Aussies Rule: football the way it's played down under

By Daniel Kerwin

Australia may seem a long way away, but Aussie rules football is a lot closer than you think. Although there aren’t any kangaroos in South Minneapolis (that I know of), there are indeed real live Australians. If you happen to be in Nokomis Park on a Saturday morning, you’ll be able to hear booming Aussie accents, watch as Aussie rules footballs are sent flying, and you very well might see the proverbial shrimp on the barbie.Welcome to the world of Minneapolis’ resident Aussie rules football (footy) team, the Minnesota Freeze. The Freeze play as a part of US Footy, a league comprised of part-time footy teams from major cities across the US. It is the reigning US Footy Division 2 champion, and this year the team will play in Division 1 for the first time.

This all may seem great, but to a lot of people reading this an obvious question comes to mind: what is footy in the first place?

Don’t even think about comparing it to rugby, or pretty much any other sport you can think of. Aussie rules football is a unique sport that has roots in Gaelic football more than any other sport, undergoing an evolution when it was brought to Australia.

Aussie rules football is played on an oval shaped field with an olive shaped ball. On each end of the field there are four upright goalposts, two tall ones in the middle flanked by two shorter ones on the outside. The aim is to kick the ball between the two tall posts to score a goal, which is worth six points. If the ball is kicked between a tall and a short post, or hits a tall post, it is called a behind, which is worth only one point.

Game-play is continuous with a running clock over four 20-minute long quarters. The primary way to get the ball between players is to kick it: a completed kick of over 15 meters is rewarded with a free kick, a string of which is the most effective way down the field. Throwing the ball is against the rules, but at closer range the ball may be passed between teammates by striking it with a closed fist. You are allowed to run with the ball, but if you do you must bounce it every few steps.

It’s alright if you’re confused at this point; I told you it wasn’t like any sport you’d ever seen before. The best way to get it to sink in is to see it played live, which is where the Minnesota Freeze fit in.

A group of three Mac students including myself went to the first Freeze practice of the season on Saturday. I’ve been a casual footy player my whole life, but this was the first time I’ve been fully thrust into the real deal. The Freeze went all out; there was an oval playing field set up in the park with goalposts made of PVC piping at each end. We did a crash course in the basic skills and then played a full scale game of footy. The Freeze players aren’t holding anything back as they search for another trophy this season.

One big surprise on the day was the large number of players who had turned up from Saint John’s University, a MIAC school from just outside of Saint Cloud.

It turns out that Aussie rules is a fully sponsored club sport at Saint John’s. That team was created after a group of SJU students studied abroad together in Fremantle, a city on the West Coast of Australia. The team has secured funds to travel to North Carolina to play other college teams, and also has some snazzy uniforms to show off.

The combination of footy and a college campus is a match made in heaven, even if only a casual way to spend time outdoors. Think of footy as a way to pass time outdoors in a similar manner to Frisbee, except substituting the plastic disc for an oblong red ball. Kicking a footy back and forth, a combination of making satisfying punts and athletic grabs, is a great way to get the blood flowing. A footy also bounces, a marked advantage over Frisbee.

You also don’t risk throwing out your shoulder or tiring as quickly as you do from throwing around an American football; there’s a reason the word “foot” is in found in “footy,” but the jury’s still out as to why we don’t rename the American version of the game.

But why stop at kicking a ball back and forth? An Australian flag will be among the additions in the new field house, and what better way to complement this development than by creating a Macalester Aussie rules team to go with it? The Freeze have been able to bring Aussie rules to Minnesota, and Saint John’s has gone one step further and put together a team on a Minnesota college campus, so why can’t the same be done at a college that prides itself for its approach to internationalism?

This is the dream, and given the proper stimulus there’s no reason footy can’t make a name for itself at Mac. Throughout the year the culture sports column has looked at the immense diversity of sports that Macalester students have made a part of the campus, and footy is no exception.

Going to Australia may be little more than a pipedream for the majority of people stuck here in frigid Minnesota, but as with footy and Foster’s beer, there’s no reason we can’t bring the best parts of Australia over here. Given the opportunity I’d bring the kangaroos and the Eucalyptus trees and have a matching set, but for now let’s take it one step at a time.