Since my arrival in the United States I have often been asked about what Australia is like and what sports we value. The most difficult thing I have found is trying to explain Aussie rules to Americans who do not know the Australian game.
I’m often asked if American Football is similar and, whilst American Football is complicated, it seems to go on forever like most American sports, which lasts a good 6 hours per game. On the other hand, Australian Football League (AFL) is frenetic and chaotic especially when you see it for the first time and only lasts 2 hours.
It is sport rich in history beginning on an open field between two old Melbourne schools in 1858. Over the years, it has developed into one of the most athletically demanding games in the world. It is played between 18 professional teams over the course of a 22 round season. The top 8 teams progress to the finals with the top 4 given a second chance should they lose, followed by the next week where they play the winners from the bottom half of the 8. This all culminates in the Grand Final played on the last Saturday in September at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) between the 2 best teams, with over 100,000 impassioned spectators watching.
It is played with an oval shaped leather ball, and played on an oval shaped field rather than the traditional square shaped fields of American football. Each team has 22 players with 18 starting on the field with 4 rolling substitutes. Each player possesses various abilities with some big strong players, like the power forward, or wily and skillful smaller players typical to a striker in soccer.
The object of the game is to score the most points. This can be achieved by kicking the ball through the 2 large goalposts at either end of the field. 1 point is awarded if you hit the large goalpost, the ball goes between the small goalpost and large goalpost, or if the ball is touched before crossing the line. If the ball misses everything then there is no score.
There are 9 umpires who officiate the game and receive the usual barrage of abuse that goes with it. There are 3 central umpires who adjudicate whether there is a foul, or infringement of any variety. There are 4 boundary umpires, 2 on each side, who judge whether the ball is out of play or not and throw the ball back in when it does. Finally, there are 2 goal umpires who are in charge of scoring and giving the signal as to whether it is a 6 pointer (goal) or point (behind) or none of the above.
The rules are extremely complex and difficult to explain, however the main things to avoid would be the head, tripping and pushing other players in the back.
The best part about the games are the high flying marks or (catches on the full) extraordinary skill and agility as well as the all in brawls that really gets the fans involved.
Ultimately it is one of the greatest sporting spectacles in the world and I recommend everyone watch at least one game in their life.