AUSTRALIAN INDIGENOUS FOOTBALL
Australian Football, or “Aussie Rules”, is our home-grown version of the game of football. It is uniquely Australian.
Its precise origins are subject to conjecture, with historians arguing that it was derived either from soccer, or rugby, or gaelic football, or from an indigenous recreational pastime - Marn Grook, which means “game ball”. The latter is believed to have been played by aborigines at gatherings and celebrations with as many as 50 players, with no clear objectives or rules except to kick and catch a stuffed ball.
For what it’s worth, I think the game evolved in the southern state of Victoria in the 1850s, because of all of these influences.
Regardless, the end result is the most exciting and spectacular football game in the world in my opinion.
The football season, beginning in March and played between 18 teams from around Australia over 23 rounds, culminates with the top eight teams fighting it out for two Grand Final positions, traditionally held on the last Saturday in September. The venue for this huge sporting event is the wonderful Melbourne Cricket Ground and about 100,000 people will turn up to watch the spectacle, with an enormous local and international audience watching it live on television.
It’s fast. Its action is virtually non-stop and it can be spectacular with players leaping high into the air catching, or marking the ball, and showing remarkable kicking skills, usually with both teams kicking lots of goals, allowing fans to release their emotions in a healthy way. It’s also a rugged physical game of hard tackling and body clashes, fought over four twenty minute+ quarters with five minute breaks at quarter time and three quarter time and twenty minutes break at half-time. The team that kicks the most goals – six points for kicking the ball between the two major goalposts and one point for between the two outside goalposts – wins the match.
Next Saturday afternoon, the minor premiers, Melbourne-based Hawthorn (the Hawks), will take on the Fremantle Dockers in the Grand Final. Hawthorn will be the team to beat having enjoyed a stellar season with 19 wins. Fremantle (from Western Australia) also had a great season registering 16 wins and are at the top of their form. This is Fremantle’s first Grand Final since it entered the competition 19 years ago. The people of the West have gone bananas with excitement and a large contingent of supporters is expected to make the long journey from Perth to Melbourne for the game.
So, do yourself a favour and see if you can catch the game live from the MCG. The atmosphere is guaranteed to be electric and Melbourne will be in celebratory mode, as people congregate together for lunches, barbecues and parties to watch the coverage of the game. It’s even bigger than that other remarkable sporting event that takes place on the first Tuesday of November – the Melbourne Cup. (Would you believe the people of Victoria get a public holiday for a horse race?)
But I’m digressing. If you do watch the game, look out for the aboriginal players in both teams. They bring the X-factor to the game. Sublimely skilled, with the ability to do amazing things, it’s easy to imagine how their ancestors played a part in the game’s development because it comes so naturally to them.
This year there were 68 aboriginal players playing in the Australian Football League at the highest level. This represents 9% of the total number of players in the AFL. Yet Aborigines make up only 2.5% of the Australian population
Players to look out for.
Hawthorn: Lance (Buddy) Franklin – tall forward with uncanny skills, capable of anything.
Cyril Rioli – lightning fast and a goal sneak
Brad Hill – small forward with pace and ability to kick goals
Shaun Burgoyne – very smart seasoned campaigner, can play in either attack or defence.
Fremantle: Michael Walters – see comments above for Brad Hill.
Stephen Hill – exceptionally fast when he breaks clear of packs and very damaging.
Michael Johnson – Cool and unflappable in defence, poetry in seemingly slo-mo.
Also, for the first time since 1912 two brothers, Brad and Stephen Hill, will play against each other in a Grand Final.
So, the stage is set for a mouth-watering encounter between two great sides. I, for one, can hardly wait.