Can anyone here explain Australian Rules Football?

Recently, our cable system started to present FoxSports International. I’ve come to enjoy watching Australian Football, but I can’t figure out what they’re trying to do. I went to the official Australian Football League website and found the rules (or “laws”), but they don’t really explain the passion of the game. They give definitions and dimensions and such.

Last night, I watched Sydney vs. Hawthorn. It appeared by the score that Hawthorn really owned the game (or “match”), but I really wasn’t sure which team was which. At one point, an official stopped the game and a Sydney player had what seemed to be an unchallenged kick to the goal (which he scored). The announcers seemed to think this was a significant turn of events, as it put Sydney back in the game. I never understood what entitled Sydney to this free kick. Upon scoring, sometimes the official would signal with one arm, the other arm, or both arms. And they look so serious! Whose idea is the hat?

The score was really baffling as well. It was a small number - a smaller number - a much larger number. Huh?

The game looks like a lot of fun and things move quickly. It makes rugby look like it’s for sissies. These guys are running full bore at each other with no apparent safety equipment. The ball gets thrown, bounced, and kicked. I don’t understand when or why you would throw, bounce, or kick. The kicks were really interesting. The camera would catch the guy kicking, then immediately swing over to where the ball would fall. In most American games, the camera follows the trajectory of the ball. The Australian camera work made me wonder what was going on that I couldn’t see.

Is this game really popular in Australia? The stadiums seem large and the crowd sounds boisterous, but when the camera pans the stands, the stadium seems oddly empty.

I’m eager to learn so that I may better understand what these guys are trying so hard to do! In return, I’m willing to try to explain baseball’s Infield Fly Rule.

A real Australian will be along in a moment to tell you more. I, however, can only relate my experiences in college.

We had a guy from Australia on our floor, Jason was his name, who introduced us to “Aussieball,” as we called it. Jason modified the rules a bit for us, since we only had a soccer field (an Aussieball field is considerably bigger, and it’s oval-shaped, IIRC), didn’t know how to measure meters (we used yards (or “yahds,” as Jason called them)), and weren’t very good at bouncing the ball off the ground-something that apparently every Australian boy learns to do before kindergarden (Jason let us get away with holding it in our hands and touch in on the ground).

Imagine American football- the idea is to get the ball into your goal, which the opponent defends. In our modified game, we used the existing soccer goal as the “inner” goal, and we stuck posts in the ground about a yard out from the edges of the inner goal to form the “outer” goal.

Once any player got the ball, he could run with it for 15 yards. After 15 yards he had to do one of three things with it: 1) bounce it off the ground, 2) pass it to another player, or 3) attempt to score. When you have posession of the ball, the opposing team can try to tackle you, so frequent passing of the ball (or the ability to outrun a rabbit, as my roomate “Spanky” had) was definitely encouraged. If you had posession of the ball and you were a big meaty oaf (like me) it was harder for the opposing team to tackle you. If you were tackled, the opposing team got posession where you fell.

Passing worked like this: you had to hold the ball in one hand and sort-of punch it with the other hand. Throwing it was definitely illegal.

If you kicked the ball into the inner goal, you got six points. If you passed it into the inner goal, you got a smaller number of points. If you kicked it into the outer goal, you got a certain number of points (less than 6), and if you passed it into the outer goal you got only 1 point.

Apart from our modifications, we played pretty much according to the Australian professional rules.

My two shares of Enron stock.

Oh, by the way: here’s a funny story regarding Australian rules football.

The first day I met Jason, he was watching an Aussieball game on the TV in our dorm’s lobby area (his mum had taped it and mailed it to him). After exchanging greetings and pleasantries, I asked him which team he was rooting for. Well, his eyes got about this big [holds thumb and index finger about 4 inches apart] and asked: WHAT!!!

Eventually I learned that “rooting” is an extremely vulger slang term for sexual intercourse in Australia.

I’ll be sure to remember that. Often, I end up watching these games while my wife is lying in bed next to me. Maybe I can root and “root” at the same time. :eek: …Or maybe not.

Real Australian here, but don’t look at me, mate. I won’t be able to explain a thing about it. :smiley: That’s because I’m geographically challenged with regard to AFL (ain’t so popular in my hometown).

There are several types of football played in Australia: Soccer, Rugby Union, Rugby League, and Australian Rules. They all have their followings, but the last two are the biggies. Traditionally, New South Wales (Sydney) and Queensland have been the big Rugby League states, and the others played AFL, with the state of Victoria being that game’s epicentre. That has changed a little, as the popularity of each game has grown a little outside of its traditional state (eg. the game you watched had Sydney in it). This is good for both games of course, but historically it is something of a shame because it is killing of a very Australian model of having major league sport played by teams representing individual suburbs. The original League competition was an intra-city Sydney affair, and Melbourne had a similar set-up with the AFL. In the old days there was even a geographical requirement for players - you had to live in your team’s suburb. Of course, these days there are million dollar contracts, massive advertising, players are bought and sold… The quaint intra-city model is being replaced by a more US-style inter-city one, in both games.

As I said, as a Sydneysider, I know next to nothing about Australian Rules, and you’ll need a Victorian to come along and explain it properly. I’ll give it a very basic shot: Imagine American football played by ballet dancers. No? Okay… Cross American football with basketball, and you’ll have an idea. It’s a fast, fluid, and athletic game, with less rough and tumble than Rugby League or US football. It even has elements of basketball in the rules (you can only run a certain number of strides before you must bounce the ball off the ground, IIRC. - aah cool. I see that’s been mentioned on preview).

Folks from non-AFL states disparagingly call it “Aerial Ping Pong” and “Ballet Dancing”, and the AFLers reply by labelling Rugby League “Running Wrestling” etc. I won’t get into that though; AFL does look like a bloody good game. It’s just that I don’t really understand it.

I’m no Australian–but I’ve been in the stands at the Subiaco Oval cheering for the West Coast Eagles.

It looks like mayhem, but it’s really quite simple: get the ball between the two centre posts and it’s a goal–six points. Get the ball between the outer posts and the centre posts and it’s a behind–one point. Scoreboards show goals and behinds and a total: thus 3-2-20 for the Eagles (for example) means three goals (18 points) and two behinds (2 points) for a total of 20 points.

Other than that, it’s the marks to watch for. This occurs when a player catches the ball before it hits the ground. Then, the action stops and he gets the chance to kick or handball (that is, the punching referred to earlier) the ball to another player. Then, play continues.

I found it to be an exciting game where the action never stops, and in all my times in Australia, I followed the game–and specifically, the Eagles, since Perth was where I spent most of my time. Watch it enough, Drum God, and you’ll get the hang of it.

In addition to the above, I would say that the unopposed shot at goal that one player had was due to a mark as described above.


I’ll do what I can, but I’m from the Rugby and League-playing part of Australia, and I’m not thoroughly versed in the intricacies of Aussie Rules.

The aim at Aussie Rules is to kick the ball between the central pair of uprights at the other team’s end of the ground. That is a goal, and it is worth six points. There are a few sorts of near-miss that are called ‘behinds’ and that are worth one point. One way to score a behind is to kick the ball between one of the centre uprights and the outer upright next to it. Another is to knock the ball through the goal with your fist. Another is if one of the defending team touches the ball and it goes through the goal. The goal umpire signals a goal with a peculiar gesture of both hands. He signals a behind with a gesture that explains how it was scored–a one-handed half of the ‘goal’ gesture signals a behind that has gone between a centre and an outer upright. A complete miss is signalled by fanning the hands over one another at waist-level, palms down. A team’s score is listed as three figures: the number of goals, followed by the number of behinds, followed by the total points (=6 times the goals plus one times the behinds).

You are allowed to carry the ball a short distance, after which you must kick it, drop it, or hit it with your fist: it is permitted to drop it and then catch it again if it touches the ground. If you are tackled holding the ball you must drop it. You may not throw the ball, so it is passed from player to player by kicking or punching (“hand-balling”) it.

You may grab another player and tackle him, but you must not strike or kick him. There are restrictions preventing you from running into him in certain ways that are particularly dangerous.

If the ball is kicked and a player catches it ‘on the full’ (ie. before it hits the ground) the play is awarded a ‘mark’. He is allowed to back up a little way and run in to the spot where he caught the ball, and I think there is a time limit, but basically he is permitted to kick the ball from the spot where he caught it without interference.

A large part of the tactics of Aussie Rules Football is to break free from the opposing player who is marking you, and then, if you have the ball, to kick it to a team-mate who is also ‘in the clear’, so that he can take a mark and then make a kick (for goal or for another team-mate closer to the goals) without interference. A mark is a big advantage. So, at any time, everything that is going on within kicking distance of the ball is important. And so, although the game televises reasonably well, you get a much better idea of what is going on if you are actually at the game.

When the ball is sent on a long floating kick there is often a struggle at the place where it is set to land, in which members of both teams trying to get into position to take (or spoil) a mark. That’s why the camera operators are trained to televise the play in the landing zone rather than the ballistics of the ball.

I’m not sure about substitution rules, but basically every player is expected to play out the whole game (which is played in four quarters). Defensive specialists are stationed in the ‘back’ half of the field, and offensive specialists are stationed in the ‘forward’ half of the field, but the play is likely to switch from offensive to defense with startling rapidity, far too quickly for an offensive team to be replaced with a defensive team, even if the rules allowed.

There are six officials: one on each goal, one on each sideline, the umpire out on the field, and the scorekeeper (off).

Aussie Rules is fast-moving and fluid. It is played over the whole field, with the play affected by everything that is going on within 50 metres of the ball.

Thirty years ago Aussie Rules was played in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, while in New South Wales and Queensland Rugby was played by amateurs and Rugby League by professional and semi-pros. But since then the Victorian Football League has changed its name to “the Australian Football League”, expelling Melbourne clubs, admitting South Australian and Western Australian clubs, and establishing franchises in ‘enemy’ territory such as Sydney. Similarly, the NSW Rugby League has changed its name to “the Australian Rugby League”, expelling Sydney clubs, admitting Queensland and New Zealand clubs, and establishing franchises in ‘enemy’ territory (eg, Melbourne). Despite all this frantic effort, Rugby League remains more popular than Aussie Rules in the North-East, and Aussie Rules remains more popular than Rugby League in the West and South. So a game between two popular teams that are high in the results table and well matched, played in Melbourne on ANZAC Day will fill a 110,000-seat stadium to overflowing and draw a million TV viewers. But a game played under lights, between two unpopular teams, in Sydney on a weeknight will only attract a few thousand spectators.

The players do not wear much protective gear aside from mouthguards, boots, and perhaps jockstraps. The uniforms are skimpy and tight (to avoid giving opposing players an easy hand-hold in tackles). This, combined with the fact that Aussie Rules players are taller and less squat than Rugby or League players and show the effects of fewer facial injuries, makes Aussie Rules good ogling for those who are inclined to large athletic men.

That’s about all I know.


Well the best way to understand the game is to keep watching.
I did not understand it when I first began following it in 1996.
At first it looks messy but eventually you come to appreciate what’s going on.
It’s traditional to slate the umpires buy , by and large , they do a good job.

Now can anyone please explain the rules of cricket to this Englishman?
Second thoughts, dont’t bother - Robin Williams was bang on the mark when he said “Cricket is Baseball on Valium!”

If he sees any Australian Rules , he will surely declare "“It’s Gaelic Football on speed”!

I’ve been watching it on and off for near on 10 years and I still can’t work it out, I really can’t understand the appeal, apart from taking a high mark there seems little by way of skill but each to there own and the whole of Melbourne seems to think it’s the only game on earth so I won’t argue with them.

I only began to understand the game after attending a few games and having the rules explained to me during the game. In essence, the ball is constantly in motion and may only be “passed” to another play by kicking – hence, it really is football – or a hand pass by holding the ball and hitting it with a fist, and only then as a lateral pass.

A kick through the taller inner posts is six points; through the smaller out side posts is one point (called a behind).

There really are no timeouts in the game. For the time a ball is “dead” during a game, that time is tacked on to the end of the period. It makes for interesting moments when the clock winds down to zero and the game goes on; only the refs know how much time remains at that point.

What truly amazes me is the ability of the players to kick, whether distance or at an angle. I’ve witnessed 60-meter kicks through the posts as well as players facing in the wrong direction kicking back and through the posts. Why Aussie Rules players are not drafted by the American NFL is beyond me. An Aussie Rules player on a USA NFL team could return the art of the drop kick and change the NFL forever. I could see 70-yard drop kicks through the goalposts no sweat.

Aussie Rules players are probably the fittest athletes in the world. A few years back some university attached a GPS to the players of one team to measure just how fit. When plotted on a computer and played back, on screen, it reminded me of those old Family Circus cartoons where the kids goes everywhere but directly from A to B. The startling stats that came out of the research was an average Aussie Rules players run a distance equivalent to half a marathon for every game! When you consider a season is 22 games, that means a top player is running 11 marathons in 22 weeks!

That said, go Port!!

BTW, is Sam Newman still being an ass on The Footy Show?

BTW, the officials will use one hand to signal a behind, two for a goal. Unlike the action on the field, the officials are quite sedate when they do this.

That said, the Brisbane Lions (from the mainly rugby following state of Queensland) have been premiers two years in a row and are looking to make it a third!

Go Lions!

Almost. Actually, a handball can go in any direction.

The goal umpires are kind of a running joke, or maybe that should read, they should be seen as a running joke, but in Aussie Rules mad Victoria, they are seen as normal. It’s just one of those odd traditions of the game that they act like robots.

Don’t ask me why.

I’ve only been following for about the last 4 years, when I became friends with a footie mad Victorian who had moved up here. I’m only now beginning to see where the strategy and skill are.

It helps if you view the game as very very heavy handed basketball. A very large part of the skill is in getting clear of your marker, dodging and jinking and figuring out where the play is likely to go, so that you can be there when the ball comes etc.

Sam Newman is still being an ass (or, as I prefer “arse”) on The Footy Show. I wonder if he has anything else to live for?

Jimoen was on The Fat a week or two ago (general sport show on the ABC), and he was saying that Aussie Rules is great because most games only give you points for getting the ball in the goal, but Aussie Rules will give you a sympathy point for nearly getting it right.

I’m still new to the Aussie Rules love. It’s taken me quite a while to get the hang of it, but it’s well worth the effort.

Go Eagles! Go Dockers! And failing that, Go Lions!

And Collingwood can shove the goals posts where the sun don’t shine.

Quote from Agback:

" The players do not wear much protective gear aside from mouthguards, boots, and perhaps jockstraps. The uniforms are skimpy and tight (to avoid giving opposing players an easy hand-hold in tackles)."

Hmmm. So that’s what they’ve been telling you? Back in the fifties my uncle captained a notorious Australian Rules team, and according to photos did it in knee length baggy shorts and a loose pullover thing.

Therefore I’m not completely convinced that the very tight shorts of the modern game are not related to the financial woes of football in the eighties and nineties, and the belated recognition, by players and management alike, that a not insignificant number of their fan base are women (and gay men for that matter).:wink:

Now all the women I know with a passion for football care deeply about the finer points of play, but none of them are blind to the aesthetic possibilites of extremely athletic young men tackling each other whilst wearing very tight gear and a layer of slippery mud. :smiley:

Perving on the footy is one way of passing a winter Saturday afternoon in Melbourne.

Darren Bennett.

… and Bennett, while a fair lump of a lad, and a handy player with Melbourne, wouldn’t have been categoried as anything exceptional. If you are looking for somebody who really can kick a ball, then Geelong’s Ben Graham would be a fair example.

Long suffering Sydney Swans fan here. Looks like everything has been said though.

Fox Sports World periodically plays a show called “Australian Rules Football Explained” or something like that. It’s written for American sports fans just getting into Aussie rules, and I found it to be very useful explaining just what is going on.

I’m not sure when it’s on, though, since I have Tivo and it just recorded it one day.

One thing I hate is the way FSW edits the broadcasts to fit into the timeslot. A lot of times you’ll see almost all of the game in realtime, and then with five minutes left in the slot they’ll just compress the last 20 minutes of the game -usually the most interesting part- into highlight clips.