Australia’s leading international student news website

Beginner’s guide to footy

Tim Morgan

Tue May 15 2012


STRUGGLING to wrap your head around how the game of footy is played? Tim Morgan explains the rules of the unique Australian pastime.

The Australian Football League

The highest level of Aussie rules football is played in the Australian Football League. The League consists of 18 sides, 10 of which are situated right here in Victoria with the rest coming from Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. Every season, which kicks off in autumn, each side plays 22 matches before the top eight sides on the league table play off in a final series of matches where one team will become the champions.

An Australian Football League Match

Most sports are generally quite primitive, involving getting a ball of some sort to the other end of field. An AFL match is the same.

Two teams of 18 players compete to kick the ball through the middle of the other team’s two larger goalposts for goals worth six points each. If done successfully, the game is restarted in the middle of the field by the umpire.

The two tall central posts are the goal posts, and the two shorter outer posts are the behind posts. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

If the ball misses to the left or right within the smaller posts, hits any of the posts, or is touched before going through the middle any of the posts, a behind worth one point is awarded and the opposing team restarts the game at their end of the field.

Obviously, the team with the most points at the end of four 20-minute periods of play is the winner of the match, and is awarded the corresponding number of points on the league table.

A student has a go at handballing at a recent footy clinic organised by the Carlton Football Club. Photo: Marcus Huang

To score goals, a team needs to get the ball within striking distance of the opposing team’s goal. Players may run with the ball but will need to bounce it every 15 metres or so to not surrender possession of it to their opponents. They may also pass the ball to their teammates, either by handballing (placing the ball in one hand and punching it to a teammate with the other), or kicking it to them.

A unique characteristic of the AFL is the mark. A mark is when a player, regardless of team, catches a ball that was kicked from 15 or more metres away. The player will then have possession of the ball on the spot where it was caught, and cannot be touched or tackled until he or she passes it or moves. Players generally want to mark near the opposing team’s goal as it allows them to kick the ball at it unimpeded.

Catching (called marking in the game) an oval shaped football in the air is another important skill. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Also important to note is how tackling works in the game. If a player has possession of the ball without marking, opposing players may tackle him or her. If a tackle is successful, the player with the ball needs to dispose of it either by handballing or kicking it away. Failure to do so will result in possession of the ball being awarded to the opposing team.

Other Pointers

Players may only tackle each other anywhere below the neck and above the knees.

During a match, under no circumstances can a player push an opposing player in the back.

If a player does not give an opposing player enough space to take a free kick, the umpire can have the free kick moved 50 metres towards the intended goal.

If you keep these few rules in mind, you should be able to follow and perhaps enjoy an Aussie rules football match, be it on TV or at a stadium. At the end of the day, Aussie rules football is a unique game that Australians are immensely proud of and love to share with the world.