Sept. 11, 1999

Australian Rules (?) Football

The first time I happened upon Australian rules football on TV, I was transfixed with awe. This is truly the strangest game I've ever seen.

It's neither European-type football (which we call "soccer") nor American/Canadian football, but, if anything, appears more like soccer or rugby. The playing field is a huge oval.. almost twice as large as an American football field, with variable dimensions (according to this website) of between 135 to 185 meters in length and between 110 to 155 meters in width. The ball is shaped like a football, and seems to be bright orange.

The players (and there are lots of them on the field at any one time) wear no visible protective gear. None. No helmets, face masks or guards, no padding anywhere, not even knees or elbows. (I hesitate to even speculate on whether they wear jock straps!) The uniform consists of tight short shorts and sleeveless tshirts. And the occasional tattoo.

Footy players

In the match I saw part of last night (the "Kangaroos" - no city mentioned - vs "Port Adelaide" - no team name mentioned) the fans were all bundled up in heavy coats and scarves, and it was pouring rain.. it's winter in Australia now! As the game went on, the field turned into a mud bowl and the players were covered with slimy muck. When my kids used to look like that I'd take them in the back yard and hose them off. Literally.

The game has no discernible form. Players run with the ball. They pass it. They mostly kick it. I think the object is to kick it through the goal posts at the far ends of the field. Play tends not to stop, even if players are tackled and lose the ball.. someone else just picks it up and runs with it. They tackle each other and pile up.. roughly. They restrain each other even when they don't have the ball. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the game.. just lots of running and kicking! It might even be the Australian version of   "Calvinball"..

There are no formal scrimmages as in North American football. If play stops, the method they use to resume it is to have someone (a referee?) throw it HARD on the ground so it bounces HIGH up and the players take it from there.

As if this weren't odd enough.. every so often the camera pans to the end zone (or whatever they call it in Australia) and shows a man, quite formally dressed in black pants and shoes, a white dinner jacket and wide-brimmed bowler-type hat, scurrying to the edge of the field, where he stops and makes elaborate pointing motions. Sometimes he uses both arms, sometimes only one, but there's always a cool flourish involved. He then scampers back whence he came, until the next time. He looks like he belongs on a British colonial African plantation or something, rather than a football field, and carries the entire spectacle to the higher level of surreal.

What is this man doing on a football field?

According to the Official Website, Footy, as it's affectionately known, is

"Australia's most popular spectator sport, attracting more than six million spectators in 1997, nearly three times our nearest competitors. Our climax to the year is the Coca-Cola AFL Grand Final played at the MCG in Melbourne during late September before a crowd of up to 100,000 people and watched throughout the country on the Seven Network."

I guess six million Australians can't be wrong.. and I intend to keep on watching, so that one of these days the game might start to make sense to me!

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Graphics courtesy of Jelane's Free Web Graphics
Except the footy photos, swiped from here.