Football downunder

1valchloesmall  Anne here, with a change of pace from books into an earthier and more vigorous pursuit. In the next couple of weeks my hometown will descend  into football frenzy. It happens every year. I'm talking Australian Rules football, not soccer, not rugby, not gridiron or gaelic or any other kind of football. It's a game all our own, born in 1859 in my home town, Melbourne when the first laws of the game were published by the Melbourne Football Club, and even though I'm no big footy fanatic, I think it's interesting. I hope you feel the same by the end of this blog.

It's a fast game, rough, dramatic and gladiatorial.  Click on this link to go to a smorgasbord of images that will give you an idea.

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 It's characterized by long kicks that can go 75-100 yards or more. (see the records here.) In fact many a young Australian football player has secured a place in a US university on his ability to kick an oval ball accurately over a long distance.

They also handball the ball (punch it) for long distances. Throwing isn't allowed. The most spectacular part is when they make high leaps to "take a mark" – ie catch the ball. Australian-rules-football1 

The phrase that's gone into football history is the commentator's expression "and the big men fly," for fly they seem to do. And come crashing down afterward.

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  You get a free kick if you can take a mark, and over time the players have developed techniques to leap higher and higher, even springboarding on their opponents' backs.

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This cartoon shows the future of taking marks according to Nicholson, a local cartoonist. LOL

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 For a hundred years it was a Victorian (my state) League, and players from interstate migrated to Melbourne to play here. But as other states formed their own teams and entered the competition, the Victorian Football League became the Australian Football League — AFL and now it's a more national game. But only 6 of the 16 main clubs are from outside Victoria, so you can see that it's really still a Melbourne game. It's also the most attended and most watched sport in Australia.

It also breeds the most gorgeous footballers — tall, hunky and long-legged, whereas Rugby guys tend to be chunky and soccer boys whippy — but then I'm biased.

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Tonight the first semi-final of the season is being played between Geelong and Collingwood. The grand final is held on the last Saturday in September and on that Saturday afternoon the streets are quiet. Even people who don't watch football and don't care who wins (like me) will often gather at  friends' places to watch the match, and have a barbecue. 

Like beloved games in other countries, everyone has their own family traditions about football. People have fond memories of being taken as children to matches with their dad and grandad. I have a friend who's been going to the football ever since he can remember, and it's his tradition (with his childhood mates) to try to sneak in without paying — a kind of weekly challenge. It was a sad day when he realized he'd rather just pay than climb the fence and try to outrun the guards. 😉

I didn't grow up in Melbourne, and for me, the football was a distant thing, even though my father was a "one eyed" Collingwood supporter (ie he couldn't see any other team.) My cousins were Geelong supporters, and they used to tape huge blue and white streamers to sticks every Friday night before the match and rain, hail or shine they'd stand behind the goal posts and wave those streamers every time a goal was scored. And if Geelong lost, everyone knew to steer clear of Uncle Tommy.

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There's a poem about Aussie rules football, Life Cycle, by Bruce Dawe. It's satire mixed with affection, and starts:

When children are born in Victoria
they are wrapped in club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,
having already begun a lifetime's barracking.  

Carn, they cry, Carn … feebly at first
while parents playfully tussle with them
for possession of a rusk: Ah, he's a little Tiger! (And they are …)

Barracking means rooting for (a term that means something different in Australia ;) Carn is a corruption of "come on" so "Carn the Tigers" is cheering on the team of Richmond, whose colors are black and yellow.

And toward the end of the poem…

They will not grow old as those from the more northern States grow old,
for them it will always be three-quarter-time
with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term,

But the dance forever the same – the elderly still
loyally crying Carn … Carn … (if feebly) unto the very end,
having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation

The whole poem is here if you're interested, but there are a lot of obscure local references you probably won't understand. 

You will, however, I'm sure, understand the whole ritual of the sporting grand final. So what's your favorite sport? Do you share sporting rituals with family or friends? Do you play? Or get sucked into watching it on TV? Or do you seek refuge in a quiet place with a good book? I must admit it's often a book for me, unless I'm with friends, and then I confess, I get sucked right in.