What is Footy?

It doesn’t take long for newcomers of Melbourne to realise there is a unique religion within this city (and no, it’s not coffee in this case!), that religion is none other than Australian Rules Football. Also, known as AFL for short, or simply ‘Footy’ amongst the locals.

When it comes to sport, Aussies love to punch above their weight. For a nation of only 25 million, we expect to be competitive in the majority of sporting competitions we participate in. Whether it is rugby, tennis, cricket, cycling or even basketball, we Aussies expect a lot from our sporting heroes, and those expectations translate into our footy teams.

For many of us, Melbourne winters are made bearable by our love for footy. It consumes our social lives, takes up our weekends, and prevents us from booking weddings in September!

The AFL probably explain the sport much better than I could here, however, I will try and explain it as someone who has loved footy for as long as I can remember. At the time of writing this blog, we are well and truly into the thick of the season, and the top 8 is starting to form (if you don’t know what that means, don’t stress! I’ll explain shortly). If you are still on the fence about the sport, it is never too late to tune in, as it only gets more exciting as the season unravels.

If you haven’t watched the video previously linked, I will summarise the fundamentals of this beautiful game.


The game is played between two teams. Each team consists of 18 players on the field and four players on the bench. Up until recently, there were no traditional starting positions, so players could essentially position themselves throughout the field. In conjunction with that, there is no off-side, thus, making it one of the most free-flowing sports in the world.

In the AFL, there are 18 teams. 10 teams based in Victoria and 8 ‘interstate’ teams. The interstate teams come from, New South Wales, Queensland, Adelaide & Western Australia. The Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmanian do NOT have teams in the AFL.

Playing Field:

You may think 36 players on the field at any one time is a lot, however, a typical AFL oval is almost twice as large as a soccer pitch. Similar in size to a cricket oval. On each end of the oval are the goalposts, two large centre posts and two smaller behind posts. There is also a goal square connected to the two larger posts and a 50-metre arc at each end. The middle of the ground is encompassed by a central square that includes a centre circle directly in the middle.


As previously mentioned, the game is an incredibly free-flowing format. There are no offsides, there are no real traditional starting positions, and the ball (and players) can move 360 degrees! Players can basically use any part of their body to move the ball, as long as they don’t use their hands to throw it! To pass the ball successfully, players need to kick the ball to their teammate beyond 15 meters. If the teammate catches the ball, this is called a ‘mark.’ Once a player marks the ball, opposition players must give them sufficient space to dispose of the ball by a kick or a ‘handball’.

As you cannot throw the ball, the faster alternative to passing the ball is via the ‘handball’ or the ‘hand-pass.’ A handball is similar to a volleyball movement, where players use an open palm to house the ball, and with a clenched fist with the other hand, the ball is punched away. If a player catches the ball from a handball, it is NOT deemed a mark. It is play-on, and therefore opposition players can tackle or bump the recipient of the handpass.

Tackling, bumping and applying pressure to the opposition team have become vital aspects of the modern game. Applying pressure has now become so important, teams that can apply the most amount of pressure for prolonged periods of the game are tipped to win the game and even the premiership! Players can only tackle the opposition player that possesses the ball. Any tackle ABOVE the shoulders and BELOW the waist is illegal and results in a free kick.


Footy is certainly a unique sport. So much so, you even get rewarded for MISSING a goal! There are two types of scores, goals (they’re worth six points) and behinds (they’re worth one point). To win, you want to outscore the opposition team by the end of the last quarter. To score a goal, you must KICK the ball through your two big goalposts (you can’t handball it through the goalposts). If the ball is touched before going through the goalposts, it will count for a behind. If a player kicks the ball through the behind post, it only counts as one point. If the ball touches the goal post, but still goes through, it will only count as a behind. The final score is displayed as the number of goals (6 points) and the number of behinds (1 point). So a typical score would look like this: St Kilda 12.16 (88) defeated North Melbourne 10.8 (68).

What else should I know?

Finals – The team that finishes on the top of the ladder is not the premier. The top 8 teams play finals in a knock-out style competition. The team that wins the grand final are the premiers.

The Brownlow – The player(s) that is deemed the best and fairest throughout the home and away season wins the Brownlow medal. Similar to an MVP award.

The Coleman Medal – The player(s) that kicks the most goals in the home and away season is awarded the Coleman Medallist.

Shepherding – Players can protect their teammate, as long as they are within 5 meters of the ball.

Bouncing – Players can run with the ball, as long as they bounce every 15 meters.

Specky – Players can jump on another players shoulders/back to take a high flying mark. Some of the best highlights in the AFL are comprised of breathtaking speckies!

Barracking – If you support a team, you would say “I barrack for Hawthorn.” It shows your support and commitment to the club!

What’s next?

Go to a game! It doesn’t even have to be an AFL game. On weekends you will find a lot of local parks hosting local footy games. Sometimes local footy can be as fun as the professional division. Not sure who to barrack for? Do some research! Pick the team closest to your suburb! I know we have lots of students based in Carlton. Perhaps pick a team with a mascot that you adore? Not a very colourful person? Go for Collingwood!

And when it comes to game day, make sure you grab yourself a Four’n Twenty meat pie, you’ll feel like a true local! Not sure what’s happening at the game? Feel free to yell out “Ball!!!” at the top of your lungs – you’ll fit in just fine.

Harry Calder
Digital Marketing Coordinator & Melbourne Local

9th June, 2021

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