugby match. I instantly loved it.
Since I chucked that footy back to the lads in the Airport, I’ve not stopped watching or reading about the sport, it’s simply brilliant. I’m here to give you a brief guide to the sport and show you why more people in the UK should really be watching and perhaps even playing Aussie Rules.
The Game Of Australian Football in a Nutshell
The game itself dates back to the 19th century, when Victorian Cricket Club Captain Tom Willis, proposed his team stay fit during the winter off-season by playing a cross-code version of soccer and rugby.
After that, the game took off, and later the AFL, formerly Victorian Football League, was founded in 1897, with Collingwood Football Club winning the inaugural season.
The game has grown to become the 5th largest attended sports league in the world, with its highest national attendance surpassing 7 billion spectators in 2018.
The exciting fast-paced nature of the game, with huge collisions, is one of the main reasons why it brings in big crowds. The game is played on an oval pitch, the same size as that of a cricket ground, with an egg-shaped ball that players must kick through their opposition’s goalposts to score. The game itself is split into 4 quarters, each lasting 20 minutes, with both teams swapping sides at half time to attack the opposite set of goals. Fun fact: When the sport began, there was never a time limit on games. Like the golden goal rule in soccer, both teams kept playing until one team scored 2 goals. The longest game to run apparently lasted 3 days!!
Aussie Football Basics
Once you have an idea of the main rules, footy becomes way more entertaining to watch.
Passing the ball
Similar to Gaelic Football, players can only move the ball around by kicking the ball or “handballing” it off to a team member. By handballing, I mean striking the ball out of your hand with your fist, like and underarm volleyball serve. You can also run with the ball but again like Gaelic Football, you have to bounce the ball every 15 meters.
Ever tried to bounce a rugby ball? Yeah, it’s the most unpredictable thing ever. Try doing that when running at 20mph, in front of a crowd of 50,000 people, while trying to avoid getting walloped by some monster on the opposing team. The skill level involved at the top level of the AFL is unbelievable. Something I have never seen before in competitive sport.
If you think Christiano Ronaldo can jump high, wait till you see some of the catches these AFL players are plucking out of the air.
Should a player catch a ball on the full, from a kick from their teammate, the player is entitled to take a mark and have a free punt. They can use this mark to have a shot at goal or play another kick pass to another teammate. But opposing players are also entitled to challenge for the ball, creating some jaw-dropping aerial collisions.
On that note, the game is not for the faint-hearted. Players are allowed to tackle and make contact with their opposition with their shoulders between the knees and shoulders of their opposition. This leads to some insane clashes and bumps on the field. High tackles above the shoulders are penalized by umpires with a freekick, and if the tackle is particularly dangerous, the offending player will be cited or go on report, instead of receiving a yellow or red card as you might find in soccer or rugby.
The aim of the tackle is to either dislodge the ball from your opposition or hold the ball up in play to force a restart through a “ball up”. Most ball up’s begin in Aussie Rules with an umpire either throwing or bouncing the ball into the air, with specialist players called “Ruckmen” competing to win back possession.
Points and Scoring
Players can either score in a number of methods through the six posts at the opposite end of the oval. The central, taller posts are known as the goalposts, and booting the ball through them on the full will earn a team 6 points. But if the ball is punted through the gap between a goal post and the smaller posts on their flanks, the behind posts, the team only earns 1 point.
The AFL And The WAFL
Now you have a bit more of a grasp of the rules, I’ll fill you in a bit more about how the AFL works.
The men’s league is made up of 18 teams, 9 of which are located in the Melbourne metropolitan area, while the women’s league (the WAFL) is made up of 14 teams, coming from 5 different states around Australia. The season operates in a standard home and away fixture set up culminating in a playoff to get to the Grand Final.
The men’s Grand Final is played annually in front of 100,000 spectators at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It really is a huge deal in Australia.
But which team should you support? Whether it’s the reigning champions Richmond, or you like the look of 16-time winners Essendon, currently looking to end their 16 year Grand Final drought, there are a whole host of teams to choose from!
Footy Words You Need to Know
Arriving in Australia, I had to get up to speed with the lingo pretty quick if I was to sound like I knew what I was talking about in front of my Aussie mates. But don’t fret, below I’ve set out a list of common AFL terms which will help you out in those moments where you have no idea why the commentator just shouted: “that’s a beauty of a wormburner!”
A shot at goal taken after the final siren has sounded.
Think “Bend it Like Beckham”, but with a rugby ball. When a player kicks the ball at an angle so that its flight is shaped like a banana.
Refers to the gut of the player when they’re catching the ball.
When a player scores a one-point goal through the behind and goalposts.
The AFL Grand Final.
A big collision on field, usually a shoulder to hip charge from the tackling player to dispossess the ball.
When a player fakes and shows a dummy to an opponent.
In-game brawl between opposition players.
When a ball its a player right in the face. Ouch!
A player that frequently attempts Spekys (see below).
No not your Nan, another word for the Grand Final.
The playing jersey.
A big catch where the player jumps high in the air, to successfully take a mark while being challenged by his opposition. Usually something pretty spectacular.
Referring to sitting on the bench during the game.
To be penalized for an infringement.
The reigning champions.
The football, aptly named after its manufacturer.
A spectacular leap high into the air to catch the ball.
Also known as a daisycutter or a grubber kick, this is a low trajectory kick that is fast-moving and will bounce on the ground multiple times.
How To Watch Aussie Rules?
Well, now that you know the basics of the game, you’ve probably picked a team to support and have a better understanding of the lingo, you probably asking yourself, how can I watch the AFL live?
Well here’s the thing, if you’re currently living in the UK like me, it was only up until very recently, quite difficult to watch any footy live. Thankfully, Watch AFL’s $25 per month subscription service will let you stream every AFL match live, so you never miss a bit of the action. Plus you can also sometimes catch the odd game on BT Sport if you have a subscription with them.
But honestly, nothing beats going to watch a game live. So book your flights out and time your trip right so you can catch a game, especially if you can get to watch a game at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground. It really is something epic!