Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Exploring Aussie Sports Part II: AFL

Months ago Mickey and I attended our first Australian Football League (AFL) game when we cheered the Sydney Swans in their decisive victory over the Richmond Tigers.

AFL players engage in a sport called Aussie Rules Football. I figure fans refer to the sport as AFL because ARF would be a little weird. 'My hobbies include painting, arf, karaoke...' Yes, better to refer to the sport by its league name, AFL, than have strangers assume you have some sort of canine Tourette's.

Anyway, the sport was designed to keep cricketers in shape in the off season. I find this puzzling because, in the words of Bill Bryson, 'cricket is the only sport in which the fans burn as many calories as players, more if mildly restless.' I can't imagine what sort of winter time activities would render one incapable of even cricket. Competitive eating, perhaps?

Though AFL is played on an oval-shaped cricket pitch, the similarities to cricket end there. While cricket is slow enough to make baseball seem positively thrilling, AFL is fast-paced and high scoring. To the untrained eye, it resembles a soccer/rugby hybrid sport. Players are allowed to kick and pass the ball, lift each other up and tackle. More than any of those actions, though, AFL involves running, so much running, you'd imagine it was designed to prep players for marathons not cricket.

I forget the rules, but recall sets of three goal posts on opposite ends of the field. When players kicked the ball through the center goal post, they score six points; if it goes through either of the side goal posts, they score three points. But because the Swans were so far ahead of the visiting Tigers, we didn't pay much attention to the scoring.

We spectators were more intrigued by the drunken fan who led cheers from the bottom of our tier. Mickey snapped as many photos of him as he did of the players. We also thoroughly enjoyed singing along to the victory song played at the end of the game and then joining our fellow fans on the pitch for photos and hundreds of simultaneous games of catch. It's as if the crowd couldn't wait another moment to burst on to the field and reenact their own moments of athletic glory under the harsh stadium lights. It was great fun until we almost got hit in the head by multiple AFL balls whizzing through the air.

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