Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Swan Song - the novice guide to Aussie Rules

Sunday night was the end of a glorious day in Sydney.  We’re talking huge blue sky untainted by clouds, sun warm enough to bask in during the day and to shed a couple of layers and a sunset to warm the cockles of amateur painters’ hearts everywhere.  It was also a first for us – somehow despite living in Sydney for almost 12 years on and off, we have never managed to catch a game of AFL or Aussie Rules as it is alternatively known and so Sunday evening we headed off to watch the Sydney Swans in action against the Richmond Tigers.

AFL is fanatically popular in Victoria and South Australia – and I do mean fanatically, it is not uncommon for teams in Melbourne to get crowds of 30,000 to a routine game, and in fact looking at the statistics, the Collingwood Magpies got a whopping average of 53,440 spectators per game.  AFL is still a relatively new concept in New South Wales and consequently Sydney,  the Sydney Swans were formed when South Melbourne Football Club relocated to Sydney in 1982.  

As a game it seems to me that as Hungarian is to language so AFL is to the rest of the footie/rugby world in that its closest relative is probably Gaelic football.  My grasp on the rules etc. is very slim and I am bracing myself for a flood of emails from enraged aficionados but here goes on what I have picked up so far:

Played by 18 a side
Played by men in tight shorts and sleeveless vests
Played by very fit men – it is a game of constant running and apparently when they fitted GPS trackers to players it wasn’t uncommon for them to run 16km during the course of the game.
The field of play is oval– and indeed we went to see the Sydney Swans play at their homeground the SCG – the Sydney Cricket Ground

The ball goes forward, backwards, inside, outside, upside down so far as I could see
You can kick or hand punch the ball but not pass, and spectators shout “ball” a lot
If you run with the ball you must bounce it every 15 m or so
To score you kick it through some posts with different scores for which posts it goes through, put me in mind of Quidditch to be honest
You can tackle but not below the knee or above the shoulder
If you take a mark the opposing side are not allowed to tackle you but tend to dance around in front of you windmilling their arms
The umpire starts play by hurling the ball at the ground and it then rebounds or bounces back up into the air
Throws ins are by umpires who throw the ball over their shoulder with an enviable vigour
Offside doesn’t seem to exist as a concept
The game is four quarters

At the end of the game , which happily in this particular case ended in victory for the Swans, everyone sings the team song – very rousing. if you want to sing along and they then open up the field to an event called Kick to Kick, where supporters come on the pitch and have a kick about once the teams have left.  Lots of small children and their parents kicking balls around in a general melee of celebration.

I really enjoyed the game, and I particularly liked what a family atmosphere it was, Swans supporters draped in red and white came in all shapes and sizes from Grannies to infants sporting bobble hats in the Swans’ colours of red and white.  The play on the field was incredibly fast and exciting – the ball moves up and down the pitch at an amazing speed with relatively few interruptions for things like rule infringements so play really flows.  So I’m off to buy my red and white scarf, learn the words to the song and enthuse the Drama Queens on the joys of Aussie Rules – and mental note to self, must learn the right moment to shout ‘BALL’.

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