Going to an Australian Rules Football game is a must for any expat new to Australia.
In fact, attending a Sydney Swans game is just one of the 101 things to do in Sydney your first year. To read the other 100 click here.
A very, brief history of Australian Rules Football
Australian Rules Football was originally invented in Melbourne and is probably the most popular sport followed and played in Melbourne. In fact, when talking to anyone from Melbourne, you’ll notice that they call Aussie Rules “footy” whereas a Sydney-sider calls Rugby League footy. This can be confusing to any expat new to Australia.
In Sydney there is one team, the Sydney Swans, but in Melbourne there are several teams each representing a different neighbourhood similar to Rugby League teams in Sydney.
Aussie Rules was intended to keep cricketers in shape during the off season which explains why it’s played on a cricket oval.
Below I’ve basically made a transcript of the video above with a few additions to help clarify. I do not cover everything and all the rules but this will get you started and make it easier to follow the game.
For more details on things like player positions go here.
The Anatomy of the Field
Since the game is played on a cricket oval, there are no standard dimensions for the AFL field which is generally between 135 and 185 meters in length by 110 to 155 meters width.
As mentioned in the video above, a 185 by 155 meter field is by far one of the largest fields of any team sports and players have to be extremely fit in order to cover this much ground.
The markings on the field are for the goal squares, a centre square and center circle. There are two 50 meter lines arched around the goalposts at each end of the field. The line through the centre circle represents the middle of the oval. And of course, the boundary line represents the edge of the playing field.
The game starts with a “ball up” in the centre square.
How to Score in Australian Rules Football
The object of the game is for your team to score more points than the opposing team.
To score, a player must try to kick the ball through the middle two goalposts. If a kick is successful through the middle two taller posts this is a goal and is worth 6 points.
If one of the goalposts is hit, or if the ball is deflected by another player through the goalposts, or if you kick it between a long goal post and a short post, this is known as a “behind” and only scores 1 point.
The game is played in four 20 minute quarters for a combined playing time of 80 minutes.
The team with the highest amount of points from goals and behinds at the end of the game wins.
Kicking a ball through a couple of goalposts for 80 minutes? That sounds dead easy, doesn’t it?
Well, not so much.
Standing in your way are 18 members of the opposing team who are trying to take the ball away from you so that they can score themselves.
They are allowed to block kicks, intercept the ball, push you off the field or tackle you by grabbing you below shoulders and pulling you down.
If they do tackle you, the opposing team are rewarded a free kick from the spot of the tackle.
Moving the Ball Up the Field
To move the ball up the field you have to be quick and you have to dispose of the ball before an opponent tackles you.
You can move the ball by kicking it in any direction, running with it so long as you bounce it on the field at 15 meters or handballing the ball where you strike the ball from underneath with a clenched fist to a team mate, kind of like an underhand volleyball serve.
Throwing the ball is absolutely not allowed in Australian Rules Football and your opponent will be awarded a free kick if you do.
Free Kicks in Aussie Rules
If you kick the ball in the air 15 meters or more and a team mate catches it without the ball bouncing on the ground this is known as the “mark” or “marking the ball”.
The player is then awarded a free kick from that spot and cannot be touched by an opponent for 10 seconds.
If a mark is made within your team’s forward 50 meter arc you’re awarded 30 seconds to take your free kick.
If 10 or 30 seconds has expired without you making the kick, the umpire will call play on and the opponents are free to try and take the ball off you.
The game is a back and forth affair full of marks, handballs, runs, goals, behinds and free kicks. But there’s a few other things that you’ll need to understand before playing or going to a game.
What’s a Speckie?
This is Australian slang for spectacular mark.
You’re not allowed to push anyone in the back but, if there’s a marking contest and an opponent is standing in your way, you are allowed to use his back for leverage to try and catch the ball for a mark.
This can result in gravity defying plays for the ball.
A game is played with 2 teams of 22 with 18 players from each team taking to the field at any one time.
A team is allowed to interchange up to 3 players per game.
Very similar to football, the players must wait in the interchange area and players must enter or exit at the designated areas.
The maximum number of interchanges is 120.
There is also one substitute in case of injury.
Fifty Meter Penalties
There is a 50 meter penalty, if you’re stupid enough to commit any of these infractions.
- Arguing with, disputing the decision of, or using abusive language towards an umpire.
- Scragging the player who has taken a mark; that is, to tackle the player or impede him from taking the kick.
- Running over the mark; the man standing on the mark cannot move forward.
- Failing to return the ball quickly and on the full to a player who has been awarded a free kick.
- Wasting time, deliberating or not, by kicking the ball forward after one’s team had conceded a free kick.
- Using unnecessary roughness against a player who has already taken a mark.
Running through the mark.
- Entering the protected zone; defensive players cannot impede by entering the space extending five metres.
- If any free kick infraction is paid against the defensive team while a mark or free kick is to be taken.
- Any free kick resulting from an interchange infringement or a line-up has an additional 50 metre penalty.
The umpire will award a 50 meter penalty and the other team will gain possession from the spot where the umpire has marked 50 meters.
This is a huge disadvantage as games can be lost from kicks resulted in penalties.
Kicks After the Siren
If a player marks the ball and the siren goes off to signify the end of time, the game doesn’t end there.
You are allowed to take the kick and any points scored from this kick counts.
Games have been won or, in St Kilda’s case, lost from a kick after the final siren.
To the uninitiated Aussie Rules Football seems very complicated, but once you understand the rules it becomes a great sport to watch.