A Bluffer's Guide to Australian Rules Football

By Ned Kelly, May 4, 2018

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Australian rules football, Aussie rules or simply footy. It’s a physical contact sport whose roots are traceable from early forms of rugby and Gaelic football, but it remains uniquely Australian. It is played by very tough toughs, in very short shorts, and the athleticism and kicking ability on display will impress any sports fan worth their salt. Oh, and it is about to enjoy its biggest weekend ever in the People’s Republic of China.

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The Bluff

"So what are they doing out there?" you may well ask. Truth told, we didn’t have a clue, so we had a quick look up of the Aussie Rules' rules:

  • The playing field is a grass oval between 135 and 185 meters in length and 110 and 155 meters in width.

  • An ellipsoid leather ball is used.

  • The game is split up into four quarters of 20 minutes, plus time on (so most quarters tend to run closer to 30 minutes; a match generally takes about two-and-a-half hours, allowing for the 20 minute halftime, and two short quarter breaks).

  • Each team has 18 players on the field, with an additional four players on an interchange bench.

  • Four posts are positioned at opposing ends of the field: two goal posts (minimum height 6 meters) 6.4 meters apart; and two behind posts (minimum height of 3 meters) 6.4 meters to either side of the goal posts.

  • A ball kicked between the two larger goal posts is a 'goal' and scores six points.

  • If the ball passes between a goal post and a behind post then it is a 'behind,' and it scores one point.

  • If the ball is forced or carried - but not kicked - over the line between the goal posts, a behind is scored.

  • If the ball hits the goal post, a behind is scored.

  • The team scoring the most point wins the game. The match is drawn if points are equal.

  • Players are free to move anywhere on the field, but have designated positions.

  • A player running with the ball must bounce it or touch it on the ground once every 15 meters.

  • A player in possession of the ball and held by an opponent must dispose of the ball immediately by kicking or 'handballing' the ball.

  • To 'handball' a player must hold the ball in one hand and hit it with the clenched fist of the other hand.

  • Players are allowed to tackle the player with the ball and impede opposition players from tackling their teammates (called shepherding).

  • Free kicks may be given against players either with or without the ball, and are awarded for infringements far, far too numerous to list here.

Suffice to say, there are plenty more rules, but that lot should stop you asking the really stupid questions. And hey, if you want to know more, Wikipedia is always there for you, cobbers.

So what is a mark?

It is a part of the game where a player cleanly catches a kicked ball that has traveled more than 15 meters without it bouncing or anyone else touching it. Sometimes players do it over people, high in the air, and sometime they take it against the run of play, running into a pack of players. So it really is an act of bravery… or some would say, stupidity!

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Final fact to impress your mates

The oldest surviving set of rules of Australian rules football were drawn up on May 17, 1859, three days after the formation of the Melbourne Football Club, making it the oldest codified form of football. Yes, older than association football aka soccer (1863) and rugby (1871).

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So there you have it: your chance to see a lot of that sport of which little is known outside of that very large island a long way to the south...


May 19, 1.15pm. Adelaide Arena at Jiangwan Stadium, see event listingBuy tickets.

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