Category Archives: Sport

In which the human lizard attempts to explain AFL

Before moving to Melbourne, I had a vague idea that there existed a thing called Australian Rules Football, which was played with a rugby ball and was a bit like Gaelic football.* After nearly four years here, I am a big fan of the sport (with the pajamas to prove it) and am therefore qualified to explain it to newcomers.

Warning for Australians: It’s safe to say I still don’t understand all of the intricacies of your beloved game, but I’m OK with that. I work with a former AFL umpire and a former AFL player so could easily have checked a few things with them… but I did not.

OK, here we go.

In the same way that Chinese people don’t call it “Chinese food”, Australians don’t call it “Australian Rules football”. Instead it is just footy, or AFL. AFL stands for Australian Football League (which is the top level of the game, like the Premier League**) but you can call all levels of the sport AFL. I don’t know how that works.

There are 18 teams in the AFL; my team is Geelong. This year sees the first ever AFLW (womens) and they have started out with just 8 teams. Geelong don’t have a team yet so I’m going for Adelaide – more on that another time.

The pitch is an oval shape. It has nice grass. I wish our grass looked like that. (Green, that is. I could take or leave the oval shape.)

The goals are similar to rugby goals, except that there are four posts at each end and no cross bar. You get 6 points for kicking the ball between the middle posts, and just one point for kicking between the outer posts or if you hit one of the posts. An illustration would be helpful here.

Sketch of an AFL goal

There are no ‘own goals’. If you kick or hit the ball through your own goal, that is just one point to the other team. So it’s a defensive tactic that can save you five points. Maths.

The ball is indeed similar to a rugby ball, but to watch the players scrabbling around after it, you’d think it was covered in butter. Further investigation is needed to confirm this.

The umpire starts the game by bouncing the ball in the centre of the field as hard as they can so that it bounces high in the air and a player from each team jumps in the air to try to thwack the ball to their team. This bit is like basketball.***

When the ball goes off the field, the boundary umpire stands with their back to the field and throws the ball over their head towards the players. This is my favourite bit as they look so absurd. Depending on how the ball went out, one of the players might get possession from the side line instead of the umpire doing their backwards fling. That is quite boring in comparison.

In a rule seemingly designed solely to make things more complicated/subjective for the umpires, the ball is only ‘out’ if it goes over the line, not if the player holding it goes over the line. So, your feet can be ‘out’ but as long as you hold the ball ‘in’, you’re all good.

In this sport, a handball is a good thing. In fact, it’s the way that you pass the ball with your hands. You hold the ball in one hand and then hit it with your other hand, kind of like serving in volleyball. Except not really.

If you catch a kick that has traveled at least 15 metres, that’s called a mark. The ball is yours and no one can take it from you. You can either play on or take your time to set up a kick. The rest of the time, if you have the ball, you can be tackled. This is most definitely a contact sport.

You can run with the ball but once you’ve been running for a bit, you have to bounce the ball on the ground and then you can keep running. Now, let me tell you, bouncing an oval ball and getting it to come back to you is much harder than bouncing a round ball. And they do it while running. I can only conclude that there must be some sort of witchcraft involved. Or maybe magnets.

sketch of footy player bouncing an AFL ball with the aid of a magnet

So there you have it – a comprehensive and mostly accurate (maybe) understanding of AFL. You are quite welcome.

* Things I know about Gaelic football: there are no things I know about Gaelic football.
** To further put my sporting knowledge into context, I just had to Google ‘Premier League’ to check I had it right.
*** Let’s pretend for a moment that I know what basketball is like.

Remember when it wasn’t cold all the time?

It’s winter at the moment. It is raining and it is cold. Seems like as good a time as any to recall the joys of summer.

My first Australian summer saw me living in the country and hanging out with livestock. As fun as that was, the next time summer came around, I was keen to see and do everything that Melbourne has to offer at the start of the year.*

I then remembered that I am really lazy, and so “everything” quickly turned into “a few fun things when it’s not too hot”. Here are some of those things.

Moonlight Cinema

This is an outdoor cinema in the Botanic Gardens and runs on nights throughout the summer, except when it rains. A pretty familiar set up you might think, as indeed I did when we went along to see The Theory of Everything. But no, this is Australia and so the girl next to us brought her pet snake with her. Not cool.

Cricket

After England’s disappointing performance in the tri-series and abysmal performance in the World Cup, I think it’s best that I focus on the Big Bash League here. As mentioned previously, we support the Melbourne Renegades. We went to all but one of the home games, decked out in our red t-shirts, sometimes with a small child, always with snacks. Our team didn’t do particularly well – we decided their motto when batting is “Everyone gets a turn” – but it was always good fun to watch and we’ll be back next year.

Zoo Twilight

A picnic and concert at the zoo, with lions roaring in the background. What’s not to love?

Water fights

I’m lucky enough to have a really mature fiancée who does things like coming back from the supermarket with two big water guns. The joy of a Melbourne summer is that it’s actually hot enough for a water fight to be refreshing, rather than something that leaves you shivering and grumpy.

The dog beach

The fun thing about beagles is that if you let them off the lead, they will pick up a scent and run and run until they are dots on the horizon and you are a sweaty mess trying to catch up. A fenced dog beach is, therefore, a magical thing for a beagle owner like myself. They get to run around and you get to enjoy the beach – everyone’s a winner.**

The Australian Open

So, I didn’t actually go to the tennis this year either… but I saw a bit of it on the TV. Did I mention that I’m really lazy?

* Which, dear international readers, is when summer takes place in Australia. Madness, I know.
** Except for the jellyfish Jasper rolled around on. Because it is dead.

In which the human lizard embraces Australian sport

It came as no surprise to me to find that Australians love sport. What came as rather more of a surprise was quite how fully I have embraced their sports since moving here. The following is a summary of the teams that I now barrack for.

Go Cats!Geelong Cats – AFL (Australian rules football)
In Melbourne, if you’re asked which footy team you support and you are foolish enough to answer, “I don’t really have a team”, the person you are talking to, whether man, woman, small child, old granny or human lizard, will give you a lengthy speech about the merits of their team. The popularity of AFL varies around Australia but here in Melbourne, it is MASSIVE.

I chose Cats while at a sports bar watching the British and Irish Lions beat the Australians in the rugby last year. At the same time, another screen was showing Geelong beating Hawthorn and so the Australian in our party convinced me to become a supporter. I jumped on board and was quickly singing the Cats’ song, despite knowing neither the words, nor the tune. It must have sounded amazing.

Melbourne Storm – NRL (rugby league)
People round here don’t really care about rugby – I’m told it’s much bigger in Queensland and New South Wales. Nevertheless, I have pinned my colours (purple and gold) to the mast and perhaps we will get along to a game one of these days.

Melbourne RenegadesMelbourne Renegades – Big Bash League (Twenty20 cricket)
Regional work kept me away from the Big Bash games last summer, though I caught a few on TV. It’s a bright, brash and neatly marketed T20 league and it’s great fun to watch. Unfortunately we picked Renegades before realising that they were the crapper of the two Melbourne teams, finishing second from bottom in the competition last season. However, the recent signing of Kevin Pieterson to the Melbourne Stars has somewhat validated our choice.*

Auckland Blues – Super 15 (rugby union)
Super Rugby is a rugby union competition played by teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. That’s really all I know about it but Kiwi Girlfriend has told me that I support the Blues.

Greensborough 5 – Northern Netball League (netball)Greensborough Netball Club logo
Netball is really big here – the league I play in, which is just for Melbourne’s northern suburbs, has eight divisions. Eight! I joined Greensborough Netball Club after the season had started and was placed in team 5, which competes in division seven. While that sounds incredibly unimpressive, it’s a good team and we made it through to finals. And, more importantly, I have a training top WITH MY NAME ON THE BACK.

* In case you don’t follow cricket, Pieterson used to play for England but he has always been a bit of a prick. He was fired from the England team for…  well… being a bit of a prick.