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Sunday 11th July - Aussie Rules

rain 16 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

> Today we have tickets to see one of the weirdest spectacles of sport known in all the English-speaking world. It is called Australian Rules Football and is colloquially known as Footy, Aussie rules or AFL (to split hairs, that actually the name of the league). Originally invented as a winter sport to keep cricketers fit, I can't think of a single cricketer who would be fit enough for this. Played on a cricket pitch, there are four posts at the ends of the oval - two high ones in the centre like a rugby goal with no crossbar and two shorter ones either side of them. The objective is to kick the ball through the centre posts to score a six-point goal, or if you're desperate, knock it through the outside ones for one point.
> The rules are simple - tackle like rugby, drop the ball when you're tackled, no pushing in the back and no throwing of the ball - just kick it or execute a volleyball-like thump off the hand to a teammate. These are, in fact, the only rules. Most violence is fine apart from direct fighting, it is common to be shoulder-barged hard or stepped on. It is a curious game with even curiouser rituals - the umpires (of which there are eight in total) restart play by either lobbing the ball at the floor as hard as they can then scarpering, or by standing on the boundary with the back to the players (of which there are 18-a-side) and throwing it backwards. This manoeuvre, no matter how effective in terms of fairness and tradition, can only be described as "spastic".
> We arrive at the Sydney Cricket Ground early and take our seats after stocking up on beer and potato wedges. The reserves match is on but trying to decipher the rules and fouls is nigh-impossible without commentary but it's a good romp. The players themselves are all tall and stacked - not as bulky as rugby players but with more muscle than footballers. At first glance the game seems to be a sort of rugby and cricket hybrid - they have umpires and a boundary but running is done ball-in-hand with tackles and what would be rucks in rugby, but here are just pile-ups. The reserves game finishes with ironic cheers from the sparse crowd and we are totally confused.
> Aa with any sport, there are pre-game rituals that must be observed - no shaking hands with the opposing side but both teams run in sequence onto the pitch and burst through a banner bearing the sponsor's logo and a motivational message. They do this to the sound of their club song which is played as a recording over the speakers so the crowd can join in. It sounds as if it has been recorded by the Barmy Army, (presumably not to intimidate said crowd with decent singing) so nobody can make out the words but they shout along regardless, cheering the teams on as they spread themselves out over the huge cricket field.
> Despite not knowing what the free kicks are for or why one player is allowed to batter the living daylights out of another (but not allowed to push him) we both thoroughly enjoy the spectacle - the North Melbourne Kangaroos versus the Sydney Swans. Each quarter is meant to be twenty minutes but due to the sheer size of the pitch the added time makes it more like thirty - I really don't know how they play such a physical game for two hours with only one significant break in the middle. The ground isn't full but the fans that are here rough the periodic pouring rain make a lot of racket and have a good sense of humour. There is a yell of "Go with the ball you peanut!" and the retort: "He's jogging as fast as he can!"
> It's all terribly exotic and entertaining, even though at the end of the main match we understand little more than we did at the end of the first. Clearly the Aussies disagree - as the Swans seal victory by 30 points a Melbourne supporter bangs his head against the railing a few times and shouts "it's a simple game, lads!"



Posted by fredginger 20:00 Archived in Australia

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I tried playing it once with a load of Aussies in New Guinea, but had no idea of the rules then, or now. Mind you, I'm not too sure the Aussies understood the rules either!

by Peter

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