And Now You Know   2 comments

This morning one of my classmates brought up the AFL – the Australian Football League – but wasn’t quite sure about what the sport entails. Well I’m going to devote this post to my country’s most beloved sport, Aussie Rules.

Australian Football, also know as Aussie Rules, aerial ping pong, and footy, is a sport played by skinny blokes and watched by millions. It was established in 1858 at the same time as the Melbourne Football Club, the first club of its kind. Several other footy clubs sprung up as the sport gained in popularity. By 1866 the rules were officially sanctioned and regular competitions began.

Before the start of each AFL game, the players run onto the field and break through some kind of flimsy banner with morale-boosting language painted on it. Attendance size fluctuates dramatically between venues, but the largest crowd attendance was the 1970 Grand Final between AFL teams Carlton and Collingwood. Over 121,000 people showed up to cheer their teams on. Typically the large AFL stadiums in Australia’s major cities will seat around 100,000.

At the end of each regular season, the Charlie is awarded to the “fairest and best” player of the league, as voted by the league umpires. The Charlie is officially known as the Brownlow Medal and is the highest achievement a football player can receive in the sport.

So, what are the rules?

The game is divided into four 20-minute quarters. There isn’t much of a break between the quarters (5 minutes), but half time is 20 minutes long. Teams change ends at the end of every quarter. Games can result in a draw, there isn’t overtime. There are three umpires per game and they each control one third of the field. Wherever the ball is at any one time determines which umpire is in control.

The aim of the game is to score the most points by kicking goals and points. There are two goal posts on each end of the oval. On either side of the goal posts are two smaller “behind posts.” A goal is when a player kicks the ball through the two goal posts. That’s worth six points. A point is worth just one point, and occurs when the player misses the goal and instead kick the ball between either of the behind posts. When that happens, some Australians get upset and mopey and loudly proclaim that, if given the chance, they could have done a better job scoring a goal if they were wearing patches on both eyes and their cleats were covered in Vaseline. True story.

Each team has 18 players on the field at once. The field is also known as the “oval” because of its shape. Each oval in Australia is actually a slightly different size than every other oval in the country. That’s just how it is, okay? Maximizing the playing area was a priority during the early games, and the tradition has hung around. There’s no regulation dimensions for oval size. But they’re all about the same, give or take a bit here and there.

The game starts in the center circle of the field. The umpire bounces the ball off the ground and each team’s center player will try to hit the ball towards a teammate – not unlike a jump ball in basketball, but with a lot more aggressive contact. Once the ball is in play, players aim to get the ball and kick it to their teammates who are (hopefully) in strategically placed positions. A daisy cutter is a particularly low kick. A drop kick is when the ball is released from the hands and kicked immediately after it hits the ground. Drop kick is also the affectionate term for an idiot (literally someone who you’d like to drop and kick, if it were possible). A drop punt is when the ball is released and kicked before it hits the ground. The drop punt is the most frequently used kicking style in the game. A rainmaker is a high kick that doesn’t cover much distance.

The ball is kicked closer and closer to the goal until a player is within scoring distance. At this point, if the player has marked the ball and is awarded a free kick, he’ll take his time and try to score a goal. Typically, goals are scored within the 50 meter line (“the 50”) or closer. Any further out than the 50, and goals get pretty flukey. Here’s a diagram of the oval that also labels player positions…

AFL oval dimensions

When the ball goes out of bounds the umpire will retrieve it and turn his back to the playing area and throw it back into the game over his head. It’s a blind throw, in other words.

A mark is when a player catches a kicked ball in mid-air. A specky is a particularly spectacular mark, or “screamer.” The best speckys will make the local news sports highlights reel after the game. A mark is awarded by a free kick, or if the player doesn’t stop running after marking the ball, the umpire will call “play on.”

A handball is when a player holds the ball in the palm of one hand and knocks it with the other hand to pass it to another player. Handballs are for passing the ball a short distance. Handballs are boring.

If correctly tackled, a player is not allowed to hold onto the ball for more than 3 seconds before getting rid of the ball. If he doesn’t get rid of the ball, the other team is awarded a free kick. Tackling is what makes Aussie Rules such a great sport. In American Football, tackling of the player holding the ball typically results in game stoppage once the ball has been grounded. In Aussie Rules, the game continues unless the ball goes out of bounds or a goal/point is scored.

After a goal is scored, the other team has a free kick from the goal box to start play again. Typically, a high scoring game will easily crest 100 points for both sides. At times, more difficult games with lots of tackling and interceptions will see much lower scores for both teams – perhaps around the 50-80 point range. A team gets “thrashed” when they’re really badly beaten. Don’t worry, they don’t actually thrash the players.

There are tons more persnickety rules, but hopefully my quick summary has helped you make sense of the game in its simplest form. At least if you’re ever watching a game, you’ll be able to identify a mark, a handball, and a breadbasket (that’s a player’s stomach).

Okay, let’s recap: 36 skinny dudes on an oval. The ball is kicked and marked and handballed up and down the oval until a team scores a goal or a point. After points are scored, the other team then starts play again by kicking the ball to the other side of the oval from the goal box. Umpires do funny things with their hands when goals are scored, and the players are cute. Any more questions?

Here’s the last 5 minutes of a clip of the Adelaide Crows (my home team. GO THE CROWS!), outdoing the Geelong Cats in 2010. It will give you a sense of the pace of the game, as well as a look at how amazing the Crows are when compared to the Cats (actually, the Cats are pretty good). Check out the video at about 4:01 – it gets good in the last minute. Lots of tackling and whatnot.

This next clip is a highlights reel of some of the best sporting moments in AFL history. A couple of things I will apologize for in advance: The SD video quality, the heinous audio mix, and the downright embarrassing music selection (“DJDaveT23”, I’m talking to you, sir). A few things I will most certainly not apologize for: The 70 meter long kick at about 4:52 (it’s not a Gatorade commercial, it’s the real thing), the horizontal mark at about 7:55, and the tight shorts on the players. How else is the AFL supposed to get women to come to the games?

Finally, if you have an Apple computer, you can download the official AFL Ladder widget for your dashboard. You can check scores and rankings for the entire league. Pretty nifty!

~C

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2 responses to “And Now You Know

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  1. Next to Skeeball, this is truly the most glorious game I’ve ever encountered! I always knew I was missing out on something, and now I finally know what it was. Thank you.

  2. Jim Johnson’s Drop Kick to a Drop Punt field pass in 1948, and
    Stab Kick to Stab Punt in 1949, An Australian Rules football Development.

    THE STAB PUNT. The authors have “coined” the term “stab punt”.
    Page 64 & 65 THE SCIENCE OF KICKING 2007 Geoffrey Hosford. & Don Meikle. B.I.P.E. Publications. Forward DAVID PARKIN.

    The term STAB PUNT was” coined” 58 years after Jim invented it.

    In 1948 aged 14 Jim tried the Jack Dyer, “gets goals with the sillies looking kick in football history” page 49 and pictured page 50 in The Sporting Globe FOOTBALL Book 1948, and found it unsatisfactory. Jim revamped it into his format by kicking the ball close to the ground and definitely not dropping the ball vertically. The Stab kick discovered in Tasmania in 1902. So from 1902 no one did anything extra with the stab kick till Jim, a school kid, converted it into a stab punt in Aug.1949.

    Part of Face to Face: “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives”
    Muddy Conditions Countered. Johnson was outstanding in the mud with clever turning and accurate disposal. Ringwood Mail, 1951.
    In 1949 Mt Evelyn football ground’s surface was uneven and often very muddy. Studying Jack Dyer’s drop-punt, 14-year-old Mt Evelyn player Jim Johnson adapted it into a field pass in 1948. Then, at 15, Jim invented and used a low, fast punt kick known as a ‘stab-punt pass’ or Daisy Cutter. Journalists didn’t know what to call Jim’s techniques. Frank Casey wrote in The Post on 8 Sept 1960, ‘Johnson sent his delightful little drop punt pass direct to Mansfield’. The same day Davey Crocket reported in the Ringwood Mail, ‘Johnson should write a book on stab kicking. He has found the lost art.’

    This story was researched by The Mt Evelyn History Group for The Yarra Ranges Regional Museum

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