Aussie Rules: Explaining footy to a foreigner

Adelaide vs Carlton on May 25th, 2014, Round 10 of the AFL season, was unique amongst my experiences of attending AFL matches: I had to introduce our beloved game to somebody from overseas.

Her name was Kayla Schemenaur, she was then a 20-year-old girl from Saskatchewen, Canada, who I’d first met on a Contiki trip across New Zealand that January. She’d since made her way down the East Coast of Australia, and on this night was in Melbourne to take me up on the offer I’d previously made her of watching a game of the indigenous code with me as her guide.

I went into the task with the aim of being at least a bit more helpful than that explanation of cricket – you know, the one where “each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out…”, eventually leaving the supposedly bemused American listening to remark “Thanks: I’ll stick to baseball!”.

But making AFL make sense to a new recruit turned out to be a humbling experience for me. It started innocently enough when we got to the ‘G, with the Crows and Blues still going through their warm-ups…

Me: “OK, see those four goalposts at each end? Each team has to try and kick the ball between the two central posts – which is worth six points – or between either of the big and little posts – worth one point – to score. The team with highest score after four 20-minute quarters wins.”

Kayla: “Is that it?”

Me: “No, not by a long shot! See it’s an unwritten rule that there needs to be more rules for Aussie rules every year. Just let me know if you need something explained to you throughout the game.”

10 minutes into the first term…

“Why does everyone keep yelling “BOOOOOOOOWWWLLLL!!!!” when one player hugs another from behind?”

“That’s actually called tackling. And they’re yelling “BAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!”, it’s short for “holding the ball”. That’s where a player is tackled and doesn’t dispose of the ball. So the tackling player gets a free kick, because the player with the ball took too long to do something with it.”

“Got it.”

Five minutes later…

“BAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL!!!! Wait, he held that ball for a long time, why don’t the other team get it?”

“Well, yeah, there’s an exception to the “holding the ball” rule whereby if you look like you’re trying to get rid of it while being tackled – even if you don’t actually wanna give it up – it’s okay. That’s why that player is vigorously moving his arms up and down like he’s trying to pump up the ball.”

Late in the first term, Carlton rushes a behind…

“Why did that player just take the ball over the goal line? Isn’t that an own goal?

“No, if the ball is taken over the line by a defending player, it’s called a deliberate rushed behind and a free kick in front of goal to the attacking team. Unless they do it under pressure, which is when an attacking team player is within 10 metres of them.”

“Oh, that’s a bit generous, eh?”

“Kind of, but they apply it all around ground. If a player takes the ball out of bounds, even deliberately, the opposition doesn’t get a free either. Unless it’s the last quarter, then everything’s pretty much fair game.”

By the third quarter, Kayla has started to realise how tough a sport AFL can be…

“Wow, the game’s so fast and has so much contact. I can’t believe more people don’t get hurt.”

“Yeah, but they have plenty of rules in place to protect players on the field. You remember how Adelaide got a free just before? That was because the Carlton player made contact with him above the shoulders. You can’t do that, so it helps prevent head injuries.”

“But wouldn’t that encourage players to try and be tackled above the head, if they get a free kick for it?”

“Uhhh, yeah. Why don’t I tell you about Joel Selwood…”

Near the end of the match, I remembered one last thing I needed to explain to Canada’s would-be AFL ambassador…

“Oh yeah, all these rules only tend to apply for about four weeks at a time, ’cause then the umpires get harder on some of them and ignore others altogether.”

“What? That doesn’t make sense, why do they do that?”

I didn’t need to answer. At that moment from a few rows back: “You’re JOKING! That wasn’t a push in the back! Go get ya f***ing eyes checked you stupid bloody clown! You’re a disgrace, you hear me? A FRIGGIN’ DIS-GRACE!”

“I guess that’s just what the fans want.”

About Alex Darling

Melbourne-born, Horsham-based footy fan. Lover of the Saints, classic rock guitar and good writing on each of these topics.

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