Follow awfulagent on Twitter

About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Footy is the nickname for Australian Rules Football. It's played on a very extremely large oval pitch, with goals at each end. The central goal is worth six points, and is surrounded by a subsidiary goal on each side which is worth one point. The ball is advanced with a combination of throwing, kicking and running. You kick the ball, the ball is caught cleanly, you establish a mark at the site of the catch and can have free kick from the spot of the mark. Throw and catch the ball you can keep moving the ball but without the benefit of the mark. You can also run up to seven generous steps with the ball in some of these cases, kind of like seven steps and then a few more so you don't have to stop too suddenly.  Lots of times the ball isn't caught cleanly or a couple people can go for it, and then you can get some nice violent competition for possession. 

I've now seen footy twice, first time during Aussiecon 3 in 1999, and with much eager anticipation this week during my Aussiecon 4. With two matches under my belt, starting to get more understanding of the game, and why I like watching it so much. 

First and foremost, I like it because I have to watch it. I watch lots of TV where the TV is background noise but for episodic TV want to watch only those shows that I have to actually watch because the quality of the writing and acting demands attention. 

Baseball has so much down time, if you rigorously keep score you can fill it with lots of housekeeping for the scorecard, but so much downtime. US football is way more downtime than game. Tennis changeovers and between points. The endless fouling at the end of a basketball half. US soccer aka football in much of world is non-stop action but with very little happening unless you're a true fan who will watch all those subtleties.

Footy has lots of free-flowing wide-ranging action with an actual scoring outcome. You don't need to be a soccer snoot to find a purpose to it, and while the clock is running there are things happening.  You get your money's worth watching what is on the field, you don't need cheerleaders and sausage contests and loud music. 

It's a violent sport, but it's not just about the violence. My first game 11 years ago had been a damp day, and the second half this year was damp. But the first half not. Which made it easier to hold on to the ball, which limited the opportunity for people to go fighting for the ball. With rain starting to fall in the second half, and a damp ball and damp grass, the game had an entirely different complexion.  You can't be great at footy without having skill both for the clean flowing game of the first half and the more scrummy conditions of the second. 

I also like the pageantry of the game. Some of it maybe because footy is exotic to me and the NFL not, so to an Australian the raised arms of a touchdown would be as much a touch of pageantry as the cocked arms and waved flags of a footy goal. But look at the way the footy refs carry the ball back out to midfield after a goal.  There's nothing like that in the NFL.

The field is large enough to become a three ring circus during halftime with various youth groups playing or scrimmaging on the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Grounds.

For all its appeal to me, Australian Rules Football is regional even within Australia.  Most of the teams are based in Melbourne and surrounding.  I was watching the Geelong Cats, favored and from another coy near to Melbourne, against the St. Kilda Saints from an area in South Melbourne. The first quarter was fairly well contested, but the Saints totally dominated play in the 2nd and built a huge lead. In the second half, the Cats clawed their way back, and then seemed to go ahead with a minute left only to have disallowed for a push-in-back infraction allowing the Saints to run out the clock and hold on for an upset win.  The papers the next day said the infraction was doubtful but had little sympathy, pointing out that Geelong had kicked miserably in the homestretch gaining only one six-pointer out of eight attempts. 

And BTW, there were no bag checks and pat downs to enter the stadium. Beyond the entry gate there was one table and two bored-looking guys doing what seemed to be a voluntary bag check. In the US, we're all certain to die a gruesome and horrible death if people don't prove their cell phones are actually cell phones on the way into Yankee Stadium, or if we bring in empty plastic water bottles over emptiable ones.               

1 comment:

L.L. Wynn said...

I love that you've posted something on Aussie Rules. Technically, here in Australia "footy" refers to not only Aussie Rules but also two varieties of rugby: League and Union. I don't pretend to understand the difference between the two rugbies, but the difference between rugby and Aussie Rules is stark: the former is more violent and covers less ground; the latter is, as you describe, more fluid and wide-ranging, punctuated with pile-ups and interludes of violence (especially where Barry Hall is involved) and wonderful pageantry.

I have an anthropologist colleague who does research on rugby in Australia and New Zealand. He prefers rugby because of its similarities with the American football that he loves: the slow, deliberate conquest of territory. Another American colleague -- a physicist -- prefers Aussie rules because he sees it as similar to the basketball he loves: the rapidity, the motion, the passing, the leaping. Have you noticed how high Aussie Rules players jump? Truly balletic.

All that said, if pageantry is what you're after, Aussie Rules -- and Australians in general -- have nothing on the Kiwi tradition of haka at the beginning of their rugby matches -- see and wonder at the glory of it.