View from the sofa: No-rules Aussie Rules turns out to be baffling but fun, and not just for blokes


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Achieving a first is satisfying. I managed two last week: listening to an entire black metal album, from start to finish, and sitting through more than 10 minutes of a game of Australian Rules football.

The two forms of entertainment have their similarities. For one, they have both been tainted by controversy: the protagonists of one activity have been known to burn churches and commit murder; the participants in the other have been embroiled in accusations of systematic performance-enhancing drug abuse. They are also violent and utterly incomprehensible to the vast majority of the world’s population.

The first impression of the Aussie Rules game – between the Cats and the Crows – was that, ironically, there didn’t appear to be many rules. The only times the referee blew the whistle seemed to be either when one player attempted to behead another, or when one of the tank-topped athletes caught the ball.

That’s not to say the game wasn’t enjoyable. The players’ sleeveless kits, saggy socks and shorts so tiny they’d make a rugby league player blush, plus the rag-tag nature of the game, made it look like a bout of “scrag”, an Antipodean beach pastime involving a rugby ball, where the only rule is that nobody gets killed.

And the half-time chat was entertaining – as well as informative for the layman. It transpired that the game between the Cats, from Geelong and Adelaide’s Crows was part of the NAB Cup, a competition we pray Richard Scudamore of the Premier League hasn’t taken notice of.

The Australian Football League season hasn’t started yet, but they have dressed up pre-season into a competition all of its own. There appears to be no AFL equivalent of Tottenham travelling to Stevenage for a low-key mid-summer friendly; Down Under they warm up for the season by playing the very opponents they will face throughout their campaign. With all the bells and whistles of live coverage.

Another thing we learned during the half-time break was that Steve Johnson, a Geelong forward, was voted by his peers as the team member most likely to Google himself. (Imagine asking a professional sportsman 15 years ago whether he “Googled himself”. You’d probably find yourself on the wrong end of a Jeremy Clarkson-style “fracas”.)

Johnson joined the commentary team for the second half and wowed them with a story about what he’d been up to in the off-season. He’d proposed to his girlfriend on a golfing weekend. She doesn’t play golf.

The commentators were in awe of how Johnson had managed to get in a few rounds of golf on the pretence of being mushy and romantic and how the little woman had had the wool pulled over her eyes by the cheeky rascal. As he put it: “Yeah, the golf was pretty good and, oh yeah, I just asked her over dinner.”

The pitchside reporter was impressed, calling Johnson a “genius, mate”. It was so banteriffic it deserved its own hashtag.

Thankfully the action soon started up again and a highlight of the second half, according to the commentators, was the performance of the brilliantly named Geelong new boy Nakia Cockatoo.

Either way, the sport, if not the blokiness, made me a convert. The black metal, however… I’ll reserve judgement.