Do you want an authentic Aussie cultural experience? Don’t climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge or cuddle a koala – only other tourists do that. Instead, go to a footy match.
The AFL (Australian Football League) finals start this weekend, with the country’s top eight teams playing off in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth for the national premiership. Geelong Cats and Collingwood Magpies will start as firm favourites to meet in the Grand Final after finishing clear of the pack at the top of the ladder, but RT’s LOTR outside tip is the Sydney Swans to cause an upset. My own true team, the once high-flying Essendon Bombers, had a miserable season and missed the finals.
For those of you who don’t know the rules of this exclusively Australian game, here they are: prior opportunity, push in the back, out on the full, holding the man, holding the ball, dropping the ball, throwing the ball… oh, forget it. It will look as if there are no rules, just 44 blokes running around smashing into each other and kicking a pointy orange ball.
It’s almost non-stop action during four quarters of about 30minutes each. You won’t see players rolling around clutching their ankles the way those wussy European footballers do every time someone nearly bumps into them and scratches their nail varnish. In Aussie Rules, if someone, say, dislocates a collarbone, the game just goes on and team has to play without them. It’s remarkable how fast fit young guys can pop their shoulders back into place.
If you want to fit in with the home crowd in Sydney, learn the words of the club chant and yell them after every goal. “Sydney, Sydney, Sydney, Oi, Oi, Oi! Sydney, Oi! Sydney, Oi! Sydney, Sydney, Sydney, Oi, Oi, Oi!’’ Not exactly Shakespeare, but this is Australia, mate.
You should also come armed with a few basic terms of abuse. Don’t bother yelling them at players; save the insults for the umpires, and use them whenever somebody gets tackled: “Booooooo!” ,”Use yer eyes, ya green maggot!” (Interesting to notice that the umpires are sponsored by spectacle manufacturer OPSM), “Ball!”, “He’s been doing it all day, ya mug!”
Knowing the names of a few players will also help you feel like you belong. It’s not hard. To start with the Swans, there’s Kennelly, Hannebery, Grundy, Goodesy, Kirky, Malceski-y, Dennis-Laney and of course the coach Roosy.
(1) Don’t take alcohol to the ground – bag inspections make sure you can’t get it in, so you’ll have to buy beer and rotgut wine in the bars at absurdly inflated prices. But at least if you can’t get drunk, you can expect people around you to be fairly civilized too.
(2) If you want to eat healthy, take your own food – the Australian pies and chips (fries) on sale at the ground may be part of the cultural experience, but they’re not a great contribution to world cuisine.
(3) You and your kids are perfectly safe supporting either team, and it won’t matter where you sit or what colours you wear. There’s no segregated seating for fans, and while there’s plenty of verbal barracking, crowd violence is fortunately very rare indeed. Rival AFL fans do not trash towns or beat each other up.
The AFL season runs from March to September. Nearly all games are at played on Friday night, or Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings. For full fixtures, see afl.com.au
Except for the Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in September, games are seldom complete sell-outs, and tickets are available at the ground or online. Individual tickets usually cost between $35-78, with family packages available. See: ticketek.com.au
STOP PRESS: My prediction of a Swans’ upset win is still on track. They struggled to beat Carlton in the second elimination final, but fell over the line and now face the Western Bulldogs in the semi. The Swans recently had a convincing win over the Bulldogs so they’ll give themselves a good chance of going further into the pointy end of the season.
STOP STOP PRESS: Swans are gone. Geelong v Collingwood and Bulldogs v Saints in the preliminary finals. Collingwood should be favourites now, but for reasons I don’t quite understand the world is divided into those who love Collingwood and those who hate them. I don’t love them, so I’m supposed to be a magpie-hater. I’d like to see a Geelong-Bulldogs Grand Final, but I fear Collingwood-Saints is more likely.
STOP STOP STOP PRESS: Collingwood thrash Geelong and are through to the Grand Final. Magpie fans will be unbearable.
STOP ALL THE PRESSES, THIS IS GETTING RIDICULOUS: I had to miss the Grand Final (on the TV) due to hiking commitments which took me out of mobile phone range. St Kilda and Collingwood conveniently played a draw, so I can watch the replay next week.
FINAL STOP PRESS: THAT’S IT, ALL OVER, MAGPIES WIN…I don’t want to talk about it any more.