Australian Football, Aussie Rules Football, Footy – figuring out what to call it is as difficult as figuring out how the game is played. As a fan of American college football (or gridiron, as they call it), at first, footy seemed chaotic and out right comical. To me, it looked like three sports – soccer, rugby and American football – happening at once in a ridiculous and reckless manner. I quickly realized that understanding Australian Football was key to liking it.
Watching the game on TV, I was frustrated by what seemed like a complete lack of regulation. There are limited markings on the large, oval field; the umpires were constantly blowing whistles, although rarely stopping the play; and the 18 players on each team (in incredibly short shorts) appeared to playing a rough game of Hot Potato. However, Melbourne was the birthplace of Aussie Rules Football (with the first game played in 1858) and our home for two months, so I was determined to make sense of Australian Football.
Not gaining much insight from the broadcasters, instead, I consulted the “Laws of Australian Football 2015” booklet. After reading it cover to cover and consulting the glossary multiple times, some of the mysteries were revealed and understanding Australian Football and how the game is played started becoming more clear.
Understanding Australian Football Basics
Points are scored with Goals and Behinds. Four posts stand at each end of the field; the middle two taller than the outer two. To score a Goal, a player must kick the ball through the two middle posts, which earns their team six points. A Behind is scored when the ball goes through the middle and outer post, scoring the team one point. The player can only travel with the ball for a distance of 15 meters before kicking, tossing or handballing (punching the ball as a type of pass) to another player or bouncing the ball on the ground as a way of passing it to themselves.
Meanwhile, players – without helmets or pads – can tackle and shepherd (push, bump or block) the opposing team members in an attempt to keep or gain control of the ball. A player is awarded a Mark if they cleanly catch a ball that has been kicked at least 15 meters (meaning, it has not been touched by anyone else or the ground before it is in their possession). A Mark grants the player a five meter protected radius, allowing them time to set up the next play. In almost all other cases, the ball is live and the players ‘Play On.’
Attending an Australian Football game
Once we had a better understanding of Australian Football, it became exponentially more fun to watch. We took our newly gained knowledge down to the local field for an Essendon District Football game, a north Melbourne suburban league. Even though the crowd was sparse and only consisted of a handful of people watching around the fence, being at a live game was thrilling. When the action came our way, we were mere feet from the players. Watching it live, I found it much easier to follow the plays and soon I was cheering right alongside the local supporters (although I left the heckling to them).
Riding our new wave of enthusiasm for the game, we decided to attend an Australian Football League game. The AFL is the highest level of competition, with the best players earning million dollar salaries. There are 18 teams (or clubs) in Australia, nine of which are in Melbourne. The historic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is the home stadium for five teams and a short walk from Melbourne’s central business district.
With our friend, Vinny, in town for the week, we introduced him to the sport at the MCG with Melbourne taking on North Melbourne. Since neither team is in the Top 8, the crowds were a bit thin – and looked even thinner in the 100,000 capacity stadium. But, it worked to our advantage and scored us Reserve seats in the fifth row.
Fans of each club were intermingled, but the North Melbourne Kangaroos seemed to have a bigger following. Supporters of both teams had signs, flags and hand-made posters that were thrust into the air for every score and a gravelly-voiced man would yell, “C’mon Melbourne,” at regular intervals. As the two teams battled it out, I spilled my knowledge of the game on Vinny. I realized I understood Australian Football better than I thought I did. In the end, North Melbourne prevailed, with the final score of 127 to 92.
I’m not yet ready to claim a club as my favorite or don team colors, but I’m fairly certain that I’m the newest fan of the high scoring, non-stop action of Aussie Rules Football.
Update! After watching the 2015 Finals, I have made my decision: I’m a North Melbourne Kanagroo fan!
We want to know: What is your level of understanding Australian Football? Do you love it or hate it? Let us know in the comments!