In Australia, but predominantly in Melbourne and Victoria, the main sport is Australian Rules Football.
Also sometimes referred to as Australian Rules, Aussie Rules or just footy.
2008 marked the 150th anniversary of this fantastic game.
The Australian Football League (AFL) is the national competition, culminating around the AFL Grand Final, which is the highest attended domestic club championship game in the world (over 100,000 spectators in 2008).
The AFL is a competition of 16 clubs, with 10 of them from Melbourne, so this really is Melbourne's game.
In Queensland and New South Wales Australian Rules Football is less popular, with rugby being the favourite sport.
Australian Rules Football: Some History
This great game dates back to 1853 with accounts of various forms of "football", originally played in the Victorian goldfields. Australian Football did not become organized in Melbourne until 1858 when it was used to keep cricketers fit during the winter months. The following year the first laws of the game were published in the Melbourne Football Club.
Though it is only a professional sport in Australia, several countries have adopted it as an amateur sport and play it in several different variations. One of those variations is Gaelic Football. The best Australian Rules Football players play annually in the International Rules Series against the Gaelic football players from Ireland. International Rules is a variation of both Australian and Gaelic football.
Australian Rules Football: Some Rules
This fantastic game is played on an oval ground with an oval ball (rugby ball). There are two teams of 18 men. It is a contact sport in where players can tackle using their entire body or hands to obstruct and opponent. It is a fierce competition indeed: The crowd roaring at each "screamer" completed, players hating to be "shattered" and dreading their team being the "wooden spoon" at the end of each season.
The winner is the team scoring the most points (of course). You can get six points (a goal) for kicking the ball between the two middle posts of the opposing goal. You get one point if you kick the ball between one of the outer posts and one of the middle posts.
Players can use any part of their body to advance the ball, mainly by kicking, handballing, and running. It is a game of frequent physical contests, fast movement of players and ball. Very spectacular are some of the air contests to "mark" the ball (= to catch the ball).
See some amazing moments in the video below. Just note how high these guys jump. Australian Rules is so much more than brute force!
When you catch the ball from a kick, you can then not be attacked by anyone. So one main tactic is to get a good pass to one of your forwards close to the goal. If they manage to catch it, they then have pretty much a free shot at goal. This is how many of the goals get scored.
Many games end up with the winner taking more than 100 points in total and the loser still scoring 60-70 points or more. So it is a game of many goals and many cheers.
Unlike what many people unfamiliar with the sport think, Aussie Rules is not without rules. It is fair to say though that where in soccer a little bit of pushing and shoving would quickly get you a yellow or red card, in Aussie Rules it does not make people turn their heads. But mean stuff is definitely not allowed, with players copping big penalties when they go too far.
See the video below for some hard hits... Yep, it's all fun and games until somebody loses an eyeball or a kidney... Just note again that most of the action you are about to see is not allowed and will result in match bans and fines.
AFL runs from March to September. The regular season runs from March to August. In this time the teams play 22 games. They do not all play eachother twice, a funny feature which I myself, as a European soccer fan, initially had to get used to. The top eight then have play-offs in September leading to a "winner takes it all"-game the last weekend of September, the Grand Final in the MCG.
The competition is regulated via salary caps and a draft system, much like the American Basketball competition NBA, so the competition is not dominated by one team or a few teams for years and years. This also means that each club has got a fairly good supporters base.
You haven't really become Melburnian until you start "barracking" for a club.
My team is the Hawthorn Hawks which I chose in 2006 not long after my immigration to Melbourne. This had much to do with friends of ours who are Hawthorn fans, so it was a logical choice. They weren't too successful in the first few years, but in 2008, in a very exciting Grand Final, they managed to overturn the Geelong Cats, the big favourites, and grab the Premiership!
Rich in tradition and culture, Australian Rules Football has attracted more interest among Australians than any other organized sport ever played.
According to the Australian Sports Commission, in the mere four years from 2001 to 2005, the sport had increased 42%, and there is no sign of it slowing down.
And there is good reason for that, it is simply such a great, spectacular game.
when you are coming to Melbourne between March and September I can really advise you to go to an AFL game.
Basic tickets are very reasonably priced and a game of footy is a great way to spend your night or afternoon!