Thursday, 26 June 2008

That last Saturday in September...

To those not familiar with the popular sport of Australian Rules Football, this particular Saturday might not mean much. They may go about sleeping in, enjoying a good brunch, having a siesta and start whinging about the upcoming Monday, by dinner-time.
To those who have seen Aussie Rules, this last Saturday is nothing short of reaching the ultimate destination. No wonder then that the AFL cup is often described as the Holy Grail...
All that excitement, all the build-up, all those insightful analysis, all that tipping, all that beer and all those all happens here. Now.

I wasn't born here, so I can't boast of knowing footy in and out, but ever since I have followed this exciting sport, I know this: This is easily the best athletic sport in the world (at least mine).
I won't go on telling you about its origin, its history or the way the game is played. I can safely assume everyone can find that bit out.
But here's what I can tell you: what I feel about the sport.

Having migrated to this beautiful country almost 6 years back, I was first exposed to this sport on TV. At first, it seemed amazingly similar to Rugby, but footy is distinctly different. It took me a while to figure out the rules of the game or the way it is played...and from personal experience; it's not easy as it looks to kick a footy! That slightly "elongated oval" shape makes it difficult (and hence fair to both the playing teams) to handle, bounce or kick the footy. Personally, I find this very funny, but most of these sherrins (the correct term for the footy) are manufactured near Ludhiana, India, where I assume no-one has even heard of the game. This interesting bit of trivia was pointed out to me by my cricket team captain, who's a Sri Lankan by birth, but was brought up in Australia!
This game is intensely physical and fast, and unlike the raw brawn used in Rugby, footy skills are nothing short of those in martial arts. While being tall and strong helps in getting good possession of the footy, being fast, sharp and lithe also has its advantages.
As part of the student induction programme at Uni, we were first taken to the G (the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground, where footy is played from Mar-Oct) to see the Bulldogs play on the Magpies. No, I am not referring to feral animals staking a claim to the carcasses, but instead to 2 Melbourne based teams. Watching them play an exciting brand of football under the freezing cold weather and grey skies was enough to set my adrenaline rushing. I had never seen a game like this before and I knew I was in total awe of the game.

From there on, it was one game after another, either on TV or on the ground and it didn't matter to me what teams played as long as it was footy. I even watched some VFL (secondary level but equally professional) matches on TV Sunday mornings. I tried learning to bounce the ball from my Aussie friends and kicking it even a few metres. I can moderately do a bounce and a kick, but there are times when simply holding that sherrin makes my blood rush as if the heart was fitted with an extra pair of pumping mechanism. I have often told others that I sometimes I feel really unfortunate not being able to play it as a sport.
One of the questions that you are asked in social gatherings is "What team do you barrack for?" and only your interest in this game can save you in such situations. You have to pick a team and stick to it. There are 16 to choose from (while this article was published), so it shouldn't be difficult. Your judgement in barracking for a team (especially if you are a migrant) can be based on any number of reasons, ranging from the suburb you live in, what team your colleagues follow, what team's leading the ladder to downright silly like what city you are based in, what colours you like, what your tastes in animals or other creatures are.

Every time I go see a match live, I feel I am part of this city, cheering on each goal, each mark, each tackle, along with each bump. Normally, you wouldn't see me screaming my lungs out over anything (part of me being that placid bull), but I went to a match 3 years back where my team won by about 80 odd points, when I screamed my lungs out, which resulted in a complete thrashed and hurting throat for over 3 days. I didn't care because I felt so alive watching the game.
Oh and by the way, I barrack for the St Kilda Saints (who haven't been going really well this year, or the last one, or the one before that), but I chose a team 5 years back and stuck to them.

A good game never fails to stir the placid bull...

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