As a patriotic Australian, I consider it a duty to try and give my international friends a taste of the real Australia. When I go overseas I load up my suitcase with some of our delicacies, taking advantage of whatever it is Cadbury puts in their chocolate that makes it taste better than any other chocolate in the world—it’s probably illegal so it’s better not to know—or finding ways to trick the unwary into trying Vegemite.
When friends visit here, there are lots of great experiences easily at hand if you are fortunate enough to live in a city like Melbourne. You don’t have to drive far to get to somewhere where people can encounter native animals close up and personal, or experience some of our stunning scenery. I’ve played tour guide enough times to have built up a list of great things to do with foreign visitors, but a few weeks ago I had the chance to do something new.
Despite what the AFL (Australian Football League) may claim, I don’t consider AFL our national sport, being in Canberra over Grand Final weekend one year proved to me that there are still areas where AFL isn’t even on the sporting radar. It’s a column for a different day, but forced to pick I would have say cricket holds that title.
Saying that, you have to commend the AFL for the hard work they have put into expanding the game’s reach, there is no doubt it is far more than a Victorian passion these days. And, it is our one sport that is distinctly Australia, unique enough to be instantly identifiable and immediately bringing Australia to mind. Other countries are just as passionate about cricket and rugby, soccer has barely a sliver of the support it does in a hundred other nations, but AFL is something uniquely Australian.
Through Fresh Eyes
There is no doubt one of the best things about accompanying foreign friends is that it lets you see things through fresh eyes, and places or events that you might have taken for granted suddenly become exciting or exotic. And, you might even learn things yourself, things you didn’t even realise you were unaware of.
So, when I had the chance to go to an AFL game with some friends from the United States, it was almost like seeing the game for the first time myself. As I tried to explain the rules, I discovered that I knew far more about the subtleties of the game than I would have thought. However, there were things that I couldn’t articulate the reason for, and it really forced me to think about a number of aspects of the game.
Condensing years into minutes
They picked a good game to go to, the Sydney Swans versus the Western Bulldogs. The Aussie footy fan was on full display, with the Doggie fans fired up from last year’s triumph. The guy in front of us was especially passionate, more so as the game went on and his beer consumption grew, and gave my friends a crash course in all the ways refs are the lowest forms of human life!
I had to give my friends a crash course in AFL history, as they wanted to know why there were so many teams based in or around Melbourne compared to other places, and then I had to try and explain the different ways of scoring, or the reasons why penalties were awarded—especially difficult when I, along with half the stadium disagreed completely! Does anyone really get the definition of “holding the ball”.
Points of comparison
It helped that my friends were sports fans, so I was able to use the NFL as an example when explaining similarities or differences in our rules, giving me at least a reference point to start with. They were amazed at the lack of padding and the amount of tackling, though I think it was the high scoring that really struck them (especially when I told them the highest AFL score of all time was 239 points!).
While it highlighted some of the things that I don’t like about AFL—such as the amount of support staff now on the oval at any one time, very glaring when it is pointed out—it also reminded me that AFL at its best is an exciting, fast moving game. Lance Franklin showed how moments individual brilliance can leave even the opposition’s supporters gasping with admiration, while a number of players showed that toughness of mind and body can make a huge difference in critical moments.
A new lease on love
Most of all, the experience made me look at Aussie Rules with new eyes. There is no doubt that it is one of the most unique of sports, combining the strengths of so many other games, and turning it into something special. The gasps from my friends when someone took a massive speccie, or snapped a goal around the corner, or chased down a feeling opponent and tackled them unmercifully showed me that, and left me excited about this season in a way I haven’t been for a long time.
That experience is something I am grateful to my overseas friends for, and if you ever get a chance to do the same I would tell you to seize it. Maybe just don’t tell them what goes into a pie!
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine, On Fire. He is a freelance writer, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html