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An English Perspective

 

An English Perspective

Sydney Swans versus Carlton Blues

4.35pm, 26 August
SCG

 

Felix Lahiff

 

I had been living in Sydney for about a week when the chance arose to go along to a game of “footy”. Back home the sport is known about, but that is as far as it goes – you could make a fair wager that hardly anyone had ever actually seen a game, let alone knew the rules. I fit both these categories, as I’m sure most other Brits would. So, when asked whether I’d like to go, I jumped at the opportunity – if only to experience some Aussie culture.

 

After an endless flight of stairs, I finally reached the summit of the SCG stand. Eyeing up the field, it was nothing quite as I expected. It looked like total chaos, an explosion of red and blue interweaved with specs of green. Being brought up on Rugby Union and Football (or soccer as you guys call it), I was used to a regular structure, lines of coherent symmetry and pattern. AFL seemed to cast all these conventions aside, gone were any form of offside, adding in the vast pitch and its army of combatants, it just seemed to be a confusing rush of players mindlessly magnetised to the ball, wherever it went.

 

When trying to describe Australian football to the uninitiated, it can best be described as an amalgamation of differing sports meshed together into something that supposedly worked. On the face of it, it had apparent elements of cricket – overtly in the peculiar shape of the pitch. If one thought of NFL, you only need to look at the umpires, not only were there a similar abundance, but more explicitly, was in their gestures through the almost exaggerated gesticulations, flavouring it with a theatrical element. You could even compare it to Rugby, in both the conversion like scoring, the contact aspect and of course, the shape of the ball. Ironically, the one game that you would strain hard to relate it to is “footy” itself.

 

What I found so striking about the game is the fact that this apparent confusion was where one found the excitement. Part of this stemmed from it being played on the novel shape of an oval ground. Whilst other sports were impinged by debilitating sizes and measurements, AFL games were free to fit the grounds wherever it was played meaning huge variation in style and pace of play. The sportsmen themselves were equally impressive. Playing on such a field, it means that they have to cover huge distances and when compared to other sports, such as rugby union, whose players on average run distances of 6-7km, it is no surprise that their AFL counterparts run further, but the fact that they can cover distances of up to 15km is daunting.

 

This style of game ultimately allows for great links of play to happen, such as when each pass succeeds to the next player, crisscrossing rhythmically from one end of the field to the other, the momentum rising by a perfect combination of punches and kicks and finally reaching a crescendo with a 6 point conversion. A similar mix of excitement and tact is found in the notorious Barcelona “tiki-taka” goal or a perfectly executed All Blacks set piece. With plays such as these, it’s not hard to see why people love the game.

 

The closing minutes of the match were an inevitable rout for Carlton. The Swans star kicker, which I had learned through the continued screams of “BUDDY!” that resonated throughout the stands, had just competed his tenth goal. Even from someone who did not understand the game well, it was not hard to be swept up by this excitement, finding myself screaming for another goal from the charismatic 23, and even wincing when he missed a chance at another.

 

From what initially looked like confusion and chaos, actually had a perfect rhythm and pattern to it. The offside rule opened the game up to passes, kicks and attacks on all side that would be stifled by stiffer rules. The field, that seemed to dwarf the players, actually allowed for spectacular links of play that cut the vast distances of the field down to size and made it look all the more impressive. The pace of play buoyed the excitement of the spectator, allowing for the opportunity for an abundance of goals that other sports were less willing to part with whilst similarly allowing for a variety of ways and means to reach these posts.

 

Supporting London Irish, the attendance that you would usually see would struggle to reach numbers of 12,000. Going along to the Swans game, I was part of nearly 30,000 people in attendance – there was no doubt that it was this excitement that brought such huge spectacles to turn up week in, week out and I can certainly see myself going along to many more games.

Comments

  1. Thanks for that piece Felix
    Even people from O.S. that see the game on TV do not understand it until they see it on the large field.
    The close ups and multiple camera angles confuse the unintiated

  2. Our spectacular game has converted many a “Pom”, Felix. I took my English husband to his first game nearly 40 years ago and he still says it’s the best game of all. Similarly, our son-in-law, when he visited Australia 10 years ago. He lived in both Sydney and Melbourne for several years and now that he’s back in the UK, he watches every single game through the AFL app. and declares, without doubt, it to be the best of all footy codes.
    Enjoy as many games as you can, especially the Swans!

  3. Keiran Croker says:

    Great analysis Felix.

    As someone who has followed the game for nearly 60 years, I still quite often think it looks like two bunches of 10 year olds chasing the ball around. However, at the highest level these blokes are running patterns and defending zones in line with a game plan. The better teams are the ones who can continue to maintain the game plan and execute their hand and foot skills after running 15k and withstanding constant tackling pressure.

    I reckon you will have it worked out before too long!

  4. bring back the torp says:

    The SCG is the smallest of the AFL grounds in Aust. -exacerbating congested play. Hopefully, you might be able to attend an AFL match elsewhere.

    You are a RU supporter of their Irish-influenced Club in London.
    Is there much OVERT “codewar”rivalry between soccer & RU supporters in the UK: &, in Ireland NOW, between Gaelic Football, & the English games of soccer/RU (Croke Park since c.2012 allows soccer/RU to be played on it)?
    Is this rivalry manifested only in private conversations; or is it also expressed in the media? What are some of the typical, competitivel comments said?

  5. Well played, Felix.
    Terrific that you took the chance.
    And terrific that you chose to document your first impressions.
    I’m sure this piece will be viewed by many in the future.

    The Sydney scene is fine to appreciate.
    One day you may be lucky enough to discover Collingwood.

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