The most common question we’ve been asked in the past three weeks has easily been, ‘What Footy team are you going to support?’
For those of you that have never seen an Australian Rules Football game, I’m not sure the best way to describe it.
In Aussie rules, there's no pushing in the back but climbing on the back is allowed. Seriously.
It takes place on a giant oval (~22,000 square meters). That’s about twice the size of the average soccer field. It looks sort of like a mix between rugby, soccer, and, I think, ultimate frisbee. The Onion describes Footy as “a combination of soccer, rugby, and murdering people in cold blood”. Like rugby, there’s lots of tackling without helmets and rules about throwing balls – most of the passes in Footy are by kicking or ‘punching’ the ball to teammates. If you kick the ball to a teammate and he catches it on the fly, like ultimate frisbee, you get some time (called a ‘mark’) and space to kick without too much interference from an opposing player. You score, like in soccer, by kicking the ball through goalposts at the end of the oval.
The obsession expressed by the average Melburnian and their press around the start of Footy season I can only compare with the start of the NFL season (maybe baseball too, but I’m convinced baseball is a dying pastime). Comparing Melburnians’ Footy obsession with Americans’ love for the NFL sells it short though. Footy is uniquely Melbourne’s game. Up until 20 years ago, what became known as the Australian Football League (AFL) was known as the Victorian Football League. Since Melbourne is the capital of Victoria, most of the AFL teams have historic roots in Melbourne’s inner neighborhoods. The Sydney Swans were the first Melbourne team to leave (after 118 years of playing in South Melbourne!) for greener pastures in 1982. To this day, just under half (8) of the league’s teams are based in Melbourne’s environs.
Take a second to think about that. What if half of the NFL’s teams were based in Boston? Or Chicago? Or New York?
What I find most interesting about this phenomenon is how Footy affiliation colors the social and cultural map of Melbourne itself (both figuratively and literally). Most of the inner neighborhoods of Melbourne have had Footy teams for over 100 years. When people ask us ‘What Footy team do you support?’, what they’re really asking is, ‘Who are you? What do you represent? Who are your people in Melbourne?’ Like a data-mining marketer who has your zip code in the United States, the average Melburnian could describe six facts about you once s/he knows your Footy allegiance.
We quickly realized that picking a team was fraught with a lot of context and meaning that would take at least a year to understand. And we didn’t have that long.
The stereotypical Collingwood supporter - in the mind of most Melburnians anyway.
The first warning came when we mentioned to a friend that my office sat on the border of the Collingwood suburb so we were considering supporting them. I can only describe the sound that came out of her mouth as a guffaw, followed by these memorable words, “You don’t qualify because your tooth to tattoo ratio is too high. And besides, everyone hates Collingwood”. We’ve now heard the tooth to tattoo ratio comment from at least four different people. OK, I guess Collingwood is out.
How about the Melbourne Demons? Not unless we own a Beamer or an Audi, I guess.
Hawthorn? They seem to be the ‘nice’ team that nobody loves to hate. What fun is choosing them then?
Carlton? The team/neighborhood just south of us whose practice field is a seven minute walk from our apartment? Italian, cocky, potentially mafioso.
Richmond? The perennial ‘they’ll be good next year’ team.
Ultimately, we decided to support Carlton. (Ahem…almost wrote ‘root’ there, which means ‘to copulate’ in Australian slang). Laura and I both took Latin in high school, are the most amazing people in the world, and did I mention that Laura’s parents have lived in New Jersey for a long time? That and the fact that the deep navy blue and white passed the “I can accessorize with those colors” test mandated by the more stylish member of the household.
We’ll be sure to post some photos from our first Carlton match and share the ways in which people judge us once we announce that we’ve gone for Carlton.
We’ve even been practicing the Carlton Club Song which every fan knows and sings loudly at games:
We are the Navy Blues,
We are the old dark Navy Blues,
We’re the team that never lets you down,
We’re the only team old Carlton knows,
With all the champions they like to send us,
We’ll keep our end up.
And they will know that they’ve been playing
Against the famous old dark Blues