Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Essendon Bombers 10.12 (72) at Fremantle Dockers 9.14 (68) (Australian Football League) - April 12, 2013


The Australian Football League is the only fully professional circuit where the sport known worldwide by its nickname "Aussie Rules" is played. When I was a kid, Aussie Rules reached a surprising level of popularity in North America, helped by ESPN broadcasts and Jacko Jackson, a larger-than-life player. Since then, its reach has dwindled but it is still hugely popular Down Under, with over 2,500 clubs playing across Australia. The AFL Grand Final is the most popular event in the land, regularly drawing over 2.5 million viewers and a live audience of 110,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

It is a sport that I had always wanted to see and when I found out that Perth had two teams in the league, I knew that I could combine a Super 15 Rugby match with an AFL fixture over a weekend. So I did.

The League

The AFL has 18 teams, with 10 of these playing in the state of Victoria, where the game got started back in 1897. The states of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and West Australia each have two teams each, ensuring local rivalries are enjoyed outside Melbourne. Many of the stadiums are shared between two or more teams as the size of the field is among the biggest in sport so it is difficult to have multiple pro grounds in the same area. That is the case in Perth, where the Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles both use Subiaco Oval.

The teams play 22 games over 23 weeks, with the playoffs featuring the top 8 teams, culminating in the Grand Final.

The Rules 



Each team has 18 players on the field at one time. The field is an oval, with four posts at either end (above). The  object is to kick the ball through the inner goalposts, scoring a six-point goal. The two outer posts are called the behind posts and a ball that is kicked between a goalpost and a behind post nets a single point and is known as a behind. The umpire signifies a goal by emphatically extending both arms, bent at the elbow. A behind is noted with just a single arm so extended. The score is represented as G.B (T) where G is goals, B is behinds and T is the total, obviously equal to 6*G+B.

Players can run with the ball or pass it forward or backward by hitting it with their hand. No throwing is allowed. Usually though, players advance the ball by kicking it to their teammates. A kick that is caught is known as a mark and the player making the catch is then afforded space to kick again. Often though, the kick is not properly taken, and a mad scramble for possession ensues. This controlled chaos gives the game its energy; tackling and general obstruction are allowed as players try to either pick up the ball or find space to kick it to a safer location.

There are four 20-minute quarters and the play is constant, with stoppages only after points are scored or the ball is forced out of bounds. There is no stoppage on the game clock, which often continues beyond 30 minutes as only the timekeeper knows when the quarter will actually end, sounding a siren when that time is reached.

This is obviously a very simple explanation of the rules of the game and interested readers can further explore the Wikipedia entry.

Patersons Stadium




Opened in 1908, Patersons Stadium is more famously known as the Subiaco Oval. Located in the suburb of Subiaco, the stadium has undergone numerous renovations with the last in 1999 turning the venue into an all-seater. Despite being over 100 years old, Subi has been well maintained and is a wonderful place to get acquainted with the game of Aussie Rules Football.

Getting to Paterson’s Stadium is easy for visitors as long as you are staying close to one of TransPerth’s rail stations. The oval is located between two stations on the Fremantle Line: West Leedersville and Subiaco. I recommend the latter as that affords you the chance to explore the eclectic neighborhood a bit and perhaps find a place to have a pre-game beer or two.



I was fortunate to receive a media pass due to my work with Stadium Journey and arrived quite early. There was an exhibition match being played between two recreational clubs which gave me a chance to understand the rules of the game. When that finished, I took a tour around. The stadium is on a relatively small footprint so concourses are narrow and there a lot of stairs to get you from level to level, but it works surprisingly well. There are some pieces of art (such as that above) that add colour to certain areas.




Tickets here start at $30 and move up to $75, with three other price points in between. Interestingly, the better seats are those higher up in the stands. As the field is so big, sitting down low is a disadvantage and the top rows would fill more quickly than those down below.



Sections are called “blocks” and there are generally three levels around the entire stadium, although a 400 level has been built behind the west goal. The Premium Ticket at $62.80 is the second most expensive but this might be the best option for sitting upstairs. Tickets are sold via TicketMaster, so you can explore the stadium that way before purchasing. Note that the top 4 rows in some of the 300 sections (OO and above) have seats that offer only a restricted view (below). As well, the upper decks are covered by a roof, while the 100 level was out in the open, necessitating ponchos for those fans sitting there.




I saw dozens of concession stands all around the stadium offering a good variety of what is typical local stadium fare for the most part. Of course, this being Australia, a pie is a must. At $5, they are one of the cheaper options and although they might not be the healthiest choice, they are unique to sport in this country.  Behind Block 103 is the secret spot though: a bratwurst stand where they are cooking the sausages in huge skillets filled with sauerkraut. For just $8, this seemed like the best option for hungry folks.



Overall, I found the Subiaco Oval to be a fantastic spot to catch my first AFL game. The fans were great, the place was sold out with nearly 37,000 on hand, the atmosphere on a rainy Friday evening was wonderful, and there was an excellent game to boot.

The Game


The first bounce to get the game underway

The Fremantle Dockers were hosting Essendon, one of the teams from the Melbourne area. It was only the third week of the season but both teams had won their first two fixtures, so a good match was expected.  Fremantle was celebrating the 200th game for Luke McPharlin as they ran through the sign below (ironically he was injured in the first five minutes and removed from the game).



It is really not possible to recap the match score by score. Fremantle dominated the early going, storming out to a 5 goal lead after the first quarter. The second quarter was much more defensive with the teams combining for just 3 goals and 4 behinds as the half ended with the Dockers leading 7.5 (47) to 1.5 (11).



It should be mentioned that Essendon's coach, James Hird, had been the subject of much media coverage in the days coming up to the match after allegations of being injected with a banned substance. I guess this was used as motivation in the halftime speech because the Bombers game out on fire and scored 5 consecutive goals along with 5 behinds to move within three points at the final break.



The onslaught continued early in the fourth frame but Fremantle finally found a few replies and with time running out, the match was deadlocked at 9.12 (66). Essendon then scored a goal to take a 6-point lead but Fremantle pushed for the tie. With a couple of minutes left, a kick was bounding toward the posts when it bounced wide, yielding a single point. From the ensuing kick-in, Fremantle regained possession and again had a chance. This time the ball bounced into the goal post and through. I thought that was good for 6 points and the win, but the collective groan of the Fremantle faithful told me that I was ignorant of the rules; in fact, a ball that touches the goal post counts as a behind regardless of where it ends up.

Soon after the restart, the siren sounded and Essendon celebrated their amazing comeback with the final score reading 10.12 (72) to 9.14 (68).




Notes

Hyphen usage is important. The below sign does not indicate that they are giving away booze, rather that you are not allowed to consume such beverages in Block 113, a fact that I found extremely disappointing.



The Dockers have an anchor as their symbol, but those two inflatable anchors below look like something else, particularly when the right one is labeled "Staff".



Best,

Sean

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