By: Stef Foster, Columnist
Last week I introduced you to Australian Rules Football (AFL, or ‘footy,’ as we call it). It is the most watched sport in Australia and a massive part of our national identity even though it is hardly known about elsewhere in the world. Probably similar to national sports in the US, fans are born into families that support a particular team and woe betide them if they chose to barrack for (root or cheer for) a different team.
Footy was first played in Australia in the 1850s and became codified as a sport in order to keep cricket players fit over winter. Oh no, now I’ve mentioned cricket. Well that’s a whole other sport that needs explaining to Towsonites, no doubt. Let me stick to one weird foreign sport at a time.
It has long been thought that footy was derived from Gaelic football, however newer theories suggest that the Aboriginal game, ‘Marn Grook’, may have in fact been the major precursor to the game.
One of the unique and characteristic features of Aussie footy is called marking. A player is said to “take a mark” when they cleanly catch a ball that has been kicked at least 50 feet. This sounds fairly innocuous, I’m sure, but try to picture what this might look like with 36 players on the field at all times, jostling and scrapping for the ball.
The players wear zero protective padding and each player is driven by a reckless desire to take a heroic mark for their team. I say heroic because the best marks taken are practically super-human. Players launch themselves into the air, often propelling themselves higher by using their legs to push off the shoulders or backs of other players. These marks are called “specky” (spectacular), “screamers” or “hangers” for a reason. The marker is rewarded with a free kick, which they can use to bring the ball further down the field toward their goal posts or, if the mark is taken within the 50-metre (164 feet) goal line, it can be used to try for a goal.
If you feel so inclined, searching “AFL best marks of all-time” on YouTube and get a feel for the most spectacular and crowd-pleasing aspect of Australia Rules Football.