An outsiders perspective
Australian Rules Football, it kind of makes sense doesn't it? For a nation that defines itself by the little differences, i.e. hopping mammals and red soil, it's only natural that they have a unique national sport. Aussie rules is played solely in the land down under. This is of course excluding a small town in the USA , my source on this latter fact is again somewhat questionable, but allegedly it's true. The only other sport in the world which is similar to aussie rules is gaelic football, played in Ireland. I have always thought that Australia's national sport was a direct descendant of the Irish version of football, but apparantley aussie rules is more a mixture of many different versions of football, brought to the country by those fine, founding settlers (even if they were in chains). However, due to the similarities between Australian football & Irish football, an international match is played each year between the all-Australia team and their Celtic chums. The outcome of this match, according to any Australian you ask, is a thorough spanking of the Irish. In defence of the Celts though, the aussies use a rugby style ball whilst the boys of the four-leaf-clover use a real football. Each year it is taken in turn which ball to use. So imagine the poor Irish lads trying to bounce this egg shaped ball in front of them, only to find that it boings back in the direction of their nether-regions.
Anyhow, the fundamentals of Australian rules footy are that their are 18 players on each side, with goals at either end of a large, grassy oval. The goals are 4 vertical poles, two long poles in the middle with a stumpier one at either side. The attacking team can use any part of their bodies to get the ball between the two largest poles for six points or if they get the ball between a large post and a stumpy post it's called a "behind," and they are given a consolitary one point. Both sets of players appear to be allowed to beat the shit out of each other, all in the name of a good game, whilst the umpires look-on. The only time when a player can get a hold of the ball without the possibility of a knuckle in the eye-socket, is when they catch a kicked pass from a team-mate. This being called a "mark." These appear to be the main rules of the game with the rest being a bit of a free-for-all. There are guys who dash on and off of the field dressed like road-workers that are called "runners," relaying messages and instructions from the coach. And there are also a few randoms who walk on with water bottles for the players and just hang about a bit, watching the match from a players perspective I suppose.
After my many months roaming this land from one end to the other, I have adopted the Adelaide Crows as my team of choice for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the first ever aussie rules game I saw was at AAMI stadium in Adelaide, between The Crows & The West Coast Eagles. The game was a fairly dire affair compared with some of the games I've seen on the TV since and Adelaide played so bad that I just had to support them. I mean it's not as if they need anymore fans as the stadium was packed, but it's just that any team I support is normally as successful as any tropical nation at the winter olympics (for proof, see Dundee United's results over the last 10 years). I'd better add here that I have since been proved wrong on the Adelaide Crows front, what with them finishing top of the ladder this year and making the finals, but I would just like to say that I decided to support them at the start of the season when they were being tipped to finish bottom and am therefore exempt from any glory-hunter jibes. My second reason for supporting them was even more unorthodox. Whilst at the Crows-Eagles game, a young boy in front of me kept on shouting, "C'mon Shirley, get into them Stiffy!" And I just knew that any team, whose fans who could shout these players names with a straight face, was the team for me.
Going to a live game is both a good and bad way of getting to know what aussie rules is about. In my experience at the afore-mentioned game, because the pitch is so large, I couldn't actually see what was going on at the other side of the field. And when the match actually started with the bounce in the centre of the pitch, it was, from where I was sitting, like watching a 20-man wrestling match in the middle of a cricket oval for 10 minutes. It was just chaos. Although despite struggling to keep up with some of the game I actually found that I picked up the rules very quickly watching it in real life. A few days earlier I had been at a BBQ at a friends house and a pre-season friendly match was being shown on the TV. This was my first experience of seeing an aussie rules match that didn't end with the Neighbours music. I just could not understand what was going on. I did my best to make sense of the basic rules but I think I'd had one too many of the Barossa Valleys finest by that point and the game just flowed over me without making any sense. So it was perhaps because of this lack of understanding that I found myself in the burning afternoon sunshine at AAMI stadium, devouring a Mrs Macs beef pie and Farmers Union iced coffee, soaking up the match like a thirsty sponge. Determined to learn the intracacies of this fine game.
Aussie rules matches have two other notable good and bad aspects. The good thing is that there is no supporter segregation in the stands and despite beer flowing freely from the kiosks, there never seems to be any trouble whatsoever. Compare this to any European football game where crowd violence is rife and it's a small miracle. Imagine if beer was sold at a Rangers-Celtic match in Glasgow, there would be even more stabbings after each game than there already is. The bad point of a live aussie rules game is, however, probably what keeps the crowd harmonious. Everyone is unified by the hours of advertising crap that they have to sit through before kick-off. From the mascot driving around in the "Noodle-Box" wagon to the "Farmers Union" walking iced coffee doing the live "Foodland" lucky dip, or whatever it might have been. This conitinual advertising bombardment of the fans in the stands must keep many AFL (Australian Football League) clubs in the black. At the same time the mutual boredom felt by the supporters must create a more communal atmosphere. Perhaps I've destroyed my own argument here by saying that the advertising might actually add to a more peaceful environment but I think that if you were to ask an average fan at a game to sit through another 3 hours of the advertising, he would probably choose to be stabbed in a supporters brawl outside the stadium instead. To experience the commercial overdose is at first almost comical, but to put up with it every week must be mind-numbing.
From an outsiders perspective, Australian Rules Football is at first a confusing experience. But once you master the finer points of it you realise it's just another branch of the beautiful game.