Monday, February 23, 2009

Aussie rules

This weekend brought us another typical Australian experience, mercifully much more enjoyable and less disgusting than the last one. On Sunday we went with friends to an Australian Football League (AFL) match.

Anyone who has cable or satellite in the northern hemisphere has probably caught at least a glimpse of an AFL match—more commonly known to non-Australians as ‘Australian Rules Football’—a mob of fit guys in short shorts and sleeveless tops, running around a grass pitch in what appears to be barely controlled chaos, in pursuit of what looks like a cross between a rugby ball and an American football. The pace is fast and furious, and any rules the game might have are not immediately apparent.

This is more or less what it’s like when you’re there in person too, except that yesterday we got to soak up some late-summer sunshine (it was a preseason match; the real season runs through the southern autumn and winter) and learn a few useful facts from our Australian companions who actually know and understand the game.

So here, for your edification and entertainment, I present…

Eight Fun Facts about Australian Football
1. AFL matches are played in ‘ovals’—grounds that double (and probably originated) as cricket pitches.

2. Each team has 18 players on the field at any time, hence the 'mob' aspect.

3. Australian football includes elements of rugby (lateral passing), soccer (sideline throw-ins), and basketball (jump balls). However, the sport it most closely resembles is Gaelic football, so much so that the AFL and the GAA play internationals, with slight adjustments to the rules.

4. Australian football originated in the state of Victoria, and more than half of the AFL’s teams are still based there, most of them in greater Melbourne. I find it amazing that a city of four million people can support 10 professional teams in one sport. Compare it to greater New York City, which is more than four times the size and supports nine major sports teams: two professional football teams, three ice hockey teams, two baseball teams and two basketball teams.

5. Teams score points by kicking the ball through goal posts at opposite ends of the field. Each set has four posts, and the number of points you get is determined by whether you get the ball between the middle two or between an end and a middle.

6. Many AFL players can kick a ball accurately from well over 50 meters/yards. There are at least two former AFL players currently place-kicking in the NFL.

7. When the match is over, they let the spectators play ball on the field, or at least they do at Manuka Oval.

8. A few ovals still have a grass-hill general admission area, where you can romp around, meet up with your friends, and bring a picnic. That’s what we did...more on that later.


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