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Australian Rules Football

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To hell with soccer. That's right, I said to hell with soccer. Australian Rules Football is where it's really at.

Known as Aussie Rules Football or "footy," this sport seems to combine the best aspects of soccer and rugby into a rugged, fast-paced game I've never seen the likes of. I can't believe this sport is not more popular in the United States, except that we're probably too wussie to play it over here.

I've spent exactly one evening watching footy and maybe it's just late at night, but I'm feeling a new addiction coming on. Why is this sport more appealing than other forms of football?

  • American football: Play stops and starts so much there's something like 10 minutes of actual playing time in an entire 60 minute game. Endless penalties and commercial breaks try my limited attention span. 
  • Rugby football: For me, this sport is too choppy and the tackling and formations too unnatural. It's like a highly structured form of thuggery, but a bit too highly structured.
  • Association football (soccer): One of the only things that pisses me off about soccer and always will is the low scoring. When you invest nearly two hours in a game, you like to at least see one team score, once, which sometimes doesn't happen at all. 
Aussie Rules is the answer to all of these kvetches. The game is fluid, like soccer, but even more so. Play only stops when one team scores, the ball goes out of bounds, or in the rare case of a penalty, which doesn't even seem to happen very much. 

Furthermore, counteracting the deeply unnatural element of soccer -- you can only use your feet -- in footy, you can run with the ball (as long as you dribble it every three steps), pass it by punching it, and also kick or punt it on the run, which is how goals are scored, by kicking the ball through one of three goals formed by four uprights. The center goal is worth six points, the side goals worth a measly one point. 

Adding to all this, the field is an enormous oval, like a soccer field but with the sidelines bulged out and rounded (and even bigger, I think), and the play is extremely physical. And by that I mean, these guys are in incredible shape and they beat the crap out of each other running at top speed, pulling the kinds of moves and hits on each other that would get them ejected from an NFL game.

One completely awesome aspect: Because there is no "offside" rule, players are allowed to roam anywhere on the field at any time other than the beginning of a quarter. There is just something about this game that still seems wild, untamed, and unstructured, and thereby closer to the sport from which all "football" games truly originate: mob football. Mob football was a game played once or twice a year in villages in England between the middle ages and the 1700s in which members of the village split into two teams in order to beat the crap out of each other for possession of a leather ball stuffed with horse hair and the players often suffered broken bones, had eyes gouged out, and even died. While we've evolved a lot since those times, Aussie Rules seems like it has more of the frantic, unruly spirit of mob football than any modern iteration of "football."

Lastly, the game seems poisoned by money. That ship sailed for American football sometime in the late 70s with the advent of cable T.V., and shall never return again; commercialism has taken sport to a point where the NFL is now more powerful than many countries. Soccer is no better, it's just not as commercially viable in the U.S. and probably never will be. But in foreign professional leagues like La Liga and the Bundesliga, competition is crippled by money, as the richest one or two teams routinely smother all competition just because they have deeper pockets.   

Australia Rules Football is perhaps the purest, truest form of football still remaining on the globe. And thanks to FS2, it can be seen occasionally on late nights when geeky writer types are up late with nothing better to do than gush about what they fear may be a new obsession...


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