So, you’ve just arrived in Melbourne. You step into a pub and see a television on the wall that shows a bunch of beefy men wearing short shorts running around an enormous oval. ‘What’s that?’ you ask a couple people sitting at the bar nearby.
‘AFL,’ says one.
‘Footy’, says the next.
‘Aussie Rules,’ says another.
It’s difficult to understand Australian rules football (or Australian Football League football, aka AFL footy) without seeing it. Luckily, some proactive person in the USA has made up this little YouTube video to explain the game (complete with the required ACDC ‘Thunderstruck’ background music):
As you can see from the clip, AFL football is extremely physically demanding. Players need to be able to run long distances, kick, tackle, and jump very, very high. To read a full run-down of the rules, see Wikipedia’s ‘Australian rules football’ page.
The most interesting thing about AFL is that the game’s activity and popularity is intensely concentrated in Melbourne, where it originated in the mid-1800s. This is quite a bizarre phenomenon — it’s difficult to think of another major sport played anywhere else in the world that is primarily restricted to one city. The AFL is our most popular winter sport and contributes many millions of dollars to the Victorian economy every year.
Footy is also popular among Australia’s Indigenous population; as a result, the AFL is one of the few sections of Melbourne society where Indigenous people have a strong mainstream presence. (Incidentally, one of the most iconic images to come out of the AFL is this photograph of Indigenous player Nicky Winmar by Wayne Ludbey.)
The AFL Grand Final is usually held in September, but to get tickets to this event you have to be both very lucky and very rich (in 2011, standing room tickets started at $150). If you’re interested in seeing an AFL match live, check out the official AFL site; standard tickets are generally around $35 full / $25 concession. Alternately, you can watch the game on Channel Seven free-to-air television station.