Australia is a country that enjoys it’s sports, and if like us you spend the occasional Friday or Saturday night at home watching TV then you’ll be spoilt for choice. There’s plenty of Rugby League on, but with the exception of State of Origin (a best of three annual grudge match between New South Wales and Queensland) we haven’t watched much. The “soccer” season is over and I have avoided Rugby Union and Cricket, so that leaves Aussie Rules or AFL (Australian Football League). For the first few weeks I was a bit confused which of these sports was which as they all seem to be referred to as “footie”, except for football, silly Australians.
Aussie rules football started life in Melbourne and is a bit of a mish mash of rules from other sports developed as a method for keeping cricket players fit in the off season. This seems ridiculous to me, all cricket players do is stand around in the sunshine occasionally ambling between wickets, whereas Aussie rules involves constantly running for an hour and a half and a beautiful amount of casual violence. The league didn’t expand beyond Victoria until the 1990’s, when it became the Australian Football League and clubs from other states joined in. Still the majority of teams are from Melbourne and around. Sydney has two teams; Sydney Swans and the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants. The Swans are pretty good and currently sit fourth in the league, the Giants are a very new club, haven’t won a single of their 16 games yet this season and sit rock bottom. Unlike football at home though, there doesn’t appear to be any lower leagues, so without the fear of relegation the Giants can grow into the league slowly.
So onto the rules. A game is made up of four quarters of 20 minutes each, although the clock stops regularly so they actually take about 30 minutes each. I’m not going to claim to understand them all and seen as the bloke sat next to us at the game today knew even less I don’t feel too bad. The pitch is an oval shape with goal posts either end; two very tall posts with a slightly shorter post either side of them, evenly spaced. Kick it through the middle two and score six points, kick it through between the outer post and an inner post and you score one point. I think it’s also one point for hitting either of the inner posts, but no points for hitting on of the outer ones. You aren’t allowed to throw the ball, so passes must be kicked or punched. The ball must be bounced or touched on the ground every 15 metres if running with it. Tackles come thick and fast, but shouldn’t be above the shoulders, below the knees or involve a shove in the back. If it’s kicked more than 15 metres and caught (called a mark), by any player, the game stops to allow him to start afresh in his own time. I particularly enjoy the kick off, when the ref bounces the ball on the centre spot as hard as he can, and throw ins, when an umpire launches the ball over his head behind him onto the pitch. Sally’s favourite bit is when a goal is scored and the umpire behind the goal signals it to everyone using two flags.
We opted to see a Giants game, because they are fun to watch and the tickets were cheap. We got the train out to Olympic Park, tried to ignore all of the Manchester United supporters preparing for their game against the Australian A league All Stars in the pub, walked through a car show and into the Skoda Stadium. Everything in Australia is sponsored by someone, Man U were playing in the nearby ANZ Stadium and KFC sponsors tries in rugby… We found seats directly behind a goal, got the beers in and sat back to enjoy the fun. There was an irritating net up behind the goal to catch the ball spoiling our view, but they took it down before the game started. Sally was a little nervous about this, but the ball only got near us once and everyone nearby was diving to catch it. The Giants started well and were ahead after the first quarter, but it was down hill from there onwards. The Essendon Bombers won convincingly and unsurprisingly, but the Giants put up a good fight.
Apologies for the quality of the photos, but I only had my phone on me. As well as the on the pitch action, our fellow spectators provided a bit of entertainment as well. I can only assume that there was some sort of ticket deal for people in town to see Man U as there were a lot of bewildered looking people in red football shirts. It seems like AFL is very much a family sport, a large portion of the crowd were small children and it gave the event quite a nice atmosphere. The most fun came from the “Giants Cheer Squad” seated just infront of us, headed by a very loud gentlemen by the name of Michael. Every few minutes he would stand up, get our attention by shouting “EVERYONE” and then starting a chant, this was constant throughout the game and towards the end he even had his own cheer squad, chanting his name and encouraging him to do his thang. There was a brief pause in his cheerleading when he very strangely sat down and got his laptop out for a few minutes, but other than that his stamina matched that of the players on the pitch! At $25 a pop it was a fairly cheap way to spend an afternoon in the sunshine and with beer only $5.50 a go I doubt it will be long before we’re back.