Friday, 3 August 2012

Learning to Like the Footie

Listening to:

Friday Night Football commentators on Hawthorn vs Geelong.

Australian Football for an Ex-Pat Kiwi

So, what’s with a New Zealander like me turning myself into an AFL fan? I should be a rugby fan, right? And so I was, particularly once I left NZ and got to watch the All Blacks without having to listen to parochial commentators on the TV. (Being told who to support by voices on the box almost always gets my back up. Contrariwise, that made it fun to watch the ABs win against teams like England and Australia when I was living in those countries.)

But rugby can be a terrible, terrible spectator sport. The World Cup final in 1995 was a case in point: it looked at one point as if it was going to be decided by a penalty shoot-out. The All Blacks lost that one (to South Africa), but then the shoe was on the other foot in 2011. The All Blacks beat France 8–7 in another miserable game. Each team scored one try, and each team kicked the ball through the posts once. But France’s kick was a conversion (2pts) and New Zealand’s was a penalty (3pts). Yuck, yuck, yuck.

AFL can be grim too, but it flows so much more than rugby almost all of the time. There is no division of the field of play into two halves with attendant offside rules. Instead, it’s much more like basketball. Players get to run, jump and kick so much more freely than they do in rugby, which can so often seem like tedious trench warfare. In rugby, teams will occasionally kick the ball at each other. That’s the artillery barrage. Then the “open” play subsides and lines of backs run at each other causing repeated rucks. The whole game revolves around grinding out a few extra metres per play, and the hope that there won’t be a turnover.

The rules around handling the ball are much more conducive to flowing play as well. In rugby, you have to pass backwards, and you can't even drop the ball if it falls forwards. If you break this rule, there’s a turnover in possession and a scrum. In AFL, players get to scramble on the ground for the ball. Sometimes this turns into a mess out of which the ball will never escape, and then there is a “ball up”, like the way ice hockey restarts.

Finally, at the meta-level, AFL is fun to watch because the commentators aren’t parochial. The sport isn’t played internationally, so there is no scope for tedious nationalism to get in the way of what the commentators are paid to do.