Australia has a couple of major sports. It all depends on which region you are in. Rugby reigns supreme out on the East Coast, with huge support in centers likes Sydney and Brisbane. In Melbourne though, they play a different game completely – Australian Rules Football.
While it shares some similarities to Rugby, there are quite a few differences as well. If I were to say both Aussie Rules and Rugby were a combination of Soccer and American Football for comparison, I’d put Aussie Rules more towards Soccer and Rugby more towards American Football. That is NOT to say that Aussie Rules is any less tough or physical than Rugby – it’s just a different type.
Rugby is a very grinding physical game, often won by inch upon grueling inch. Aussie Rules is much more fluid, flowing, open running game. Players are much more often in constant motion, hitting happens less frequently and points are more readily scored.
The game itself is blissfully easy to follow for the uninitiated. There are two general rules for Aussie Rules, as far as I could figure:
1. The ball can be moved forward by a team in a variety of ways: Running it, Punching the ball with a closed fist, or kicking it. Kicking the ball is far and away the most common practice. This is very important – any time a kicked ball travels more than 15 yards and is caught (without bouncing on the ground), the player that made the catch now is free from tackling…until they move forward. So they have a free kick from that spot, if they so choose. Get close enough to the goal, and it should be easy points.
2. Scoring is done mostly via kicking. Kick through the middle uprights without hitting the goalposts or another player, get 6 points. Put the ball through the side posts or have it deflect off players or the goalposts, get 1 point.
There are lots of smaller nuances and penalties I’m sure, but that’s about the gist of it.
So on a fine and sunny Saturday, I found myself at the most hallowed grounds for Australian Rules Football, the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG).
Yup, I said Cricket. The MCG is a multi-purpose stadium and is the largest stadium in the southern hemisphere. It can hold a whopping 100,000 people in it’s 4 leveled stands. And I just so happened to be around on a weekend when two major clubs were playing – the Collingwood Magpies (black and white) and Hawthorne Hawks (brown and gold). It wasn’t a sellout crowd, but with ~83,000 fans, it was still a massive amount of people.
The teams run out through banners created by their supporters. I chose to cheer for the Hawks. I had past troubles with Australian Magpies afterall.
A nearly full MCG, with the Melbourne skyline in the background. Beautiful day for a ballgame.
The game kicks off in interesting fashion – with the referee slamming the ball down and having it bounce way up. Two players then jump up and compete for the aloft ball.
When a ball gets put out of play, the referee then handles the inbound. He turns his back to the center of the field and the heaves the ball way up in the air.
Really, it’s all very amusing from my perspective. It feels like a game one would play growing up.
A goal scoring kick by Hawthorne. The middle goal posts are the primary target. As the Hawthorne player caught a kick at this point cleanly, he can get a clean kick off towards the goalposts. I was amazed at their kicking ability. This isn’t a round ball, it’s oval like a rugby ball. The precision the players can pull off with their passing and goalkicking is incredible.
A panorama of the stadium seating during half-time. Multiple smaller pitches were set up and played by teams of kids. It was pretty funny watching them. I was in the upper, upper deck (ie the nosebleeds), but I really liked my spot. It was a good view of the game and I had no trouble following the action down below.
The final moments of the game. The sun was setting and JUST starting to get in my eyes when the final siren sounded.
Despite jumping out to an early lead, the Magpies got thoroughly beaten by the Hawks. It was a close game for the first half, but Hawthorne absolutely thumped Collingwood in the 3rd quarter. The final score was 138-91. To read the scores, it goes: Goals – Single Points – Total Points.
I came out of the stadium having really enjoyed the experience. It probably helped that I saw the game staged on it’s grandest stage in front of a very fervent crowd. The action in Aussie Rules is incredibly fast. Points can be gained and lost quickly through a simple mistake. Play is continuous and hard hitting. All in all, a very fun game to be a spectator for.