As a lifelong football fan and Evertonian, I’ve rarely expressed much interest in any other type of sport. I dabbled with cricket during the Ashes in 2005, but spent most of my time at Old Trafford fanning myself with the programme and starting the Mexican wave in my stand. When my family moved to the rugby fanatical town of St Helens when I was in primary school, I made a vague effort to watch rugby in an attempt to fit in with my classmates, but ended up defiantly kicking my football through the rugby posts in a daily act of playtime rebellion.
Nothing has ever come close to the excitement of watching my team in action – in typically hopelessly optimistic Evertonian fashion – and I never thought for once about looking further afield for another sport. That was until I came across Australian Rules Football.
With apathy for the beautiful sport at an all-time low after getting tired of seeing players wince and throw themselves to the ground whenever a gust of wind grazed their hair, I decided it was time to give another sport a go. My family has quite a few relatives in Australia, and AFL was suggested to me a long time ago, so I thought I’d familiarise myself with the teams and the rules and watch a few matches. As it happens, the rules of Australian Rules Footy are very simple to follow as quite frankly, this sport is severely and refreshingly lacking in them.
The teams are made up of eighteen players each on gargantuan oval pitches unlike any I’ve ever seen in the UK. A true testament to the size of the playing field and the popularity of the sport in Australia stems from the fact that the AFL Grand Final is currently the highest attended club championship event in the world. The MCG stadium in Melbourne seats 100,024 avid fans each season and is one of the largest stadiums in the world. Despite opposing fans not being segregated at match events, the assumed friendly nature of the Aussie Rules supporters is almost never tarnished by match day violence of any kind – though you’re far more likely to find that on the pitch.
Hulking players grapple each other for the football like a baying crowd from Wigan might fight for a stray £50 pound note whizzing through the wind. Players kick, handball and run with the ball to inch it closer to the opposing goal posts but cannot be caught holding the ball: this equates to an intensely fast-paced and action packed sporting event. There are no off-side rules and the official game time is not displayed to the players or the public in the stadium. The term ‘organised chaos’ springs to mind when trying to describe the melee of activity on the oval field whilst game is in play.
A rather humorous element to Aussie Rules is the total disregard from the referees over the players squaring up to each other and pushing and shoving each other right under his very nose. It’s so accepted that temperatures run high in such a physical and competitive sport that not even the commentators in the box bother to mention it to the spectators at home.
If a tanned and pompous football player skipped indignantly over to his opponent and so much as poked him in the arm with his polished pinkie finger then the whole game would come to a standstill. Other players would march over swearing and shouting at each other whilst extending a few pinkie fingers of their own and the referee would look on in sheer horror as though nothing short of triple homicide had been committed in front of his very eyes.
The same melodramatics are demonstrated through injuries as well. An Aussie player who had obtained an injury to his leg would merely grit his teeth and to march off the side-line as soon as possible to receive fast treatment from the physiotherapist. Can you imagine a footballer doing this every time an opposing player had the audacity to niggle at his leg during a tackle? Chances are they would be much more likely to gaze teary eyed at the referee for him to signal for a stretcher and a lollipop to be brought out with immediate effect.
If an Aussie player scores a goal then he will celebrate with a run and a wave before rushing back to his position for the quick turnaround in play. When comparing this to the laughable and downright ridiculous celebrations premier league players concoct for themselves when scoring a goal then its small wonder that fans are turning their attentions elsewhere. From Daniel Sturridge’s ‘Squirm’ dance routine to Mario Balotelli exposing the words ‘Why always me?’ on his vest whenever scoring a goal, the self-obsession and egotism of overpaid footballers becomes quite tiring after a while.
So if you’re weary of football, still waiting for the cricketing season to start or just looking for a new sport to take an interest in in general, then why not give Aussie Rules football a chance? The new season kicks off in April and you can keep up with the matches in the UK via ESPN and British Eurosport. If you’re feeling a little out of your depth and want to find out more about the sport then here are a few things you need to know in the run up to the season.
- The current champions are the Hawthorn Hawks who defeated the Sydney Swans in the 2014 Grand Final.
- There are two types of goal in AFL. Six points are collected if the ball is kicked through the two centre posts, and one point if it passes through the behind posts. There are four posts in total.
- Each game consists of four quarters consisting of twenty minutes of play. The start and end of each quarter is signalled with a siren.
- The on-field structure of each team is usually made up of six defenders, six forwards and six midfielders made up of two wingmen, one centre and three followers including a ruckman, ruck-over and a rover.
- Just go with the flow and enjoy the game. It’s Aussie Rules – you’ll pick it up in no time!
Follow the AFL on twitter @AFL and keep up with the action at http://www.AFL.com.au