Watching the bulldogs bite, hearing the bulldogs roar
Monday, April 25, 2005
Saturday evening was the chosen date for my initiation into footy, the religion of Australia.
John, a friend and a genial supporter of Western Bulldogs, enlisted my wife and me to cheer his team in their match against Adelaide Crows at the Telstra Dome. The Telstra Dome incidentally, is a temperature controlled indoor stadium which will also be the venue for the 3 one-day matches between Australia and the ICC World XI in October.
Before I went to the match, I did my homework by spending 10 seconds of quality search time on Google to learn the footy rules. 18 players from each side try to kick an oblong ball between two of four goalposts on the opposite side.
Here are two enticing excerpts from a website that gives a light-hearted primer to the game:
- No guns, knives, chains or baseball bats. Biting and kicking is punished. No tackling below the waist or above the shoulders. Other than that ... go for it!
- High-leaping marks can be taken by climbing onto another player's back before catching the ball. If a player drops such a mark, a free kick is often paid to the player who was climbed upon. Basically this is to compensate for the inconvenience of having a 90-100 kg man jumping all over your back.
Footy, John informed me, is over 125 years old and was invented as a means to the keep the cricketers fit during the winter. These days, footy captures the imagination of Australia's youngsters as no other game does.
To me, a few things stood out about this amazing game:
The 16 teams competing for the annual premiership come with a huge band of supporters who have stayed with the club (or its older forms) for generations. John's grandparents were supporters of this club and he now carries on the mantle. The supporters spend several hundred dollars a year in membership fees and invest considerable time and effort in travelling to various venues to cheer their team -- irrespective of how well or poorly their team performs. The Bulldogs, for example, last won the premiership in 1954. The followers may not always like the performance of some its players, but that doesn’t diminish their loyalty to the club.
In comparison, I think of the investment that most people make in following cricket. Often, it is little more than paying for a ticket to a match venue. The involvement is never as deep. It is a lot easier to criticise a team and stay away from supporting it in times of poor performance when you are not as involved.
John, who has also spent two years in the UK, observed that the footy crowd is pretty well-behaved. He said, "In soccer, where the game is not as quick as footy, the crowd has the time to behave badly. In footy, you are so engrossed with the quick action in the field that there is no time for animosity between opposing fans". Quite true. Crowd-related problems are almost unheard of in footy matches. The MCG doesn’t have such a clean image with crowd behaviour when it hosts cricket these days.
The team that finishes at the bottom of the ladder is said to take the metaphorical 'wooden spoon' (It is not clear why or how the term came about). The good news for the wooden spoon team is that it has the choice of picking the best emerging talent to play for its team the following year. That way you don’t have one club dominating the game for a very long time.
I liked this idea a lot. I mentioned later to my wife, "Imagine if the ICC ensured that Nathan Bracken, Stuart McGill and Brad Hodge would play for Bangladesh. It would then take lesser time for Bangladesh to get their test victories against recognised teams". My wife gave me a dazed look. I think I impressed her with my insight and intelligence.
P.S. To John's delight, the Bulldogs won the game.
'Must also look up their team songs to find the corniest of the lot!
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