AFL v Aussie Rules – The Brand

I’m starting a campaign this season, even if it’s of one. I’ll be up against monoliths. It’s daunting when I think about it – taking on the AFL, the media, public perception, but someone has to.
Not against the game, I still love that, but those in charge, the Brand. I’m going to reclaim Aussie Rules from them. The name, most especially.

I have never played AFL. When Fitzroy cut me from their list I cried. Twice! It was the VFL then, and oh, I wanted in! Effort I had. I trained my guts out, every day. Ran – man I ran! I ran the 2kms home from school, scoffed (high carb, zero fat), ran out the door, ran the kilometre to the bus, ran from the bus to training, stripped and ran. Diet was spot on, didn’t drink, had a great attitude. I also had poor skills, was too slow and couldn’t jump.

So I went back to suburban and bush and amateur footy over the next 35 and counting years. Each club was a part of its own league: the YCA Northern League; Colac and District Football and Netball League; Victorian Amateurs (two teams); the North Eastern Football Union; the North Tasmanian Football Association; the Renegade Pubs League; The Far North Queensland Masters; Brunswick Super 9s; the South Tasmanian League… So many shades of this game we love.

Then, years ago, while on a three day barge to bypass the flooded wet season roads and work tree arbouring in Cape York, the boat stopped on a small island. We were cruising the fibro-house-lined red dust streets, footy in hand, club jumper on, looking for a local pub. Some Indigenous kids lounging in the shade of a palm tree asked me if I play AFL. It threw me.

“I play Aussie Rules,” I told them.
That threw them. They’d never heard of it.
“Aussie Rules.”
They gave me puzzled looks.
And we had a kick and left it at that. But it bugged me. I really stewed on it.

Up there every Aussie Rules league was AFL branded. AFL Cairns, AFL Capricornia, AFL Darling Downs, AFL Mackay, AFL Mount Isa, AFL Townsville…

And, within a few years, many other leagues outside Victoria were AFL branded. And so were most of the state governing bodies. AFL Canberra, Sydney AFL…

Now, our great game, 150-plus years old, our country’s indigenous sport, our history, is branded. Everybody asks if I play AFL or Rugby.

It’s a takeover, a loud, silent coup. The Brand consuming the product. AFL Auskick. AFL football. It makes me furious! The game is bigger than that, better than that. The AFL is a league, nothing more. Important, vital, but it and its structures and its players and supporters are of no more or less worth than those of every single other league in the country. I refuse to let this brilliant game of ours that pumps our blood be owned. For the grassroots to be a part of their corporation.

I still watch AFL. Of course! I marvel at modern football, its players, tactics, coaching methods, dedication, but there are just as much stories in the Broken Hill Football League, and the WAFL, the Goldfields Football League, the Essendon Districts Football League. Our governing body down south – AFL Tasmania? Like buggery it is! Screw the Brand. I refuse the title.

Now they’re creeping right in. Our league has two less games this year so everybody can have a bye when the AFL comes to town! Give me 10 minutes with my mates over a day with the Queen. Give me my two games back! Let the AFL schedule their games around us. Bring the circus to Launceston on Saturday nights or Sundays. I just don’t see why our footy season should fit around their television programing.

There are others like me, even in the system. Former Collingwood soldier Scott Burns told me he refuses to call footy AFL because there are teams in South Australian Leagues with just as much identity and history and club culture. That it’s an insult to them. But on the whole, the usage of AFL to describe Australian Rules has seeped into the vernacular.

I realise I’m the Palestinian armed with nothing more than a throwing rock. I don’t stand a chance, really. But so what?

The work the AFL does is brilliant! Getting kids involved, active. Social programs. Spreading the word. Slowly conquering NSW and Queensland. They sponsor a lot, finance a lot. But it comes at a price. “Psst. Just give us naming rights… Psst, psst. It’s not Aussie Rules footy, it’s the Brand… Psst. Your league will look better under our banner.

In some ways I blame the public as much as I do the AFL, I blame the times. There was an age we wouldn’t stand for it. Sons and daughters of convicts, we were sceptical of authority, the big end of town, and wouldn’t be owned by anyone. The only brand you saw was a dinky little crocodile on polo tops worn by people of money and breeding… and the rest of us took the living piss out of them for it. It says a lot about how we see the world now, that re-naming the nation’s most indigenous sport after a Brand isn’t an issue for most people. Maybe the telly version of the game is their only concept of it?

I could never see a European telling some kid kicking a soccer ball in the street, “Oh, I see you play the English Premier League.” Or kids in an American ghetto asking each other if they want a game of NBA, or Bathurst fans describing Craig Lowndes as a great Formula 1 driver, or Cubans wagging school to play World Series Baseball.

Are we that tamed as a nation, that ruled by television?

Now, time and again I’m asked my most hated words in modern Aussie sport – Do you play AFL? I always correct them, “No, mate, I play real footy. That stuff on tube, that’s just Hollywood.”
Aussie Rules owns my heart. Aussie Rules is the governing body I play under. A game older, and far, far more varied than their business logo. They have nerve claiming ownership of it, of our dreams and passion! If the AFL loved this thing we worship, they should respect that. We should respect it. Call it what it is – Footy. Aussie Rules.

Ownership of our great game should be for everybody.


  1. I’m in too, Matt. It drives me bonkers.

    Not once when I lived in England and saw two urchins in the park, did I hear one say, “Do you wanna come and play a bit of Vanarama National League South?”

    Sadly, I think we are tamed by television.

  2. I’m a dinosaur too Matt, I am an Aussie Rules Fan!

  3. Punxsu..and-the-rest-of-it Pete says

    Matt, thanks for bringing this to our attention. I had no idea that footy was branded that way in the Rugby states. I guess calling it footy there would be confusing, ‘cos they also know league as footy. But calling it Aussie Rules leaves no ambiguity / confusion to its identity. I can’t say that it’s been my experience that us Victorians refer to footy as AFL. If it were to become the case, though, it’d be as much a bugbear for me. Much enjoyed the read, and if the AFL marketers get wind of your piece, I think that they would at once shrink over your righteousness, as they would be thrilled that their brand has usurped all others (sort of like McDonalds execs finding out from Mike Moore that all Americans now refer to hamburgers as Big Macs.)

  4. Dave Brown says

    I’m with you, Matt. Sadly we let the AFL take over national responsibility for the game in 1995. A league should never have been allowed to take over the game, the conflict of interest is too great and we see it playing out every day as the cats get fatter and the grass roots become mud. I’m protesting in my own useless way – I’m a member at four footy clubs (don’t let the AFL see the inside of my wallet), go to the local footy whenever time affords and make sure to buy a feed and a drink at the canteen. It’s our game and we shouldn’t let others own it, but we do.

  5. Cat from the Country says

    Thanks for putting this onto words for me Matt.
    You are so right … our boys play Assie Rules football.
    It is an awesome game with the bounce of the oval ball to start each quarter and after each goal.
    No other gzme does this.

    My next beef is stooping the clock after a goal is scored.
    What happened to the “100 inutes of pure football”?
    Previously the clock only stopped if the ball was lost/disappeared put of bounds and if a player went off on a stretcher.
    The rest is so frustrating

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Old Dog I am completely with you ( congrats as well ) while I detest the title I would put up with it if they poured in anywhere near the amount of money as they should at state league and grass roots footy level
    it pisses me off just so much that this multi billion dollar business does not even consider let alone put in as much money as they should underneath how the Afl can not see that unless strong growth underneath there can not be a top tier level incompetent management imo

  7. I’m with you here. I’m frustrated with the AFL for rescheduling the Crows games when they are interstate. They are also wanting more gambling ads on television. Good luck with your protesting with you. It has to be stopped. When you look at the small grassroots clubs like Walkerville (where I play) you see just some nice little games. Aussie Rules. With the nice little communities, that’s what Aussie Rules about. It’s not about fitting your TV schedule in so you can show a cooking show. It’s not like the AFL players and workers need more money. Playing on a Sunday, with volunteers all around you, all just doing this for the joy of the game. My club is becoming advertised as well, but luckily by the SANFL. That is where you can watch pure high level footy.

  8. Harley Vague says

    I don’t want to burst your bubble. but you are equally at fault using a rugby-state term.

    A game of football was created by design in Melbourne. The creators decided not to adopt the rules of Cambridge or the rule of Rugby. This popular football was referred to being played under the rules of Melbourne, Victoria, South Australia or colonial rules. The game was always known as “football”. Even the Sydney Morning Herald printed results under the title “Football”. post-war for some unknown reason the SMH starting referring to the popular form of football as “Australian Rules Football”. That, and the subsequent contraction” Aussie Rules” is a N.S.W. creation. This is just another abomination. “Rules” is totally redundant. Possibly soccer (Cambridge Rules Football) should use Australian English Rules Football in Australia. There are NO Australian Rules Football clubs in Australia. In Australia nearly all leagues are simply “football leagues”.
    But we are realists and live in a global world. Some leagues are re-branded as “AFLs” and most clubs are A.F.C.s. I f you really want to do something CONSTRUCTIVE call our game of football by it’s formal name , Australian Football and not by it’s colloquial name or it’s commonly branded name.

  9. Pamela Sherpa says

    What bugs me most about the phrase”Do you play AFL?” is that it is incorrectly spoken English.

  10. Phil Herden says





  11. Matty,
    I am right with you on this.
    Interestingly, there are plenty on twitter who are also in furious agreement.
    I call it footy. Always have. Yes, occasionally I’ll refer to it as Aussie Rules.
    But never AFL.
    The AFL is but one league (albeit the biggest) in the world of Australian Rules Football.

  12. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks all. The AFL do many a great thing for promoting the game, but, yeah, I’m just not calling Aussie Rules that.

    Smokie, is this a common twitter debate mate? Sorry, no idea how Twitter works.

  13. Andrew Baum says

    Great article Matt. I respect what the AFL has poured into the game but in doing so they ripped out its heart. AFL turned from Aussie Rules to a corporate business model, like every business it’s about profit and loss more than the fan. As a melbournian I wish they would scrap ethihad stadium and take it back to the suburbs, whiten oval, Optus oval, Vic Park, that’s where the real fans live!

  14. Mark Duffett says

    Matt, as one indication, suffice to say there is a twitter account/handle called ‘AFL is not the sport’
    @AFLisnotasport currently with 767 followers

  15. To make a difference like on twitter @AFLisnotapsort

    This is where poor useage is often highlighted, then you get a chance to give direct educationally positive feedback to the offender.

  16. Dr Rocket says

    AFL. Very successful branding. Its a winner.

    Thank goodness we’ve moved on from the VFL,

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