Upon my arrival in Australia I expected to involve myself with the traditional European love for soccer and rugby. I thought “footy” was simply Australian slang for soccer, since soccer is considered “football” in many European influenced countries. Little did I know about the absolute adoration and devotion by most Victorians to a strange game called “footy”—not soccer. One of the first comments my housemates stated in all seriousness was: “don’t go for Collingwood” (he later stated if he couldn’t play footy, he would hurl himself off the Westgate Bridge; clearly, footy is a very significant affair). I have never been a person to love ball sports, yet this newfound hatred for Collingwood sparked an interest into the world of the Australian Football League (AFL). My quest for understanding AFL all began at Etihad Stadium for the Carlton vs. North Melbourne match. Originally created by Tom Willis with a fusion of British and indigenous elements (Willis grew up playing an Aboriginal game called “Marn Grook”), Australian Rules was introduced to Melbourne in 1857. It is rooted in a sense of community where localized “tribes” of Melbourne battled out on the oval for victory.
Since my family happened to be in town during the weekend of Carlton vs North Melbourne, I decided to drag them along to the match, so we could all experience this foreign cultural pastime together. After paying the basic $14.00 entrance fee, we took our seats in the third tier of the overwhelmingly large Etihad stadium (the attendance was officially 41,322 spectators). Variations of blues worn by the masses plagued our vision while aromas of Four’N Twenty meat pies tantalized our appetites. A dizzying vortex of advertisements such as: Toyota, Hungry Jacks (the Australian Burger King), OPSM (A glasses company, ironically sponsored by the refs), Coke and Fit Health insurance radiated in all of its neon glory as if to lure in the consumerist crazed suburbanite. Various friendly couples and families surrounded us who were more than happy to help us get acquainted with the game. I was lucky to sit by a meat-pie-loving (complete with heaps of tomato sauce), beer-drinking man who was very enthusiastic about Carlton, and helped me understand the basic rules of footy. He was quite nervous because of the previous 7 match-losing streak the Carlton Blues have retained against the North Melbourne Kangaroos.
Pom-poms, yelling, and cheeky banners flooded the arena to signify the start of the game. Soon, the oval burst alive with muscular men in guernseys and tiny-short-shorts; the crowd hooted and hollered at the sight. The game consisted of four 25- to 30-minute quarters. If a team kicked the ball through the middle poles it was a goal for 6 points, and if the team kicked the ball through the side poles it was a behind worth 1 point. All the fans yearned to see the scattered ruckmen, centres, half-backs, half forwards, forwards, and backs maliciously fight for their chance to bounce, punch, and kick the ball to the climactic and victorious goal. Various expressions from the seated surrounding locals (mainly the old ladies) included phrases like: " You _____ing bloody pack of yellow maggots" (referring to the referees),"well done Gibbsie"(referring to one of the best Carlton Players), or simply "D___ head!" Most comments were telling the players what to do, like: ”kick it/throw it you idiot!”
In the end, it was Carlton who prevailed, scoring 80 points while the Kangaroos were right behind at 62. Watching my first footy match will remain a memorable and unique experience to my time in Australia.