The Game they Play in Prison

By the Inside Man

“All prisoners be advised there will be a football match on the oval this afternoon.  Saints versus Tigers.  I repeat Saints versus Tigers.   Shoes and ID Tags must be worn at all times.”

The PA system booms out to raucous cheers from all across the cell block.

“Go the Saints…………..Go the Tigers……………Jamma Jamma (footy) time.”

Today’s match is set to be a ripper, with both sides battling for a spot in the Grand Final.  Ours is a 4 team competition of Hawks, Dogs, Saints and Tigers.

Our arena is a half oval.  The surface is littered with potholes that have already claimed several inmates’ ankles as trophies this season.  Patches of weedy grass provide little cushioning from the hard compacted North Western red dirt.   But as far as we are concerned the field is as good as the MCG on a September afternoon.

The half oval is walled by high fences of razor wire with multiple CCTV cameras focussed on the area of “no man’s land” just outside the boundary lines.  Beyond the tall prison fences and against a spinifex-lined horizon, you can just make out the vehicles travelling along the North West Coastal Highway.

Another world.  A distant freedom.

Being a half oval, the prison has its own unique set of rules governing play.  There’s only one set of goal posts, so the ball-up begins in the opposite corner.  As play progresses towards the goal any turnover results in instant attacking possession for the opposition, regardless of field position.  This means a player can go from defending inside his 50 to kicking a major in the blink of an eye.

Although unconventional, these rules make for a fast-paced and high scoring game with plenty of opportunities for turning the (very) average criminal into today’s footy hero.

In preparation for the numerous “lost” balls sent flying over the first security fence, there are two large bags of Sherrins emptied out near the ball up corner.  Inmates have swapped their prison ‘greens’ for the singlets of their AFL Legends – Richmond and St Kilda.

The camaraderie and passion amongst the lads is moving.  Regardless of race, age, beliefs or the actions that brought them here, they all meet on the footy field as mates with a common goal – to do their team proud.

A whistle sounds and under the watchful eye of the patrolling officers the match gets underway.  Tigers dominate the first term with several quick plays and a few questionable turnovers.  An inmate known affectionately as “Shorty” shows that what he lacks in height he more than makes up for in elusiveness.  He produces a mesmerising run, going from the ball-up to deep inside 50, untouched.

“Kick it you prick,” his teammates plead.  Finally relenting to this stern advice from his captain, “Shorty” lines up a sitter but misses for an unworthy single point.  First quarter and the Tigers have their whiskers in front – 34 to 26.

The second quarter begins in controversy.  Saints take possession with a high flying hanger mark deep inside 50.  The stocky Saints ruckman lines up his kick from a tough angle out near the sideline, and the resulting effort on goal is a ripper.  What makes it more impressive is the forced choice of sporting footwear – prison issue shoes – or “foot bricks” as we call them.

The ball appears to curl high around the goal post for six points, but the goal umpire (an injured Tigers player), has different ideas and signals a behind.  A standoff ensues and the officers are preparing to stop the game when a well-respected old-timer inmate steps in and puts an end to the argument.

“Come on fellas stop fucking about.”  Blunt but effective.  Saints build on their early quarter momentum to lead 60-48 at half time.

It’s the third term and the game is still being played at breakneck speed.  The competition around the rucks is ferocious with plenty of big hits and not many penalties – that’s prison rules.  Scoring has slowed considerably and both teams struggle with accuracy on goal after putting so much effort into their tackling.  The ¾ time score is 70 apiece, setting the scene for a cracking final quarter.

Playing footy on the oval is a privilege, and in prison you make the most of earned privileges.  Both sides are still full of energy in the final spell, making the most of their 80 minutes of sporting ‘freedom’.

In the final minutes of the match an inmate known as “Thumper” smashes a long range effort, giving the Saints a one goal advantage.  The Saints reserve bench pleads with the Recreation Officer to blow the full-time whistle, but ball-up is the call.  Can the Tigers work a miracle?  Tigers have possession and work the ball down the eastern flank.  “Push up.”  “Give him options.”

In a panic a Tigers midfielder takes a mark outside the 50 and opts for a long range attempt at glory.  “Final play,” the Rec Officer yells.  The inmate gives it everything but sadly the kick drifts away for a behind and the Saints seal a nail-biter 96-91.

A high pitched siren sounds calling us back inside the main prison area.  Inmates are leaving the field with their heads held high.  For 80 minutes they were kings of the oval.  Footy having forged a brotherhood in the most unlikely of places.


  1. Steve Hodder says

    Terrific read!

    Your oval sounds like the old oval at Queenstown in Tassie.

    No night footy I presume?

    Arndamighty Hawks


  2. Dennis Gedling says

    I think Andrew Krakouer and a few of his ex Wooroloo Prison Farm teammates were part of Swan District Amatuer’s premiership side last year.

  3. robwoozle says

    Someone get a TV crew in there…sounds like an exciting and fast game and I’d love to watch it!

    PS: Go the GIANTS!

  4. Dave Brown says

    Great read Inside Man! I love the idea that everyone would be flying for a mark in the goal square with a kick on goal on offer. Some hangers must get taken despite the dodgy surface and footwear.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Inside man another great read keep em coming and good luck

  6. Rabid Dog says

    Anything in this envirmonment that prepares men for a life away from the drudgery and desolation of imprisonment is to be encouraged. Pity they can’t get a full size oval. Carn the Saints/Dogs/Tiges/Haws!!!

  7. Top article, Being in the g0-slow is no fun so any activity like this must be greatly appreciated. Good on them.

    It makes me think about some high profile footballers over the years who have fallen foul of the law, thus receiving a custodial sentence. How do these fellows cope inside ? On a slightly, but different note, American tennis player Roscoe Tanner has spent time in jail. He said he found Jesus in there, but considering the high amounts of Latinos locked away in the US you could not fail to find Jesus in an American jail !


  8. Thanks Inside Man. Great stuff. I look forward to reading about the rest of the season. I was sure Shorty would be a ruckman!

  9. Awesome stuff Inside Man, love the descriptions and trying to get my head around how the game would be played. Half oval and turning defence into attack would be incredibly challenging.

    Sounds like a simple but effective way to end a melee too, with the old timer getting involved. I’d prefer him to Razor Ray Chamberlain!

    I think it’s great you have this opportunity and hopefully the half ground potholes can be improved.

    Sure the mighty Tigers will bounce back


  10. jan courtin says

    Great read. My sister visits prisons/prisoners all over the world and although no prison is ideal, she reckons Aussie prisons are way ahead of others, especially those in the USA. I sent her this piece and she was amazed that the game was allowed at all!

  11. Give a whole new meaning to ‘if you get another kick I’ll kill ya…’
    Great read.
    Playing footy must give prisoners something magnificent to look forward to…

  12. I just heard the horrible news re Phil Walsh . Shocking.


  13. As a coordinator of a prison cricket program here in Victoria it is great to hear about a prison football program happening in WA on the other side of Australia. Nelson Mandella states that sport has the power to inspire and that sport has the power to change lives and he was so right! The hope and sporting opportunity being offered here through football is inspiring and great to read about! Look forward to reading about many more great matches of prison Football!

  14. Want to give the Inside Man and men’s physical and mental health a positive kick along? The Inside Man and a mate have been given permission to raise funds via Movember. Just go to and search for “Roebourne Green Team” (I think you will all get the joke – put it this way – they aren’t saving whales).
    Any donation from Almanackers would be a great confidence boost for guys doing hard time and trying to rebuild their lives and pay back society. They normally don’t get any internet access, but has been permitted for this cause.
    For newcomers to the Inside Man – this is his other sporting story from prison:

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