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Australian Rules Football In Australia

Updated on January 26, 2011

About Australian Rules Football In Australia

Australian rules football, also known as Australian football, Aussie rules, or simply "football" or "footy" is a code of football played with a prolate spheroid ball, on large oval shaped fields (cricket fields), with four posts at each end. No more than 18 players of each team are permitted to be on the field at any time, with four[1] interchange players on the bench, and the primary aim of the game is to score by kicking the ball between the posts. The winner is the team who has the highest total score by the end of the match.

There are several different ways to advance the ball, including kicking and hand passing. When hand passing one hand must be used to hold the ball and the other fist to hit it — throwing the ball is not allowed. Players running with the ball must bounce or touch it on the ground every 15 metres. There is no offside rule and players can roam the field freely. Australian rules is a contact sport. Possession of the ball is in dispute at all times except when a free kick is paid. Players who hold on to the ball too long are penalised if they are tackled by an opposition player who is then rewarded, whilst players who catch a ball (known as a mark) from a kick exceeding 15 metres are awarded uncontested possession. The duration of play varies, but is longer than in any other code of football.

Frequent contests for possession including aerial marking or "speckies" and vigorous tackling with the hands, bumps and the fast movement of both players and the ball are the game's main attributes as a spectator sport.

The code originated in Melbourne, Australia in 1858, and was devised to keep cricketers fit during the winter months. The first laws of Australian football were published in 1859 by the Melbourne Football Club. The dominant governing body and most prestigious professional competition is the Australian Football League (AFL), which culminates in the annual AFL Grand Final, the highest attended club championship event in the world.

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An Australian Football League Premiership season match at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast between Adelaide and Melbourne. The AFL is the most most attended national competition in Australia and the only fully professional league for Australian Rules in the world.

An Australian Football League Premiership season match at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast between Adelaide and Melbourne. The AFL is the most most attended national competition in Australia and the only fully professional league for Australian Rules in the world.

The football season, proper, is from March to August (early autumn to late winter in Australia) with finals being held in September. In the tropics, the game is played in the wet season (October to March). Pre-season competitions in southern Australia usually begin in late February.

The most powerful organisation and competition within the game, the AFL, is recognised by the Australian Sports Commission as being the National Sporting Organisation for Australian rules football. There are also seven state/territory-based organisations

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Rules Of The Game

The playing field, which may be 135-185m long and 110-155m wide. The centre square is 50x50. The curved fifty metre line is 50m away from the goal line. Adjacent goal posts are 6.4 metres apart.

The playing field, which may be 135-185m long and 110-155m wide. The centre square is 50x50. The curved fifty metre line is 50m away from the goal line. Adjacent goal posts are 6.4 metres apart.

Both the ball and the field of play are oval in shape. No more than 18 players of each team are permitted to be on the field at any time. Up to four interchange (reserve) players may be swapped for those on the field at any time during the game. There is no offside rule nor are there set positions in the rules; unlike many other forms of football, players from both teams disperse across the whole field before the start of play. However, only four players from each team are allowed within the 50m centre square before every centre bounce, which occurs at the commencement of each quarter, and to restart the game after a goal is scored. There are also other rules pertaining to allowed player positions during set plays (i.e., after a mark or free kick) and during kick-ins following the scoring of a behind.

A game consists of four quarters. The length of the quarters can vary from 15 to 25 minutes in different leagues. In the AFL, quarters are 20 minutes, but the clock is stopped when the ball is out of play, meaning that an average quarter could last for 27 to 31 minutes. Games are officiated by umpires. Unlike other forms of football, Australian football begins similarly to basketball. After the first siren, the umpire bounces the ball on the ground, and the two ruckmen (typically the tallest man from each team), battle for the ball in the air on its way back down.

The ball can be propelled in any direction by way of a foot, clenched fist (called a handball or handpass) or open-hand tap (unlike rugby football there is no knock-on rule) but it cannot be thrown under any circumstances. Throwing is defined in the rules quite broadly but is essentially any open hand disposal that causes the ball to move upward in the air.

An Australian football. The Sherrin brand is used for all official AFL matches.

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Rules Of The Game (Cont)

A player may run with the ball but it must be bounced or touched on the ground at least every 15 metres. Opposition players may bump or tackle the player to obtain the ball and, when tackled, the player must dispose of the ball cleanly or risk being penalised for holding the ball. The ball carrier may only be tackled between the shoulders and knees. If the opposition player pushes a player in the back whilst performing a tackle, the opposition player will be penalised for a push in the back. If the opposition tackles the player with possession below the knees, it is ruled as a low tackle or a trip, and the team with possession of the football gets a free kick.

If a player takes possession of the ball that has traveled more than 15 metres from another player's kick, by way of a catch, it is claimed as a mark and that player may then have a free kick (meaning that the game stops while he prepares to kick from the point at which he marked). Alternatively, he may choose to "play on:" forfeiting the set shot in the hope of pressing an advantage for his team (rather than allowing the opposition to reposition while he prepares for the free kick). Once a player has chosen to play on normal play resumes, and the player who took the mark is again able to be tackled.

There are different styles of kicking depending on how the ball is held in the hand. The most common style of kicking seen in today's game, due principally to its superior accuracy, is the drop punt (the ball is dropped from the hands down, almost to the ground, to be kicked so that the ball rotates in a reverse end over end motion as it travels through the air). Other commonly used kicks are the torpedo punt (also known as the spiral or screw punt; the ball is held at an angle and kicked, which makes the ball spiral in the air, resulting in extra distance)and the checkside punt, used to curve the ball towards targets that are on an angle. Forms of kicking which have now disappeared from the game include the drop kick (similar to the drop punt except that the ball is allowed to make contact with the ground momentarily before being struck with the foot) and place kick (where the ball is first placed on the ground when shooting for goal, similar to the place kick used in rugby union).

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Australian rules football goal posts - the two tall central posts are the goal posts, and the two shorter outer posts are the behind posts.

Australian rules football goal posts - the two tall central posts are the goal posts, and the two shorter outer posts are the behind posts.

At each end of the field are four vertical posts. The middle two are the goal posts and the two on either side, which are shorter, are the behind posts, or point posts.

A goal is scored when the football is propelled through the goal posts at any height (including above the height of the posts) by way of a kick from the attacking team. It may fly through on the full or bounce through and must not be touched, on the way, by any player from either team. A goal cannot be scored from the foot of an opposition (defending) player.

A behind is scored when the ball passes between a goal post and a behind post at any height, or if the ball hits a goal post, or if an attacking player sends the ball between the goal posts by touching it with any part of the body other than a foot. A behind is also awarded to the attacking team if the ball touches any part of an opposition player, including their foot, before passing between the goal posts. When an opposition player deliberately scores a behind for the attacking team (generally as a last resort, due to the risk of them scoring a goal) this is termed a rushed behind.

If the ball hits one of the behind posts, the ball is considered out of bounds and no score is awarded.

A goal is worth 6 points whereas a behind is worth 1 point. The Goal Umpire signals a goal with two hands raised at elbow height, a behind with one hand, and then confirms the signal with the other goal umpire by waving flags above his head.

The team that has scored the most points at the end of play wins the game. If the scores are level on points at the end of play, then the game is a draw.

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Origins of the Game

Tom Wills is widely credited with devising Australian rules in Melbourne in 1858. A letter by Wills was published in Bell's Life in Victoria & Sporting Chronicle on 10 July 1858, calling for a "foot-ball club" with a "code of laws" to keep cricketers fit during winter. His letter attracted other football players, and an experimental match, played by Wills and others, at the Richmond Paddock (later known as Yarra Park next to the MCG) on 31 July, 1858, was probably the first game of Australian football. Unfortunately however, few details of the match have survived.

On 7 August 1858, two significant events in the development of the game occurred. The Melbourne Football Club, one of the world's first football clubs in any code, was informally founded, and a famous match between Melbourne Grammar School and Scotch College began, umpired by Wills. A second day of play took place on 21 August and a third, and final, day on 4 September. The two schools have competed annually ever since. However, the rules used by the two teams in 1858 could not have had much in common with the eventual form of Australian football as they had not yet been written.

A game at the Richmond Paddock in the 1860s. A pavilion at the MCG is on the left in the background. (A wood engraving made by Robert Bruce on July 27, 1866.)

A game at the Richmond Paddock in the 1860s. A pavilion at the MCG is on the left in the background. (A wood engraving made by Robert Bruce on July 27, 1866.)

The Melbourne Football Club rules of 1859 are the oldest surviving set of laws for Australian football. They were drawn up at the Parade Hotel, East Melbourne, on 17 May, by Wills, W. J. Hammersley, J. B. Thompson and Thomas Smith (some sources include H. C. A. Harrison). The influence of English public school and university football codes, while undetermined, was clearly substantial. All members of the committee had experience of English or Irish games. Tom Wills, it is claimed, wanted to introduce Rugby School rules but the other three men felt Rugby School's rough play and offside rules would not suit players older than schoolboys or the drier Australian conditions. They did look at the Rugby School Rules but also those of Eton, Winchester and Harrow.

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Origins of the Game

Finally eleven simple Melbourne Football Club Rules were laid out, printed and, most significantly, widely publicised. As other Clubs began, including the Geelong Football Club, there were some rival rules which eventually gave way to an acceptance of the Melbourne Rules. The rules did not include the requirement to bounce the ball while running which was introduced in 1866.

It is also often said that Wills was partly inspired by the ball games of the local Aboriginal people in western Victoria. Marn Grook, a sport that used a ball made out of possum hide, featured jumping to catch the ball for the equivalent of a free kick. This appears to have resembled the high marking in Australian football. The original recorded size of the Aboriginal playing field varies with records, but most records state that the playing field was about 1.6 km (1 mile) long, with teams playing until there was one winner.[citation needed] There is no evidence that Wills ever saw Aboriginal football or participated in it as a child.

While it is clear even to casual observers that Australian rules football is similar to Gaelic football, the exact relationship is unclear, as Gaelic football was not codified by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) until 1887. Long before either code existed, traditional Irish football games, known collectively as caid, were being played. Historian B. W. O'Dwyer points out that Australian football has always been differentiated from rugby football by having no limitation on ball or player movement (that is, no offside rule). The need to bounce or toe-kick the ball while running, and punching the ball rather than throwing it, are also elements of modern Gaelic football. O'Dwyer suggests that some of these elements may be attributed to the common influence of older Irish games.

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Major clubs and competitions

In 1877, the game's first league, the Victorian Football Association (VFA) was formed. Gradually the game - known at first as "Melbourne Rules", "Victorian Rules" or sometimes as "Australasian Rules" - began to spread from Victoria into other Australian colonies in the 1860s, beginning with Tasmania (1864), Queensland (1866) and South Australia (1873). The game began to be played in New South Wales in 1877, in Western Australia in 1881 and the Australian Capital Territory in 1911. By 1916, the game was first played in the Northern Territory, establishing a permanent presence in all Australian states and mainland territories. In Newcastle, New South Wales the Black Diamond league was founded by Victorian gold miners and the Black Diamond Challenge Cup remains Australia's oldest sporting trophy.

The precursors of the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) and the West Australian Football League (WAFL) were strong, separate competitions by the 1890s. However, factors such as interstate rivalry and the denial of access to grounds in Sydney caused the code to struggle in New South Wales and Queensland. A rift in the VFA led to the formation of the Victorian Football League (VFL), which commenced play in 1897 as an eight-team breakaway of the stronger clubs in the VFA competition. By 1925, the VFL consisted of 12 teams, and had become the most prominent league in the game.

The first intercolonial match had been played between Victoria and South Australia in 1879.

Players contest a mark at the 1933 Australian Football Carnival, at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The teams are Victoria and an unknown state (possibly Tasmania). (Photographer: Sam Hood.)

Players contest a mark at the 1933 Australian Football Carnival, at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The teams are Victoria and an unknown state (possibly Tasmania). (Photographer: Sam Hood.)

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Major clubs and competitions

For most of the 20th century, the absence of a national club competition - and the inability of players to compete internationally - meant that matches between state representative teams were regarded with great importance. Because VFL clubs increasingly recruited the best players in other states, Victoria dominated these games. State of origin rules were introduced in 1977, and saw Western Australia and South Australia begin to win many of their games against Victoria.

In 1982, in a move which heralded big changes within the sport, one of the original VFL clubs, South Melbourne, relocated to the rugby league stronghold of Sydney and became known as the Sydney Swans. In the late 1980s, strong interstate interest in the VFL led to a more national competition; two more non-Victorian clubs, the West Coast Eagles and the Brisbane Bears began playing in 1987. The league changed its name to the Australian Football League (AFL) following the 1989 season. In 1991, it gained its first South Australian team, Adelaide. During the next five years, two more non-Victorian teams, Fremantle and Port Adelaide, joined the league. The AFL, currently with 16 member clubs, is the sport's elite competition and the most powerful body in the world of Australian rules football.

Following the emergence of the Australian Football League, the SANFL, WAFL and other state leagues rapidly declined to a secondary status. Apart from these there are many semi-professional and amateur leagues around Australia, where they play a very important role in the community, and particularly so in rural areas. The VFA, still in existence a century after the original schism, merged with the former VFL reserves competition in 1998. The new entity adopted the VFL name and remained a primarily state based competition. State of origin games declined in importance, especially after an increasing number of withdrawals by AFL players, and Australian football State of Origin matches ceased in 1999. The second-tier state and territorial leagues still contest interstate matches.

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Traditions of the game

Before the start of each AFL games, players run through a banner constructed by supporters.

Before the start of each AFL games, players run through a banner constructed by supporters.

Australian Rules is a sport rich in tradition and Australian cultural references, especially surrounding the rituals of gameday for players, officials and supporters.

As part of their uniform, players wear guernseys, which are similar to basketball shirts, but of a more robust design, often referred to in Australia as "jumpers". In the early period of the game's development players often wore sleeveless lace-up tops which gradually disappeared between the 1960s and early 1980s. A few players choose to wear a long sleeved variation of the modern guernsey design. Players wore full length pants, before adopting shorts in the 1920s. Tight-fitting shorts were a notable fashion trend in most leagues in the 1980s and some players began to wear hamstring warmers. A brief experiment with lycra by the AFL in the State of Origin series was quickly abandoned for more traditional wear. Padding is rare, but some ruckmen wear shin pads and thigh pads and players with head injuries sometimes wear soft helmets. Long socks (football socks) are compulsory, and mouthguards are worn by most players. Boots with moulded cleats or studs for gripping the ground are worn (screw-ins have been banned from most leagues since the 1990s).

Traditionally, umpires have worn white. However, in the AFL, umpires now wear bright colours chosen not to clash with the guernseys of the competiting teams. AFL goal umpires now wear t-shirts and caps, rather than the traditional white coat and broad brimmed hat which was similar to what was worn by many cricket umpires.

Australian rules is often referred to as the people's game due to its ability to transcend class and racial boundaries, unify supporters and attract crowds.

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Traditions of the game

Cheersquads at Australian rules football matches behind the goals wave giant Pom-pons or floggers to signify a goal

Cheersquads at Australian rules football matches behind the goals wave giant Pom-pons or floggers to signify a goal

Typical supporter wear includes the team scarf and sometimes beanie (particularly in cooler climates) in the colours of the team. Team guernseys are also worn by supporters. Team flags are sometimes flown by supporters, and official club cheersquads behind the goals will sometimes wave enormous coloured pompoms known as floggers after the umpire has signalled a goal.

Meat pies and beer are popular consumables (sometimes noted as a tradition) for supporters at Australian rules matches. At AFL matches mobile vendors walk around the ground selling such pies, yelling out the well-known call of "hot pies, cold drinks!"

At the end of the match, it is traditional for a pitch invasion to occur. Supporters run onto the field to celebrate the game and play games of kick-to-kick with their families. In many suburban and country games, this also happens during quarter and half-time breaks. In the AFL in recent years, this tradition has been more strictly controlled with security guards to ensure that players and officials can safely leave the ground. At the largest AFL grounds, this tradition has been banned completely, to protect the surface, much to the discontent of fans. Sometimes a mid-game pitch invasion is expected for various highly anticipated landmark achievements (such as a player kicking a record number of goals).

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      viethung20 5 years ago

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      Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Delighted to have the rules to and history of Australian Rules Football. I only know American Football.

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      cylomi 5 years ago

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    • BuddyBink profile image

      BuddyBink 5 years ago

      I love Australian Rules Football. Well done on the history and rules. Thanks, Go Cats

    • AnneMathews profile image

      AnneMathews 6 years ago

      Interesting history of the game. Thank you.

    • filmic profile image

      filmic 6 years ago

      Great lens! A comprehensive look at the history of the game. I had no idea it started so early. Go Dees!

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      David Schroeter 7 years ago from St Kilda, Victoria, Australia

      Gail... what a great lens! There's plenty of information for fans and the bemused alike. And it was written by a "Magpies" supporter too, that's amazing ;) A "thumbs up" for sure and even lensrolled to my new lens about the Richmond Football Club.

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      Emmick 8 years ago

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      Emmick 8 years ago

      Great footy info! truly the greatest sport

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      Paul Hassing 8 years ago

      Fantastic lens! Wipes the floor with mine! Nice work! Best regards, P. :)

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      anonymous 10 years ago

      This is the real football. Too bad that they don't show more of it on American TV. I polished your stars up for you.

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      AlisonMeacham 10 years ago

      Never knew anything about this one! From a UK soccer fan.

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      JamieGranger 10 years ago

      Good Day mate...

      Love from down under...

      Great lens keep it up

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      Classic LM 10 years ago

      Wow great lens! I rated it 5*s!

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      surfsusan 10 years ago

      I had no ideas the Australians had this kind of football! thanks for sharing from Menu Planning for a Healthy Family

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      anonymous 10 years ago

      Think I'll send this one to my Brother in Wales. 5*

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      anonymous 10 years ago

      can't help myself..Carn the ROOs, Jas from Fat loss 4 idiots, turbulence training

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      anonymous 10 years ago

      Great lens! 5 stars

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      kathysart 10 years ago

      Wow! How inventive of you! This is a fabulous lens!

      Kathy

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      Robin S 10 years ago from USA

      I learned a lot here!

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      anonymous 10 years ago

      Great lens!

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      Sweeppicker 10 years ago

      Great lens.

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      Susan1 LM 10 years ago

      Great lens! 5 stars

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      Janusz LM 10 years ago

      Wow, thanks learned a lot about Aussie football

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      ReviewKing 10 years ago

      Great source of quality information! Thanks!

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      Lady Gotrocks 10 years ago

      Brutal Sport! Love it!

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      the777group lm 10 years ago

      Here in Australia people are pretty passionate about their code of "footie' Australian Riles, Rugby League