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Friday, October 2

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AFL – A Non-Antipodeans' Guide

Having just had our Grand Final here, which was of interest to about 20% of the population, which is the entire population of Victoria and no one else, it has come to the attention of your Guest Writer that there are whole hemispheres on this planet that have no idea of this sport.

AFL is the inaccurate acronym for the Australian Rules Football League, the most played football code in Australia. Not to be confused with football, rugby union or rugby league, it combines elements of both, with a bit of basketball and acrobatics thrown in for good measure.

First played in 1823, by illiterate convicts, the game gained its name as the first players were unable to read the rules of proper English football, and to save face amongst the more learned and erudite settlers, pretended that they had invented their own sporting code. As with most of the early ball sports, it was played using a pig's bladder, however significant improvements were noticed after several years when the pig was slaughtered and the bladder removed first. Further improvement was made when the bladder was inflated with air, some 10 years later.

The game waxed and waned in popularity through the years, but provided a touch of home to soldiers on foreign soil during wartimes, as the (pictured above) 'mark' proved useful for avoidance of land mines in enemy soil. The name 'mark' comes from one of the first rules that each team must have at least one Kevin on the field at all times, to act as the human stepladder for the opposing team to get the ball.

AFL really came into its own during the 1980s and 1990s, when the poster boys of the sport prevailed, and the ability to wear a tight, short pair of shorts was a more important factor in being picked for a team than any athletic ability. The catchy slogan 'AFL – Where the shorts are short and the balls are afraid' was promoted on billboards around the country, and it became every schoolboys dream to be picked for a national team.

The sport suffered a major setback in the 1989-1990 seasons, when a typing error in the TV guide had the whole nation sitting down to watch ALF on a Saturday afternoon. This was soon rectified when a sharp-eyed 7 year old noted that ALF's tendency to want to 'eat Cats' in no way referred to the team 'Geelong Cats' and was actually referring to real felines.

The 90s turned into the new millennium, and the culture of celebrity pushed guys barely out of their teens into 6 figure incomes and public adulation. Naturally, this turned many to drugs, which,upon reflection is apparent from their team selection – The Brisbane Lines, The West Coast Eagles (slogan – we're flying high) and the Adelaide (stone the) Crows to name a few. Currently the game is in a clean up mode in an attempt to regain public favour, but time will tell if their endeavours are successful. The final word on AFL goes to coach Barry Hall – who famously told his teams to 'line up alphabetically by height' and then to 'pair up in groups of three, then line up in a circle'.

And they did. So long live AFL! What else are guys like that going to do for a living?