Australian Rules Football (AFL), or simply ‘footy’ as it’s lovingly called by its horde of passionate supporters, was born in 1857 when Tom Wills, his cousin and a few mates cobbled together the basics of AFL as a game to keep cricketers fit during the winter break.
As AFL grew from a game played by local schools to one fought out between competing suburbs of the city of Melbourne, Carlton (the Blues), Collingwood (the Magpies), Essendon (the Bombers), Fitzroy (the Lions), Geelong (the Cats), Melbourne (the Demons), St Kilda (the Saints) and South Melbourne (the Swans, now the Sydney Swans) left the Victorian Football Association (VFA) in 1896 to form the VFL (Victorian Football League).
Over the next 25 years, Richmond (the Tigers), Footscray (the Dogs, now the Western Bulldogs), Hawthorn (the Hawks) and North Melbourne (the Roos) joined the league.
This line-up of twelve clubs would remain unchanged for over sixty years, running alongside similar codes in South Australia (SANFL) and Western Australia (WAFL). However, the 1980’s saw the first big shake-up and expansion of the game interstate when West Coast (the Eagles) and Brisbane (the Bears, now the Brisbane Lions after the controversial merger between Fitzroy and Brisbane), joined in 1987, and three years later the code was recognised as being a truly national one, and rebranded as the ‘AFL’. (Australian Football League)
Ever expanding, the AFL grew further as more new sides came on board to push out the total number of sides to 16 – Adelaide (the Crows) in 1991, Fremantle (the Dockers) in 1995 and Port Adelaide (the Power) in 1997. A further two expansion sides took the total to 18 – the Gold Coast (the Suns) in 2011 and Greater Western Sydney (the Giants) in 2012, positioning the AFL as a nationwide code that lays claim to being both the most popular and financially lucrative sporting competition in the country.
The AFL is also the best-attended game in the country, with fans spread from one side of the continent to the other, the season currently consists of 23 rounds, played through the cooler months of autumn, winter and early spring. Each team plays 22 games and receives one bye, with a win in any round giving a side four premiership points. These points decide each team’s positioning on the premiership ladder and determine who make up the ‘Top Eight’ sides at the end of the season. The AFL finals series sees this group of eight sides play off against each other in an elimination series that leads to the jewel in the crown of the AFL season – the AFL Grand Final Premiership.
Watched the world over, the AFL Grand Final is played on the hallowed turn of footy, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). A brilliant day of entertainment and sport concludes with one side taking home the silver premiership cup, awarded the title of ‘Premiers’ for that year.
Carlton and Essendon hold the most premierships at 16 apiece, with Hawthorn the most dominant side of the modern era, having taken a total of 11 premierships across every decade since their first silver cup in 1961.
The team nearly every other AFL supporter loves to hate (if not necessarily justifiably), Collingwood, has scored the most back-to-backs AFL Premierships, with four in a row. A powerhouse in the competition, Collingwood also holds a number of other records: Most games won, most finals series appearances and undefeated in a season. The Pies often also reign supreme in the AFL when it comes to total membership.
The game itself is ever-changing (to the frustration of some!) as those in charge of the ‘Laws of the Game’ (http://www.afl.com.au/afl-hq/laws-of-the-game) try to constantly improve a sport that has grown from a rough and tumble (if much-loved for it) affair to a weekly set of tactical athletic events requiring a supreme level of skill, played out each week during the AFL season in stadiums across the country.
While initially held in legendary suburban stadiums such as Windy Hill (Essendon ex-home-ground), Arden St (North Melbourne ex-home-ground) and the Junction Oval (St Kilda ex-home-ground), AFL is now played mostly in large modern sporting coliseums such as The MCG, the SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) and The Gabba (Brisbane cricket ground), often to near capacity crowds. And as the game has expanded across the country, a new group of more boutique grounds such as Metricon Stdium on the Gold Coast and Patersons Stadium in Perth have also become permanent places of football worship in the AFL yearly fixture.
And, as Aussies love a bet on their national game, AFL betting is huge throughout the year. With pre-season betting on the NAB Challenge (the AFL’s warm-up to the season proper), weekly round by round match betting, AFL Finals Series betting, and other AFL individual betting markets such as Coleman Medal Betting (for most goals kicked in a season), Brownlow betting (for the AFL’s best and fairest player) and Norm Smith Betting (for the best player in the AFL Grand Final), the AFL truly is a punter’s paradise.
Australian Rules Football is a game played by champions and worshipped by fans – an integral part of the Aussie sporting calendar, the Aussie sporting ethos and Aussie culture more generally.