HEAD> TITLE>An Australian in Sweden - Australian Football /HEAD> BODY BACKGROUND="bg.gif"> CENTER> TABLE CELLSPACING=10 CELLPADING=0 BORDER=0> TR>
The smaller running players often run a half-marathon in the course of a game (all the while being hit from all directions), while taller players leap into the air, trying to stand on one another's shoulders to catch the ball. Is this a great game, or what?
There are 16 teams in the premier competition, the Australian Football League, with many other minor leagues also happening across the nation and around the suburbs and country towns. Star players in the AFL can receive upwards of $300,000 per season, although clubs have a salary cap of $3.2 million per year. While this is small change when compared with American and European sporting salaries, the Australian sporting marketplace is smaller and less wealthy.
Below is a brief history and explanation of the game. We hope it helps expand your understanding of the best code of football in the world!
How The Game Works
Teams are made up of 22 players, 18 of which are on the field at any one time.
The on-field line-up is divided, roughly, into Forwards, Defenders and Midfielders.
Back line: Back Pocket, Full Back, Back Pocket
Half Back line: Half Back Flank, Centre Half Forward, Half Back Flank
Centre line: Wingman, Centreman, Wingman
Half Forward line: Half Forward Flank, Centre Half Forward, Half Back Flank
Forward line: Forward Pocket, Full Forward, Forward Pocket.
Utilities: Ruckman, Ruck-Rover, Rover
Interchange: x 4.
Each team kicks to opposite ends of the ground, meaning one team's Back Pocket lines up on the other team's Forward Pocket, a Centre Half Forward plays against the opposition's Centre Half Back, and so on.
Ruckmen are the really tall men who leap into the air to try and tap the ball to their smaller running players (led by the ruck-rover and rover) when the ball is bounced or thrown-in (see below). The Full Forward is the star of the show, as he is supposed to kick the most goals.
Each team has a Coach who sits in a little box in the grandstand, yelling instructions down a phone-line to support staff on the "interchange bench". It's the coach's job to make all the tactical and strategic moves to win the game, providing he doesn't suffer a heart attack or burst his voice-box screaming at people during play. Yep, most of these guys get pretty steamed up when things are going wrong.
A runner (resplendent in lime green) can run onto the field to pass on instructions to players or ask them to leave the ground through the Interchange area, to be replaced by another player. Unlike some football codes, a players can come on or off the interchange repeatedly throughout a game.
Three field umpires patrol the ground, awarding free-kicks, bounce the ball and generally try to control the legalities of the game, while two boundary umpires run up and down the boundary line (see below) ready to signal when the ball tumbles out of bounds and to throw the ball back in. Goal umpires (see below) stand behind the goals.
The game is played in four quarters of 20 minutes, plus time-on (the making up of "dead time" during the quarter). At quarter and three-quarter time, the coach goes onto the ground and talks to his players in a "huddle". At half time, which lasts 20 minutes, the teams return to their dressing room for a more significant break.
Let's start with the basics. No guns, knives, chains or baseball bats. Biting and kicking is punished. No tackling below the waist or above the shoulders. Other than that ... go for it!
Well, not quite. In fact, while football is an unashamedly physical game, the laws are pretty strict on how contact can be made. It is okay to use a shoulder to bump an opponent out of the way while the ball is within range, however, any use of elbows or fists, and any mis-directed blows are penalised with a free kick. Illegal contact that is considered to be malicious by the umpire can see a player reported, meaning he has to face the AFL Tribunal to defend the action.
HANDBALLING, KICKING AND MARKING
Most of the laws of the game relate to how the ball is moved around the field. Players cannot throw the ball, but must "handball," which means holding the ball with one hand while punching it with a closed fist, preferably to a team mate. Players can also kick the ball, although a "Mark" (or a catch) is not considered to have been taken if the ball has travelled less than 10 metres. Naturally, a "mark" can only be taken when the ball has not touched anything - the ground, somebody's fingers, low-flying UFO - while in flight. High-leaping marks can be taken by climbing onto another player's back before catching the ball. If a player drops such a mark, a free kick is often paid to the player who was climbed upon. Basically this is to compensate for the inconvenience of having a 90-100 kg man jumping all over your back.
RUN TOO FAR, HOLDING THE BALL, DROPPING THE BALL, PUSHED IN THE BACK
Players running with the ball must touch it to the ground, either physically or by bouncing the ball, within 15 metres or they are penalised for running too far. If a player is tackled while running with the ball, he can be penalised for "Holding the ball" or "Dropping the ball". You'll know when this might happen because half the crowd (barracking for the player laying the tackle) will yell: "BALL!" Alternately, if the player laying the tackle pushes him in the back, the tackled player may win a free kick. You'll know this is a chance because half the crowd will scream: "BACK!"
OUT OF BOUNDS
The boundary line is the white chalk line running around the circumference of the playing area. If the ball is kicked and travels untouched over this line, it is called Out of Bounds On The Full, which awards a free kick to the other team. If the ball is touched or bounces before going Out of Bounds then a boundary umpire (they're the ones who run up and down the wings, sometimes running backwards) stands with his or her back to play and throws the ball high into the air, so that the ruckmen can contest the throw-in.
If a player is considered to have deliberately sent the ball Out of Bounds then a free kick can be awarded to the other team. This is most likely to happen when a defender is surrounded and can't see any option but to look for the boundary line. One of Australian Rules' most important defensive skills is the ability to knock the ball deliberately over the line with just enough subtlety, plus a convincing look of complete innocence, to win a throw-in, not give away a free kick.
50 METRE PENALTIES
These are awarded as an extra penalty after a free kick if the player giving away the free kick behaves in a churlish, unsporting or particularly violent manner. Sometimes players will throw the player awarded a free kick to the ground or refuse to pass the ball to them or some such thing, at which point the field umpire can impose a 50 metre penalty. These can deliver a Goal on a plate if awarded within 70 or 80 metres of goal so players need to tread carefully, even when frustrated.
SCORING AND STRANGE PEOPLE IN WHITE HATS AND COATS
The object of footy is to kick the ball through the big white sticks at either end of the ground. As in all team sports, teams kick in opposite directions (the teams change direction every quarter).
The goalposts in Australian Rules consist of two long sticks in the middle with shorter sticks on the outside. The posts are all exactly 6.4 metres apart and at least 6 metres high. A "Goal" is scored when a player kicks the ball through the two central large sticks, without anybody else touching the ball. A goal is worth six points. A "Behind" is scored when the ball misses the "goals", instead passing between one of the taller goalposts and the shorter point- posts. Therefore, missing the actual goal, either to the left or the right. A Behind is worth one point. Any kicks that travel further to the left or right, therefore passing to the outside of the point-posts are considered to have been Out-Of-Bounds on the full, awarding a free kick to the opposition.
If the ball is touched before travelling through the goalposts, it is only counted as a Behind, not a Goal, and if the ball is run through the goalposts or the point-posts, it is also a Behind. A Goal must be kicked. Handballing through the goalposts is only worth a Behind.
After a goal, the ball is carried back to the centre circle and is bounced or thrown into the air to recommence play from the most neutral point on the ground. After a behind is scored, the opposition team kicks the ball back into play from the goalsquare, which is the chalked box leading from the goalposts to 9 metres into the playing area.
One big question from newcomers to Aussie Rules is: why does somebody stand behind the goals wearing a baggy white coat, as worn by housepainters, and the kind of white porkpie hat usually seen on lawnbowlers. This comical figure is called the goal umpire. He, or she, judges whether the ball sailed through for a goal or a behind. Or out of bounds on the full. Goal umpires signal a Goal by standing straight between the goalposts, bending both arms at the elbow and extending the index finger of both hands. They then wave two flags to their counterpart at the other end. That goal umpire waves two flags back to acknowledge that the goal has been recognised and counted (the goal umpires compare notes at the end of each quarter to confirm the exact score of the match). A Behind is signalled by the raising of one arm and one index finger, then a single flag is waved to the other end.
Watch for the particularly skilled Goal Umpire work, as often practised at an AFL level, where the Goal Umpire positions him or herself right under the path of the ball then arches the back outrageously to watch the ball pass overhead and well behind the goals. This is usually followed by "The hang", when a goal umpire waits for a few needless moments to keep the crowd in suspense before signalling the goal.
The 16 teams are competing each week for Premiership Points. Winning an AFL match is worth 4 points. A drawn game (scores level) is split into 2 points each. A loss is worth the Big Zero in points.
The AFL ladder is calculated according to which teams have the most Premiership Points (usually the column on the far right), as well as percentage, which is too complicated to go into but is worked out according to the size of winning or losing margins. The team with the better percentage is placed above another team with the same number of Premiership points but a lesser percentage. Got that? Good.
The top 8 teams on the ladder after the 22 home-and-away rounds continue on to play in the Finals, throughout September and leading to the Grand Final (see below). The 8 teams that finish from 9th to 16th go into mothballs until the next season.
The worst-performed team in the competition sits in 16th place on the ladder. The team that finds itself there after the 22 home-and-away rounds of the season is awarded the dubious honor of The Wooden Spoon. Why the raspberry award of the AFL is a wooden spoon is anybody's guess (it's not even real, just a figure of speech) but, then again, this is a sport that has terms like "Holding The Man" and "White Maggot" so go figure.
The up-side of your team winning the Wooden Spoon is that you get first choice in the national draft in November, when the new, up-and-coming, available talent is divided up between the 16 clubs.
Also referred to as "winning the flag", the silver Premiership trophy is awarded to the team that wins the Grand Final, usually on the last Saturday in September (2000 Olympics permitting).
As mentioned above, the top 8 teams after the home-and-away rounds contest the finals, using a system of matches known as the McIntyre Final Eight, which is only marginally less complicated than the calculation systems used by NASA in building the Mars Pathfinder or used by the Australian Taxation Office to assess how much money tax-payers get back.
The guts of the whole system is this: win the first week, and definitely win the last week.
Without getting into fine detail like which semi-final victor specifically meets which qualifying final winner, here's how it works:
WEEK ONE: THE QUALIFYING FINALS
This is cut-throat for the lower clubs. During the first week of the finals, 1st plays 8th, 2nd plays 7th, 3rd plays 6th and 4th plays 5th . The lowest ranked losers (say 7th and 8th) drop out of the race. Thanks for coming. The highest ranked winners this week (say 1st and 2nd) get a week's rest, moving straight into the Preliminary Finals (see: Week Three).
WEEK TWO: THE SEMI FINALS
The two lowest-ranked winners (say 3rd and 4th) and two highest-ranked losers (say 5th and 6th) contest the Semi-Finals this week. The two losers drop out and the two winners go on to the third week.
WEEK THREE: THE PRELIMINARY FINALS
Okay, the two rested teams from the Qualifying finals each meet a winner from the semi-finals. It's completely cut-throat now, folks. The losers are out,. The winners move on to the Grand Final.
WEEK FOUR: THE GRAND FINAL
This is the big one. The Saturday afternoon that stops the majority of Australia. After a week of ceremonies, lead-up events and pre-match parachuting displays, the two preliminary final-winning teams run onto the MCG to compete for the Premiership Cup. The crowd is always in the vicinity of 100,000 people and the game is watched by a vast TV audience. The team that wins this match takes the flag, AKA the premiership AKA the loot and hoopla. The losers weep quietly in a stark dressing room. Oh well, there's always next year.
Going into this 1998 season, the Adelaide Crows are the reigning premiers. They beat St Kilda (the Saints) in the Grand Final last September.
The Brownlow Medal
Every player will tell you straight-faced that footy is a team game. The politically correct line is that you're just lucky to get a game and you aim to play well, week to week.
In fact, that's true but the League also has a highly desired individual award, for the best player of the AFL home-and-away rounds. It's called the Brownlow Medal and named after Charles "Chaz" Brownlow, a Geelong clubman, administrator and all-round good guy from a long long time ago.
At the end of each game, the three field umpires sit down and decide who they considered to be the best player on the field that day. This player is then awarded 3 votes. The second best player on the ground is awarded 2 votes and the third-best player on the ground is awarded 1 vote. These votes are locked away in a bank vault for the rest of the season, solemnly produced with an armed guard on Brownlow night. The votes are then counted in one of the most tedious television events of the year before the player with the most votes over the season is announced the winner. There is an asterisk, however. The award I for the AFL's best and fairest - meaning that if the top-voting player has been found guilty by the AFL Tribunal and suspended during the season, he is not eligible to take the Brownlow Medal. This happened last year when the Western Bulldogs' Chris Grant had the most votes but had been outed for a week early in the season. He therefore missed out on the medal, which was won by St Kilda's Robert Harvey. Nothing like a bit of controversy.
So who came up with Australian Rules football?
Australian Rules football emerged from humble beginnings. Some say it was the evolution of a running game played by Australia's Indigenous people, others say it was just a more organised version of a cross between Gaelic football and hurling, as played by miners in the mud and dust of the Victorian goldfields. Either way, "footy", as we know it, was kick-started by Thomas Wills, his cousin Henry Harrison and a couple of other keen sportsmen in the 1850's. Wills had spent time in England, playing cricket for Kent and captaining Rugby school in the sport of the same name. He returned to Australia and was reportedly alarmed at how the Victorian cricketers lost condition over winter. Aerobics hadn't been invented back then and Wills feared that his beloved rugby would be too punishing on the harder Australian ground, so he and Harrison were instrumental in forming the Melbourne Football Club in 1858, as an off-shoot of the already famed Melbourne Cricket Club.
On August 7, 1858, the first officially recorded Australian Rules football match was contested between two large Melbourne schools, Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar. With 40 players per team and and ad-hoc rule decisions, the game was a wild and disorganised affair played between goalposts planted half a mile apart. The match went from noon until dark with Scotch somehow scoring the only goal. A fortnight later, the match was resumed and then again two weeks later, but nobody could score and eventually the match was declared a draw.
It was a bizarre beginning for a sport that would more than a century later be played across the nation and routinely in front of 70,000-plus people, with hundreds of thousands more tuned in on TV. In the wake of the inaugural game, teams were quickly reduced to 20-per-side and the goals were brought closer together and to a more uniform distance apart. The game started to take off.
Why are there 16 teams? And why are so many from Melbourne?
In 1877, the Victorian Football Association was formed and became the premier competition right up until 1896 when six of the top teams walked and formed their own breakaway League. Yep, cut-throat politics and football have never been far apart. The Victorian Football League was founded by Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong (a long train-ride to play there), Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda. Essendon won the inaugural League Premiership .
Richmond and University joined the League in 1908 although University only lasted until 1915, a casualty of bad form and World War One). Top VFA performers Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Footscray joined in 1925. Twelve teams made up the VFL for the next 62 years, the most dramatic moment probably coming in 1982 when struggling South Melbourne moved north, made its players don unfeasibly tight shorts, and was bought by a man who allegedly also owned a pink helicopter. The team became the Sydney Swans.
But the Swans' move was not the only national interest in Australian Rules. The sport had long been the dominant football code in South Australia, West Australia and Tasmania, while Queensland played a bit of Aussie Rules on the side of the more popular Rugby League and Union.
In 1987, the VFL made it's concerted national push, becoming the Australian Football League and introducing the West Coast Eagles and the Brisbane Bears. Four years later, Adelaide joined, followed in 1995 by Perth's second team, Fremantle, and then in 1997 by a second Adelaide team, Port Adelaide. With so many teams joining up across the nation, at least one of the AFL's struggling sides had to go and it was poor old Fitzroy, formed in 1884, which was the casualty, officially "merged" with Brisbane, which now became the Brisbane Lions.
While the sport remains largely focused in Victoria, with so many teams based there along with the biggest, best stadiums and the Grand Final, its national appeal continues to grow. The AFL continues to have grander plans too, as the games in Auckland and South Africa earlier this year showed. Only one thing remains sure: even if Aussie Rules ends up taking over the world, umpires will still be called "White maggots!"
It's not unusual to see 70,000 people turn up for a big clash. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is one of the world's truly great stadiums, at its best for the traditional Boxing Day cricket Test and for the Australian Rules matches that take place day and night throughout the winter.
The largest crowd ever recorded at a footy match was on Grand Final Day, 1970, when Collingwood met Carlton in one of the most memorable matches ever to decide the Premiership (Carlton mounted an astonishing second-half comeback to steal the game and continue a Collingwood premiership drought that was to last all the way from 1958 to 1990). No less than 121,696 people were there that day - more than 121,750 if you include the players and coaching staffs - and it is a record that will probably never be broken, given all the post-Hillsborough fire and crowd safety regulations that now demand less tightly-packed grandstands.
crowds continue to be a feature of AFL football,
and last season saw several attendance records
broken. Packed houses in Adelaide, Perth and
Sydney have joined the massive MCG crowds. Any
matches between the Victorian heavyweights,
Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon and Richmond, are
guaranteed big crowds and if the Melbourne is
showing any form, the Demons can also draw a
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The Age's total coverage of the Footy
Australian Football League
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