Now well into Autumn here, the winter sports season is underway. Karl and Dane have joined teams of the Warnbro Swans Football Club (or, affectionately called "The Swannies"), and both had their first games today. Footy is also called Aussie Rules Football and AFL. It may not be the easiest game to understand, but as the season continues, we'll try to give you a taste of the sport.
Footy is played with a leather ball that's more the shape of a rugby ball than an American football (less pointed on the ends and altogether larger) on an oval field. At the professional level, footy ovals are huge when compared to soccer of American football fields. (See my 2009 story on the size of the oval here.) Karl's team plays on a field that's 50m shorter than the professional level, and I still had a difficult time taking photos from across the expanse of the field today. 18 players play for each team at one time (though, I didn't count at Karl's game today but am guessing there's a few less players on the field at his level). At the each end of the oval there is a row of 4 tall goal posts. The objective is to move the ball down the field by kicking or "hand-passing" (like a volleyball underhand serve) or running and bouncing the ball to the ground every 15 metres, and eventually kicking it between the goal posts. Balls kicked between the two inner posts for a "goal" earn 6 points. Balls that miss the centre but pass inside either outer post earn 1 point and are called a "behind".
The game flows pretty much non-stop and sometimes looks like a complicated game of "keep away". Sometimes the strategies are described as basketball on an oversized soccer field. Besides the kicking of the goals, the highlights of the game are often the taking of "marks". A mark is given when a player catches a kicked ball that has travelled in the air at least 15 metres. The reward is a free kick, meaning the defenders have to back off and let you kick it to a teammate or to the goals if you're close enough.
Karl and Dane are new to the organised version of the sport, but have been playing plenty of school yard footy over the past 3 years so they don't look all that raw on the field. They actually are pretty good at passing the ball by kicking it on the run, and bouncing the ball off the ground and back to themselves as they run down the field (not so easily done with a ball of this shape!).
To get a taste of the game, check out these three videos below, one showing a bit of play from Dane's game today and the other two from archived videos of the professional (AFL) game.
From Dane's game today:
A promo video for AFL footy:
A video compilation of the some of the best ever goals and marks: