By Mike Flach
I fell in love in Australia. The subtle curves. The smooth, soft feel of the skin. The sweet smell of sweat. The gentle touch. The scream of pain as one Aussie rules football player puts his cleats into his opponent’s back. All of these have converted me to an all-out footy fan.
Australian rules football, or “footy” as the locals call it, is an entirely different game from its nearest relative, rugby. With a speed comparable to soccer, but with physical contact comparable to rugby, this game is a marvel in itself. Everyone has heard of Aussie rules, but if asked, nobody really knows how the game works. The rules for the game are incredibly extensive. Even the most ardent Australian fans have to admit that they don’t know, let alone understand, all of the rules involved. Despite the complexity, the game is enjoyable to watch, and must be seen to be fully appreciated. The main league is the Australian Football League and it is a fairly recent invention. Previously there were state leagues, but the AFL was created to make it into a national contest. Melbourne continues to be the hub for footy, having nine of the 16 afl teams. As you travel further north in Australia, rugby starts to take over as the more popular of the two sports. Despite the contest between these two sports for a fan base, both have terrific followings.
As a general rule, footy fans are crazy. McDonald’s named their double quarter pounder a “footy burger” in Australia. The slogan for this burger? “If you live and breathe footy, now you can eat it.” Very fitting for the fan base in Australia. Children are brought up cheering for their local team exclusively. Even after moving to South Australia from New South Wales, Paul, a St. Kilda native in Melbourne explained that being indoctrinated from birth makes changing teams nearly impossible.
“That would be like changing your religion!” gasped Paul.
Although hockey players still have the best record for playing with injuries-Bobby Baun played hockey for Toronto in 1964 and broke his leg in the Stanley Cup final against Detroit, then hid from the doctors in a cabin and played the sixth game of the series and scored the winning goal, giving Toronto the cup-footy players sustain major injuries incredibly regularly. Instead of seasons, the number of injuries footy players have played measures their seniority. Shaun Rehn, the main ruckman for the Adelaide Crows, has sustained three knee replacements in his career, the most recent came earlier this season. The afl rule book states: “When a player has been, or appears to have been, so seriously injured as to prevent his being removed immediately from the playing ground, the steward may approve his replacement prior to leaving the ground (3.2.6).” Game play continues in spite of serious injuries sustained by players.
“Any game where you have to tape your ears to your head to keep them attached sounds great to me!” commented Canadian and newcomer footy fan Kevin Foster. About the only knowledge of footy in North America is the belief that it is violent. Although this is untrue, the violence level has been severely toned down since the inception of televised games in the afl. The country leagues continue to be vicious, but the afl has low incidence of violent acts. A tribunal was established to prosecute and punish players involved in unruly acts or exchanges.
Rich or poor, young or old, Australians love their footy. This fast-paced and exciting game has developed largely unnoticed by North American society. We have been sadly deprived of a truly great sport, and anyone lucky enough to watch this spectacle live should grasp the opportunity like a dog does when he humps your leg.