With the Stanley Cup Playoffs in full flight, most of Canada loses interest in what else is going on in the world of sport. Even concurrent basketball championships and the beginning of soccer and baseball seasons are only on the periphery of our awareness.
Little surprise then that few (if any) are following a just as thrilling sport on the other side of the planet.
Wait a minute! Did a Canadian just say there was a sport as exciting as hockey?
Yes, he did. And anyone who has seen Aussie Rules Football live would tell you the same. I once asked an Australian why they called the game they invented 150 years ago “Aussie Rules” and he said it was because “Assault and Battery” was already taken.
My own opinion is, in the oddly warped way they have of looking at the world, Australians applied the word “Rules” to a game that doesn’t appear to actually have any.
We always giggle at Americans who try to tell us how violent NFL football is. But as one who’s been there I can honestly say the physical mayhem of Australian Rules Football makes our own revered Canadian game look like a no-contact kids league. I don’t think these guys even wear a cup! As if they could actually get one under those skimpy shorts in the first place.
Oh, I’m sure there’s a rule book somewhere. But like the one for hockey, hardly anybody’s actually read it and penalties are only called when things are getting particularly out of hand.
How else do you explain that the playing field or “pitch” officially must measure 150 metres (or more) in length and 135 metres (or more) in width. Trust me, once they’ve staked out the field, the rest of the officiating is just as casual.
There are all kinds of terms you need to know to follow Aussie Rules football. Words like “Torpedo” and “Mark” and God help you if you don’t know the difference between a “Goal” and your “Behind”. Even the players have indiscernible handles. They play positions like “Back Pocket”, “Half Forward Flank” and “Ruck Rover”. I think that last one is the guy who goes for meat pies at “The Half”.
Like all games, Aussie Rules has its own fan culture as well.
The meat pie is their version of a hot dog. I think it’s made with pretty much the same ingredients, just not ground up as much and therefore more visible to the eye and palate. They’re always overcooked and served far too hot in order to kill whatever might still be living inside them. That’s why everybody you see eating one in the stands is washing it down with a very large cup of Lager.
The fan culture for “Footy” is just as strange as the one surrounding hockey must appear to the uninitiated. Although those who criticise Don Cherry or the Hockey Night panels should have a look at something from Down Under called “The Footy Show”.
Like the game it profiles, this enormously popular weekly review doesn’t seem to follow any rules either. For starters, it runs 105 minutes. How does that fit any logical television schedule?!? What’s more, most of the participants make Don Cherry look politically correct and Mike Millbury completely sane.
You literally cannot tune in without seeing some panel made up of one guy who’s drunk, one who thought it would be fun to go on national television in drag and another guy looking to get even with somebody else for an elbow that broke his nose in 1983.
I recall one segment that included a star player being dry-humped by somebody in a kangaroo suit and a live link from the red carpet opening of a Tom Cruise movie where Tom was unceremoniously shoved out of the way so the interviewer could get to some Ruck Rover from the Tasmanian State League.
“Outta me way, Cruiser! There’s ‘Buckets’!”
The Canadian equivalent would be Ben Mulroney straight-arming Atom Egoyan so he could talk to the 3rd string goalie from the Barrie Colts.
And come to think of it, maybe that’s another example of why Australian television is more entertaining than our own…
But seriously…(as if I half wasn’t just there)…
We’re five weeks into a brand new AFL season. A few of the games are broadcast here, but you can catch them all online at www.afl.com.au . The added benefit to that is (given the International date line) many run early Saturday or Sunday morning when there’s not much other live sport available besides the endless running around known as soccer.
Which brings me to this week’s video.
While there are all kinds of AFL highlight reels, hardest hits and best fights videos all over the web, there are also collections of the songs of Aussie Rules. Teams have songs. Fans have songs. And every year the network broadcasting the games finds a new theme. No “Are You Ready for Some Football” or decades long Hockey Night theme for these guys.
The first of these anthems arrived in 1979 and to my mind it’s still the best. “Up There Cazaly” was inspired by star player Roy Cazaly. It sold more copies than any Australian record up to that time and went on to be the theme of Bruce Beresford’s “The Club” a year later.
Sample it to capture the flavor of a sport that deserves more attention. And Enjoy your Sunday.