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Australian Rules Football: An Introduction

MELBOURNE - SEPTEMBER 24 : Brad Ottens (6) stretched for a ruck contest during Geelong's preliminary final win over West Coast on September 24, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.

All international students should experience at least one Australian rules football match. Whether you’re a fan of the sport or not, it’s a fun excuse to hang out with friends and immerse yourself in one of the biggest parts of Australian culture.

The Australian Football League (AFL or ‘the footy’) is the professional version of the sport and a classic Aussie tradition. More people watch AFL than any other sport in Australia,  with an average of 100,000 fans attending the annual Grand Final and millions of others tuning in to watch it on TV. 

Originally known as the Victorian Football League (VFL), the sport was founded in 1896 and then began expanding beyond Victoria to other Australian states in the 1980s. By this point, it had gained nationwide popularity. The name was changed to AFL in 1990.

While it has previously been a male-dominated sport, women’s teams are becoming increasingly more popular, with the launch of the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) competition in 2017. The competition has since expanded from 10 teams to 18 teams and has inspired a significant rise in the participation of women and girls in the sport across the country. 

So now you know a bit about the history of the AFL, what do you need to know to become an avid fan?

@insiderguides Come to an AFL match with us! As an international student, this is a must-have experience while you’re Down Under 🏟️ #afl #footy #gatherround #portpower #internationalstudents #australia #westernbulldogs ♬ FEEL THE GROOVE – Queens Road, Fabian Graetz

Australian rules football basics

  • Each team will usually have 22 players with 18 of them on the field at one time.
  • The game is played on an oval-shaped field with scoring posts at each end. Points are scored by kicking the oval-shaped ball between the middle, taller goalposts (worth six points) or through the outer posts (worth one point).
  • Players can kick, handball or tap the football, tackle and chase other players, and kick for goal from anywhere on the oval.
  • An AFL game has four quarters. Each quarter lasts for approximately 20 minutes, plus any extra time given from when the umpire calls a time-out.
  • The game (or match) is won by the team with the highest score at the final siren.

AFL teams

Now you’re an expert on the rules of the game, it’s time to choose your team.

The AFL currently consists of 18 teams spread over five of Australia’s six states (Tasmania being the exception). People support their teams for many reasons – you can pick your closest local team or the team whose colours you like the most. You can choose to support your friend’s team, or make things interesting and barrack for their rival. Either way, we suggest you support a team with a chance of winning!

Talking about your football team’s performance on the weekend is a great way to bond with new friends and start a conversation with locals. Footy fans are very invested in their club and can get quite passionate over the results of the game – but don’t worry, it’s all part of the fun and a bit of healthy competition!

Going to an Australian rules football match

Once you have picked your team, you are ready to go to a match. Find out when and where your team is playing on the AFL website.

Going to a footy match makes for an awesome day out; you can hang out with friends and engage in the culture of the sport. Footy season falls in the cooler months of March – September, so you will need to keep warm in a jumper, scarf and beanie (in your team’s colours, of course) when attending a game. Try to get seats close to the field and then cheer and shout for your favourite team. The lively atmosphere at the match will be contagious!

Tip: We recommend you try a meat pie, the traditional footy snack. Make sure to smother it with tomato sauce and stock up on napkins – it might get messy! 

Grand Final Day

The AFL Grand Final is one of the most highly-anticipated events in the Australian sporting calendar. The game is usually held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), and as the host state, people in Victoria even get to enjoy a public holiday the Friday before the big game. If you’re lucky enough to be in Melbourne, be sure to attend the Grand Final Parade in the CBD. 

You don’t have to see the game in person to get into the spirit of it. As tickets are generally quite expensive and many are reserved for club members, most fans choose to watch the game streamed live on television. Some popular ways to watch are gathering with friends at a house and firing up the BBQ, or soaking up the atmosphere at a local pub as most will have the game playing on their big screens. Just be sure to get there early as tables fill up quickly when there’s a good game on!