Originally posted 4th April 2006
I feel a bit like a sporting refugee sometimes. I’m here in Australia busting to chat about the Hurricanes-Crusaders game or the Birmingham-Chelsea match from the weekend and I might as well be speaking Klingon. All anyone wants to talk about is how the Crows did against the Pies and whether I think Buckley or Hurst is the better player. Melbourne is a sports mad city as long as the sport is AFL aka Aussie Rules aka “FOOTIE!”
I understand the game, its kind of a hybrid of a myriad of other sports. You play with something similar to a rugby ball but you’re not allowed to tackle someone below the hips. Like basketball, you can’t take more that a certain number of paces without bouncing the ball but its played on a cricket pitch. There are a lot of huddles and piles of bodies squirming for the ball like Gridiron but if someone takes a fair catch on the full then you’re not allowed to interfere while they take their kick – and somehow we’re back to rugby again.
I’ve tried to enjoy the game but its just not that great. There is violence and body blocking but not as much as ice hockey. There is some skill involved but you’ll never see anything that compares to a bit of Brazilian heel-toe magic. The game is played over a three-hour period (including stoppages) and they cover a hell of a lot of ground so if anything it’s a celebration of endurance. I know a number of ex-pat Brits and Kiwis have become converts but I can only put this down to some kind of desperate need to fit in or a total lack of exposure to any other sport during their formative years.
One thing I am thankful for is that Australia has made it into that in World Cup so there’ll be coverage in the media here but there still won’t be the depth of understanding that I yearn for. The average Aussie can’t see that they are going to be roundly thumped by Brazil, Croatia and Japan. They’ll all walk around in Green and Gold, humming Waltzing Matilda in complete blissful ignorance of how the offside rule works. And still, they’ll most probably get further than England.