One of the major contenders for the title of Australia’s national sport is Australian Rules football, the origins of which are obscure and the subject of considerable and heated public debate. Many historians believe that the Indigenous Australian game of marngrook had a significant role in the origins of Australian Rules football, with the Melbourne Football Club publishing the first known laws of the sport played today in 1859. Australian Rules football is a team sport with sides of 18 players on the field at any one time, the objective of which is to kick the ball between posts at opposite ends of the large oval-shaped playing area. Teams score six points (a goal) for kicking the ball through the central goal posts. Teams score one point (a behind) when the ball passes between a goal post and a behind post, if the ball hits a goal post, if any attacker sends the ball between the goal posts without kicking it and, also, if any defender sends the ball between the goal posts irrespective of the body part with which the defender touched the ball last. Australian Rules football games are played over four, 20-minute quarters, with the clock stopping at regular intervals. Most Australian Rules football matches have a total duration of around two hours because of stoppages.
What are the major Australian Rules football competitions?
The Australian Football League is the world’s top Australian Rules football competition. Indeed, it is the world’s only fully professional Australian Rules football league, with the competition comprising 18 teams from all across the great southern land. What we know today as the Australian Football League began as the Victorian Football League in 1897 when Essendon pipped Carlton, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda to the first premiership title. Now there are 10 Victoria-based sides – Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Geelong, Hawthorn, Melbourne, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda and Western Bulldogs – plus Greater Western Sydney and Sydney in New South Wales, Brisbane and Gold Coast in Queensland, Adelaide and Port Adelaide in South Australia and Fremantle and West Coast in Wester Australia. The 18 teams play 22 games during the regular season – the Australian Football League admits that its draw is imperfect – with the top eight sides going into a final series, the finale of which is the Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Most years, the Australian Football League Grand Final is the most watched event on Australian television, attracting more than three million viewers, particularly if it is not an all-Victoria affair.
The Australian Football League premiership trophy may be the holy grail as far as the 18 teams are concerned but, for the more than 600 players attached to the sides, there is no higher individual honour than the Brownlow Medal. Created and named after former Geelong player and administrator Charles Brownlow, the medal is voted upon by the Australian Football League’s field umpires and awarded to the fairest and best player in the competition at the end of the regular season. Edward Geeves won the inaugural Brownlow Medal in 1924. Since then, 12 players have received the prize more than once, including three-time winners Haydn Bunton (1931, 1932 and 1933), Dick Reynolds (1934, 1937 and 1938), Bob Skilton (1959, 1963 and 1968) and Ian Stewart (1965, 1996 and 1971). Corey McKernan and Chris Grant would have taken out the Brownlow Medal in 1996 and 1997 respectively had they not committed an offence deemed worthy of a ban by the Australian Football League’s disciplinary tribunal. Both of them failed to comply with the award’s fairest criterion.
The Brownlow Medal has been criticised for being skewed in favour of midfielders because they touch the ball frequently and are under the noses of the field umpires. The Coleman Medal, which is not subjective in any way, shape or form, goes to the player who kicks the highest number of goals during the Australian Football League regular season. It came into existence in 1981, with Tony Lockett winning it four times between 1987 and 1998. Known across Australia as Plugger, Lockett is the most prolific goal kicker in the history of the Australian Football League/Victorian Football League having booted 1,360 goals in his 281-match career.
How do punters bet on Australian Rules football?
Gambling is part and parcel of Australian life and there is no shortage of ways in which Australian Rules football fans can bet on their favourite sport. Australia-based bookmakers are not as exotic betting crazy as some of their competitors elsewhere in the world but that does not concern the average Australian Football League punters because head-to-head and line betting is what turns them on. Australians love nothing more than a multiple as well, which means that an extremely popular bet is to pick the line in each of the round’s nine games. What most Australian Football League punters do not understand is that they are trying to pick the winner in an evenly handicapped 512-runner race. It is little wonder that Australia-based bookmakers go out of their way to promote these bets but do nothing to explain their mathematics.
Is Australian Rules football popular outside Australia?
Not really. The Australian Football League has done a lot to promote Australian Rules football overseas and there is an Australian Football International Cup that, in 2011, featured 18 men’s sides and five women’s teams. But the reality is that Australian Rules football is not even all that popular in certain parts of Australia, with the states of New South Wales and Queensland, as well as the Australian Capital Territory that is centred around Canberra, not head over heels in love with the sport. But in Australia’s other five states and territories, especially in Victoria and the various regions associated with Indigenous Australians, it is hugely popular. It is impossible to escape Australian Rules football if one spends any time at all in Melbourne.