When I arrived in Australia last winter (or was it summer? The seasons are reversed down under), I never expected to get hooked on Australian Rules football.
Of course, when Canadians and Americans think football we automatically think big men in padded armor tossing around an oblong, pigskin ball. In Australia, there are four types of football; rugby union, rugby league, soccer and Aussie rules footy.
In Aussie rules, two sides (teams) kick a ball up and down an oblong pitch (field) and into four-posted goals, with two short posts on the side, surrounding a pair of tall posts.
Kicking the ball through the middle posts is a goal worth six points, but if the ball sails through the side, it's a behind worth one point. A limited number of hand passes are allowed before a side must kick it. If a kick is completed, then it is a mark, where the player who caught it gets a kick from wherever he catches it. The game begins at the centre with a "bounce," which is sort of like a basketball tip-off, except the ball is slammed into the ground and allowed to fly into the air before players can grab at it.
It's a fast-paced game and sometimes turning around means missing a wicked mark or a highlight-reel goal. While quarters are 30 minutes long, usually it flies by when goals are plenty.
To go to a game is an experience unto itself: the crowd is whipped into a frenzy long before the game starts. Cheer Squads (mostly paying members of the clubs themselves) from the opposing sides take their seats behind the goals, with their banners, colours and giant club-colour pom-poms waving and cheering.
When the players themselves enter the field, they come through a large banner with inspirational messages for players and supporters, receiving thunderous applause from the fans (or a river of jeers from detractors, depending on the venue).
The siren goes off--the screaming and shouting begins as the crowd spurs on their side to victory. When the final siren goes, the winning side's supporters scream in euphoria as their club's official fight song is triumphantly broadcast over the stadium's P.A. system and the losers sullenly walk back into their dressing room. It is truly a sight that must be seen to be believed!
There is nothing better than to sit back on a weekend afternoon with an ice-cold VB, turn on the T.V., and watch footy. It is a genuine Australian past-time that must be experienced on any visit. To miss an opportunity to see Australian culture at its very finest is to miss Australia entirely!
The AFL Grand Final will be on Fri., Sept. 24 and broadcast on Fox Sports World Canada at 10 p.m. So check with your frickin' satellite/cable company.