Since it’s Grand Final Week for the world’s most libertarian sport, I figured I’d do a post each day to help you understand the great game of Australian Football a little better, so you can really enjoy Saturday’s AFL Grand Final between the St Kilda Saints (that’s their captain Nick Riewoldt below, in red and black) and Geelong Cats (Go the Cats!)
Today, the rules – or some of them.
Now, it might surprise you to know that Australian Football does have rules, but it does and they’re simple enough so that even Collingwood fans can follow them – mostly – rules designed around three basic principles: to keep the game going, to protect the guy going for the ball, and to stop blokes initiating force against other blokes . . . at least while anybody's looking. You see why I call it a libertarian sport?
And these simple rules work very well; so well, in fact, that in a two-hour game of footy, you actually have two hours of footy. Unlike other codes of footy, there’s no time in this game to get cold.
Someone observed once that the Ten Commandments was supposedly written on one piece of stone, the US Constitution on ten pages of parchment, but that European Union regulations on bananas are smeared across four volumes. The rulebook to play AFL is barely 30 A6 pages, with almost two thirds of that detailing how tribunals and national bodies are constituted, and grounds are marked out. The book is small enough to stick in your pocket - so that even white maggots and Collingwood fans have no excuse for not knowing the rules.
The guts of it all is the section headed 'Spirit of the Laws' which contains barely fifty words – all you need to keep the game going, and to discourage umpires to grandstand. (In fact, most Australians would be hard pressed to name an AFL umpire. They refer to them simply as: 'white maggots'.) The rules are pretty simple. There’s no off-sides; no throwing the ball (you have to ‘handball’ it); and no stopping for a ‘knock on’ or an injury (so don’t bother rolling around grabbing your ankles while looking pointedly at the maggot: you won’t impress anyone). Kick a ball through the outside posts (a “behind”) and you get one point; kick it through the middle and it’s six; at the end of the afternoon it’s the team with the most points who gets bragging rights for another year. (And now you see why Australians are generally very good at arithmetic to ‘Base 6.’
The ‘Spirit of the Laws’ includes the following nuggets:
- “ The player whose sole objective is to contest the ball shall be permitted to do so.”
This means that the joker going for the ball will have the protection of the umpire, but other blokes milling around are entitled to bump, shepherd and shirt-front everyone within five metres or so of the ball – just as long as they keep their eyes on it.
- “The ball shall be kept in motion.”
Any joker falling on the ball to slow things down or kicking it out on purpose is going to get pinged. And booed. Loudly.
- “The players whose sole objective is to contest a mark shall be permitted to do so.”
Catch the ball on the full after another joker’s kicked it, and you’ve taken a “mark,” and you’ll be given a free kick for it. Catch it while standing on another joker’s shoulders and you’ve taken a hell of a good mark – a screamer – and you’ll get loud applause from both sets of fans, and commentators saying things like “that’s the mark of the year!”
And by the way, just because you’ve been awarded a free kick, there’s nothing in the rules to stop you playing on. . .
- “ A player who is tackled illegally while in possession of the ball will be awarded a free kick.”
Don’t tackle above the shoulders or below the knees, and don’t whatever you do push the other joker in the back – not at least while anybody’s looking.
- “ The player who has possession of the ball and is tackled correctly by an opponent shall be given a reasonable time to kick or handball the ball or attempt to kick or handball the ball. The player who has possession of the ball and has had an opportunity to dispose of it and is then tackled correctly by an opponent must immediately kick or handball the ball.”
In both codes of rugby your job is to run into other blokes. In AFL however your job is to run around them – try running through them however and get caught with the ball, or drop it when you’ve been tackled, and you’re going to hear the blast of the umpire’s whistle and more loud booing from your fans (most of them yelling “Ball!” at the top of their voice!.
- “ After a mark or free kick has been awarded, a 50-metre penalty will be awarded against the opposing team which unduly delays the play or abuses an umpire.”
Don’t slow the game down. Give the ball back immediately. If you bugger it up, then the free kick you just gave up will be 50m closer to your goal -- and your fans and team-mates are going to be very pissed off.
And that’s about it as far as what the white maggots can do to help you. Everything else is down to how good you and your team mates are.
And finally, see that little bloke on the right showing his adoring girlfriend his medal? That’s Gary Ablett Jr. from the Geelong Cats, who last night won the 2009 Brownlow Medal – the supreme individual award for an Aussie Rules football player. (Onya Gazza!) And that’s him in action up there on the left. If you don’t know anything about him, then just be thankful he doesn’t play rugby for Australia.
And don’t worry if you don’t know anything about him, because I’ll tell you more about him, his champion club, and his famous Dad tomorrow.
That’s his Dad at the top of the post, by the way, taking a one-hander back in his prime. Back when he answered to the name of ‘God’ . . .