This past Saturday, I went to my first Australian Rules football game. I was told not to judge the game by the participants Melbourne and Brisbane, who aren’t very good. But the tickets were free and I had a really good time. I even (kind of) learned the rules of the game.
Australian rules football, generally called footy by the natives, is simple enough to understand. It’s kind of a combination of rugby and soccer, but have enough distinct characteristics to make it unique. Two teams of eighteen players must get a ball, that’s shaped like a rugby ball, through two of the four standing goalposts. Players can advance the ball by kicking it, running with it (though the player must bounce the ball every once in awhile), or handballing it to another teammate. Handballing is when a player hits the ball with one hand while holding it with the other. Points are scored when a player kicks the ball through one of the goal posts. The middle goal is worth six points and the two smaller ones, called behind posts, are only worth one point. It’s also a full contact sport as players can tackle opponents if they choose to run with the ball.
There’s definitely more to the game than that, but that knowledge was enough for me to understand what was going on. I had a really good time at the match, though I’m sure the free tickets, free transportation, and cheap beer played a factor in that. The relaxed atmosphere of the stadium was a nice change from American sports venues. People could bring their own food and drinks and security wasn’t constantly asking to see tickets. The fans were pretty loud to, though it was nothing like Fenway Park (few places are). The team I was rooting for, Melbourne, got destroyed in the third quarter, which did a number on the crowd.
I also played my first footy match the next day. I ended up getting asked (forced) to play since my hall was playing in an inter-hall competition and we were down on people. I had some trouble with the whole handball concept, but it was fun. I got tackled a couple times and returned the favor. Luckily, the whole having seventeen other people on the field allows one who doesn’t know the rules to get by. As Ringo Starr would say, I got by with a little help from my friends.
I can see why Australians love footy. It’s an easy enough game to pick up that is incredibly entertaining to watch. I wasn’t really expecting to get into it while I was here, but I am really looking forward to going to my next match. It would certainly cushion the blow of missing Opening Day for baseball.