All sports have their idiosyncrasies – loved by the diehards, mocked by the non-converts.
In rugby, for example, they go forwards by passing the ball backwards and all the ugliest, fattest blokes get hugged by the others, really tightly, with lots of grunting.
In cricket they play for five days yet no one wins, possibly because both teams are wearing the same colours.
However games don’t get any quirkier than Australian Rules Football – also known as AFL, Aussie Rules or, in Victoria, simply ‘Footy’.
Firstly they wear vests and shockingly short shorts. Secondly it’s 18-a-side, plus at least six referees (we keep losing count), some in silly little butcher hats, and random little fat men who run on the pitch willy-nilly in luminous yellow kit, whisper something in a player’s ear (probably about how good their bum looks) and speedily wobble off again. Thirdly, there’s only one rule: there are no rules.
The humble origins of this madcap sport are as bizarre as the game itself: Tom Wills returned to Australia after schooling in England where he was football captain of Rugby School and a brilliant cricketer (bear with us…).
He advocated a winter game of football as a way of keeping cricketers fit during the off-season. But they changed the size and shape of the pitch, set up extra goal posts (because Aussies can’t kick straight), picked 18 players on each team and basically bashed the crap out of each other.
If you haven’t caught footy fever yet there’s no better time to catch a glimpse of Aussie culture at its most fanatical – the season just kicked off. Want some background, so you don’t make a drongo of yourself? Read on…
AFL: The Lowdown
Pay attention, this is tricky. There’s a goal (two very tall posts) within another goal (two shorter posts). A kick directly into the inner goal earns six points. But they score even if they miss – a kick that goes wide of the inner goal, but into the outer goal earns just a point. The scoreboard will say something confusing like 16.8.104 (this is not a bible reference). The last number is the important bit – the team’s overall score. The first number is the amount of proper goals and the middle one represents the amount of one-point scores or ‘behinds’.
These seem remarkably simple: try to catch it, kick it forward; repeat till a goal is scored. If other team get in the way, hurt them. All clear now? Thought not. Anyway…
A game has four 30-minute quarters and goes a little like this: the referee bounces the ball hard on the floor (and he studiously practises this difficult procedure before kick-off and again at half time) in the middle of the pitch; 20 overly-long men charge at each other, all missing the ball. They end up on the floor, rolling around like pigs in mud; someone (one of the brighter ones) finally collects it and runs off; bounces it a few times, then gives it an almighty punt. Four or five fellas leap impossibly high and come crashing down in a big messy heap of limbs and wrongly shaped backs. When the players that can still move roll off, there’s a squashed man at the bottom hugging the ball like it’s a baby. He gets a free shot at goal, which he scores, because the goal is massive; everyone cheers and goes to the bar/pie counter. And for nearly two and-a-half hours that’s about it.
There are 17 teams, with each one playing in 24 rounds, meaning some teams play each other once and others twice. The top eight go forward to the play-offs, which are way too complicated to explain, but kind of fair at the same time, and eventually, we’re left with two teams, who play in the grand final at the MCG in early October. Huzzah! It’s generally pretty easy to get general admission tickets on the door for $20-$30. For fixtures and more info, visit www.afl.com.au
1. ‘Best On Ground’ = Man
Of The Match.
2. A ‘mark’ = a catch.
3. The ‘ladder’ = the league table.
4. ‘Barracking’ = supporting/shouting for a team.
5. ‘Hold!’ = it’s a foul to hold onto the ball when tackled to the floor.
AFL: The Teams
Well, picking your local team wouldn’t hurt. But if you’re in Darwin, Alice, Cairns or Tassie this will leave you a bit miffed, as they don’t have teams. Indeed, 10 of the 17 clubs are in Victoria (nine of which are in Melbourne), while Adelaide and Perth have two each. So, to help you narrow it down, TNT’s resident AFL fanatic (and Crows fan) Alice Terlikowski has picked the nine most interesting. (No, we don’t know why she picked nine either…)
Where are they from? Adelaide
Tell me more: Due to South Australia’s extensive wine regions, the Crows have a reputation for being the chardonnay drinkers of the league, basically the snobs. Despite this reputation, the team still gets heckled for being backward and behind the times due to Adelaide’s smaller population. SA’s longstanding rivalry with Victoria doesn’t help its cause either.
In a nutshell: The snobs
Where are they from? Brisbane
Tell me more: You have to feel for the Lions. Firstly, they try to play a sport in a state which is dominated by rugby union and league and they’re made up of two teams which were the first ever teams to merge, in 1996. Awkwardly the Fitzroy Lions weren’t faring too well but the Brisbane Bears were doing alright at the time. But it hasn’t been all bad, they’re actually rated as the most successful club in the last decade as they appeared in four grand finals between 2001 and 2004, winning three in a row.
In a nutshell: The surprise package
Where are they from? Melbourne
Tell me more: The third-oldest club in the AFL, the Blues were formed in 1864. Along with Essendon, they share the most premierships of any team of the league with 16. The club has long had an association with Victoria’s Italian community due to its former home ground of Princes Park being part of a strong Italian immigrant area. They also hold a strong rivalry with fellow old-timer club Collingwood.
In a nutshell: The old schoolers
Where are they from? Melbourne
Tell me more: There’s no in between with reigning champs the Pies. You love them or you hate them (think Man Utd). Most people hate them due to their generally rough and toothless supporters and because the team are actually quite good. Because of this, the team has the biggest number of supporters in the AFL. Over the last few seasons a group of its players have collectively got tattoo sleeves… say no more.
In a nutshell: The club you love to hate
GOLD COAST SUNS
Where are they from? Gold Coast
Tell me more: The newest team in the league (starting this year), many a football pundit has suggested it will take a long time for these guys to get anywhere. However, they’ve got enough pulling power to steal marquee player Gary Ablett Jr from Geelong. They’ve also managed to convince Karmichael Hunt to bat for the other team, move from rugby league that is.
In a nutshell: The new kid on the block with the flashy new iPad
Where are they from? Perth
Tell me more: While they may look pretty – they have purple in their colours – Freo have never really got anywhere. Sure, they’re relatively young when you compare them to Victorian clubs, but not young enough to excuse them from not winning a premiership. A little brother to their more rebellious home town rivals West Coast Eagles, it’s hard to take the Dockers seriously. I mean, it’s purple!
In a nutshell: The pretenders
PORT ADELAIDE POWER
Where are they from? Adelaide
Tell me more: If you live in Adelaide and you follow the Power you’re likely to be drinking VB and living on the dole. Okay, that’s probably a bit harsh, but the Power couldn’t be further from their Adelaide enemies The Crows in terms of upper-class snobbery. Originating from a port, these guys have a slight reputation for playing a bit rough but they are annoyingly good for another young-ish team. It still takes a bit to convince “experts” that they’re the real deal though.
In a nutshell: The blue-collar workers
ST KILDA SAINTS
Where are they from? Melbourne
Tell me more: Due to their hometown being backpacker stronghold St Kilda, this is who many travellers end up supporting. But historically, Saints football has been far from heavenly. Despite being one of the oldest clubs in the AFL, they’ve won just one premiership (by just one point) and have finished last more than any other club. However, they’ve had a resurgence of late, making the last two grand finals before falling at the final hurdle, last year heartbreakingly to Collingwood in a replay after only the third grand final draw in history. They’ve also just endured a bizarre ‘nude pictures of players on Facebook’ scandal.
In a nutshell: Plucky underachievers
Where are they from? Sydney
Tell me more: Like the Brisbane Lions,
the Swans have long fought an up-hill battle in a town which is dominated by NRL (rugby league). Despite this, recent grand final appearances and good form has helped. Don’t ask the supporters to barrack hard though, it might ruin their hair.
In a nutshell: Big town pretty boys