“When in Rome…” as the saying goes – so the same is very true Down Under. And if you really want to get under the skin of Aussie culture while you’re here, you simply have to follow a little sport. Australians are, arguably, the most sports-mad people on the planet. They’re famed all over the world, of course, for their swimming prowess and the same goes for both codes of rugby, for cricket and, increasingly, even for soccer these days.
But if there’s one sport that doesn’t resonate too far outside Australia, then it has got to be Aussie Rules football. Inside the country, though, it’s a very different matter indeed. But if you had to pick out one sport that truly typifies the spirit of Australia, Aussie Rules is where it’s at.
So what’s Aussie Rules football really all about and where can you take in a game?
Well, the second part of the question is relatively easy. You’ll be able to pick from a number of venues all around the country. The best starting point is to have a look at the country’s official guide to stadiums and venues. For most first-timers coming to Australia, the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney is the most obvious choice to see a game of Aussie Rules.
The main teams of the current day are the Melbourne-based Hawthorn, Fremantle, Port Adelaide, Collingwood, Sydney and Geelong (also based in Victoria State).
Between March and September each year, all the Australian Rules Football (AFL) teams compete to make the top eight in the league to thereby qualify for the final series. This is held in Melbourne each September.
Many people will be surprised to learn that Aussie Rules is actually Australia’s most-attended sporting league of any type. Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane are the main centres and around 95,000 fans pack into the stands of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) each year for the Grand Final. So, this is the one to get tickets for if you possibly can.
The whole city really does takes on a carnival atmosphere for the big day. This is one of those unique occasions, like the Melbourne Cup, which is just a massive occasion Down Under.
Aussie Rules is usually simply called “footy” in its native Australia so make sure you are down with the lingo when visiting. It’s a field game contested by two teams – each of which has 18 players. This helps explain why such a large field is needed. It is far larger, for example, than a soccer or rugby pitch.
In Aussie Rules, a team scores by kicking the ball, which looks like a rugby ball, between two tall goal-posts. In many ways, the sport is a cross between football and rugby as players can be anywhere on the pitch and can use any part of their bodies to put the ball where they want to.
This includes knocking it with their hands, kicking it, and running with the ball. But there are rules on how the ball may be handled. So, for example, if a player is running with the ball, he has to bounce it regularly or somehow make the ball make contact with the ground regularly.
Players can’t throw the ball, nor must they get caught holding the ball and players make tackles as in rugby.
Aussie rules betting is also huge in Australia and is gaining traction in some other countries where the sport is popular – not least with Aussie ex-pats. But it remains essentially an Australian sport which is somewhat perplexing to the rest of the world.
So if you’re touring Australia and get chance to take in a game of Aussie Rules, you should certainly do so. If you like football, rugby or elements of both, the chances are you’ll enjoy a match and will pick up the main gist of the game as you watch.
Aussie Rules is a sport well worth making the effort to get to know.