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What is it about Australian Rules football that we love?

  • Monday, November 03 2014 @ 03:31 pm ACDT
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In a world where soccer/football is arguably the most followed ball sport globally, where people in North America idolise their NFL or NBA or other ball game heroes and where the various rugby codes across the world draw fanatical support, how is it that Australian Rules football is able to continue to attract new followers. What is it that makes people want to play the game?

Left: Gary Ablett Snr takes a screamer for Geelong (Herald Sun)

During the recent International Cup tournament in Melbourne there were two series of articles written for World Footy News. The “IC14 Vignettes” series and the “Meet The Players” series both touched on the reasons players were drawn to the game. There was a wide variety of answers.

Some looked at their involvement as “exciting” and cited the kicking, handpassing, marking and tackling as the elements of the game that captured their imagination. Others cited the family connections, team spirit, support networks and social aspects as being most important.
There were some who came to the game via Camogie and other hybrid forms of the game as an extension of that involvement. Others saw the game as a chance to represent their country in an adopted sport and some joined because of the opportunities afforded to women to play the game. Still more joined the game as it was offered through their schools or junior Auskick programs or similar.

In one case a player thought they were playing rugby.

But a common theme throughout the interviews was that players were “hooked” or “fell in love with the game” very soon after giving it a go. There were even some who said they had actively hated the game before they tried it and were converted forever. Most agreed that once they started playing the game they “never looked back”.

This is a wide range of responses, and linked to the individuals own experiences and opportunities. But one thing missing is the nuts and bolts specifics of what attracts people to choose this sport over others. Almost all of the above answers could be used to describe any code. What makes our game unique?

My best answer comes from my own upbringing, both at a local and “big league” level.

I clearly remember the old Houghton Road Reserve, Clayton’s home ground. The sound of the old, honky siren. The big metal numbers they hung on the scoreboard. The drain that ran under the road and the railway line which was our half time fun, but we were back at the game for the start of the third quarter.

There was the captain-coach, Barry Bourke, whose motto was “Do as I say, not as I bloody well do!” Big Percy Leilnors was at Full-Forward. He made Mick “The Galloping Gasometer” Nolan from North Melbourne look positively trim and athletic. But he kicked our goals and was our hero. The McCorkell brothers, Gary and Brian, were enormous when I passed them, and they smelled ferociously of liniment. These were my first heroes. Every kick, mark, handpass, tackle and run was something to behold and aspire to.

Then there was the VFL. Peter Knights’ grace in the air, and Trevor Barker’s. Later there was Paul Vander Haar. The torpedo punts from Blighty. Peter McKenna’s drop punts and Peter Hudson’s mongrel flat punts. The stab passes of Bobby Skilton or Billy Goggin could cut a car in half.

Hawthorn's Peter Hudson evades St Kilda's Bob Murray (The Mercury)

Graham “Polly” Farmer made an art form from the handpass, but it was Ron Barassi who won a first premiership from it. His “Handball, Handball, Handball” half time speech against Collingwood in 1970 turned a grand-final. But watching the likes of Barry Cable, Peter Featherby, Greg Williams and more took the skill to even higher levels.

The hard and the tough players made up gasp…or laugh. Leigh Matthews snapping point posts. Ronnie Andrews. Carl Ditterich. "Mad Dog" Muir. Even mark "Jacko" Jackson in his own sweet and endearing way (?). Players whose toughness, or bravado, made us believe the game was not for the faint of heart.

My early memories of footy include entering Windy Hill from the Raleigh Street entrance and immediately climbing the advertising signs for a supreme view of the game and the tribalism and energy that went with it. Or crawling through the hole in the cyclone fence, behind the merchandise stand, at VFL Park before walking under the grand stand to witness the colosseum below.

St Kilda players do their lap of honour wearing swapped Collingwood jumpers after 1966 flag

Without doubt everyone who has fallen in love with the game has their own set of memories or experiences. Maybe the sharing of these on a universal scale will lure more and more people to the great game of Australian Rules football. I fell in love with the game around 1968 when my excitable father pointed out that Essendon were in the grand-final.

I invite you to tell us when did you catch the bug…and why? What was it about Australian Rules football that caused you to be hooked? To “fall in love” and to “never look back”?

It is the greatest game of all. I said so!

Essendon great John Coleman (http://www.news.com)

Carlton's Alex Jesaulenko takes his screamer over Graeme Jenkin in 1970 Grand-Final (The Age)