Australian rules football

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The Tulsa Buffaloes Australian Rules Football team will play Des Moines this Saturday, September 10, 2016, at 2 p.m. at Veterans Park, 21st & Boulder Ave.

The word "football" in Australia can have five different meanings, each of which corresponds to a different professionally-played sport:

1. Gridiron football -- what Americans usually mean when we say "football," with yard lines, helmets, pads, downs, and forward passing. The National Gridiron League was set to launch this October with eight teams along the east coast, but delays (visas for players and coaches, according to rumor) have forced the first games to October 2017. Every state but Tasmania has a gridiron league; Queensland has 11 clubs, each of which hosts a men senior team (19 and up), and many host teams for women, teenage boys (14-18), and pre-teen boys (10-13). In 2014, five state-wide teams participated in a round-robin competition called the Australian Gridiron League. An Australian national team participates in the International Federation of American Football along with the US, Mexico, France, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea.

2. Rugby union -- the original form of rugby, played 15 to a side. Originally an amateur sport, teams in five major Australian cities participate in a professional Super Rugby league that includes teams in New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, and South Africa. There are leagues and clubs at state and regional levels.

3. Rugby league -- the schismatic form of rugby, but the most followed professional form in Australia, with 13 to a side and more continuous flow of play. This is the pro sport that gets the most attention in the eastern states of Queensland and New South Wales, reflected in the annual State of Origin three-match series that pits representative teams from the two states against each other. The rule books of Rugby League and Rugby Union are referred to as "codes," and the term has been generalized to refer to the different forms of football, including those with no connection to rugby.

4. Soccer: Highest level of participation of any sport in the country, but not as popular as Rugby League as a spectator sport. Highest league is the A-League, with 10 teams (including one in New Zealand). The indoor variant is known as futsal.

And finally:

5. Australian rules football: If you watched ESPN in the early days, before the network was part of the Disney family, before the network had won the rights to air major league US sports, you probably witnessed the spectacle of 18-a-side "football" played on an oval and officials in fedoras and lab coats signalling goals by pointing their fingers and waving flags. Four poles stand at each end of the oval or "paddock," which can range from 135 to 185 meters long. A ball kicked between the two tall posts at the center is a goal worth six points; a ball that goes between one of the shorter outside posts and one of the tall center posts is a "behind" worth one point.

Aussie football had its origins in Melbourne, and the state of Victoria remains the heart of its popularity, but the top Australian Football League has teams in major cities across the nation. Four of the AFL clubs in Queensland and New South Wales have reserve squads that play alongside six non-affiliated teams in the second-tier North East Australian Football League. One step further down (AA, in baseball terms), statewide leagues like AFL Queensland offer clubs at various levels of play, and the clubs typically have several squads, such as seniors, reserves, juniors, and women; often all the squads from two clubs will play each other in a series of matches on the same day.

About a month ago, I took the CityCat (a catamaran ferry that runs between the Brisbane ocean liner port at Hamilton and the University of Queensland campus several miles upstream) to see an Aussie rules match in person. The match was between the reserves of the University of Queensland Red Lions and the Western Magpies. I arrived in time to see the last two 20-minute quarters. No admission was charged. There were a couple of three-row bleachers, but most of the few dozen spectators sat on grassy berms around the oval, seeking shade where possible on a warm midwinter day. As the game rolled on, pink-shirted water carriers would circulate among the players who were away from the ball. As large as the oval was, it was tough to get a clear view of the action on the other side, and I could understand why field-level seats at an NEAFL match were less expensive than higher level seats.

A concrete pavilion at one end of the field had locker rooms, restrooms for spectators, and a concession stand with a grill where sausages, burgers, and onions were being cooked by supporters of the home club. The burgers were served on a sesame bun, but the sausages were served with grilled onions in a diagonally-folded piece of white bread. Soft drinks were available, but you could also get a XXXX Gold (the local beer) or a can of Bundaberg rum and cola. (Fosters is not Australian for beer, at least in Queensland. I don't think I saw a Fosters for sale the entire trip.)

True to their nicknames, the Magpies were much more aggressive and noisy than the UQ students, calling out to each other and heckling the UQ players when they took free kicks. The Magpies reserves beat UQ handily, 19 goals, 11 behinds for 125 points to 5 goals and 12 behinds for 42 points. I stayed around for the first few minutes of the next match, between the seniors, the top players of each club, which started out more competitively, then met up with some friends for a tour of the city.

Tulsa has an Australian rules football team, the Tulsa Buffaloes, who play their home matches at Veterans' Park.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 8, 2016 11:36 PM.

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