What is Australian rules football? How do you play it and what are the rules of the game?

What is Australian rules football? How do you play it and what are the rules of the game?

Grace Waruguru
updated at October 6, 2023 at 11:40 AM

Every year between March and September, fields in Australia are abuzz with Australian Rules Football fans cheering their favourite teams. The sport has grown in popularity since its inception and is now the biggest spectator attraction in the country. How do you play the game, and what are its governing rules? Keep reading to learn all about this football variant.

What is Australian Rules Football
Australian Football was invented in Melbourne, Australia in the early 19th century. Photo: Morgan Hancock (Modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

What does AFL stand for? AFL stands for Australian Football League and is the professional body governing the Australian sport. It has 18 teams (As of October 2023). Today, millions of viewers tune in to watch the Grand Finale annually. Discover what Australian Rules Football entails and everything you should learn about it.

What is Australian Rules Football?

Australian Rules Football is also known as Aussie football or footie. It has existed for over 100 years, with modifications and improvements in that time. The 18-a-side competitive game is played on an oval field, similar to a cricket pitch.

A team comprises 22 members, with the remaining players serving as substitutes. Sometimes, they use cricket fields because their dimensions are the same. An Australian Rules Football field measures between 110 and 155 metres and 135 and 185 metres. The leather ball used is oval-shaped and looks similar to a rugby ball.

Why is it called Australian Rules Football?

 Australian Rules Football origin
Australian Rules Football is also known as Aussie football or footie. Photo: Darrian Traynor (Modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

The game was birthed in Melbourne, Australia, inspired by the Aboriginal Gaelic football played in Ireland. Today, it is the biggest spectator sport, attracting thousands of fans yearly. Aussie football diehards are known as 'Barrackers.'

Australian Rules Football attracts a significant number of women fans and players. According to insiderguides.com, the Australian Football League Women's (AFLW) was launched in 2017. The league has 18 teams that are part of the men's teams.

What is the history of Australian Rules Football?

The origin of Australian Rules Football dates back to the early 19th century. Football was played in different variations across several schools and institutions in England. Cricket was the leading summer sport until Thomas Wentworth Wills raised concerns about staying fit during winter.

history of Australian Rules Football
The Australian Rules Football season runs from March to September every year. Photo: Quinn Rooney (Modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

This led to the formation of the Melbourne and Geelong football clubs, whose football rules differed from the existing ones. For example, players could handle the ball but not run further than necessary to kick it. The initial games had 20 players per side. By 1874, various modifications had been made, including kicking the ball through the goalposts to score.

By 1896, the first eight teams formed the Victorian Football League (VFL). The league introduced payment of players and reduced the number of players to 18 a side. The league grew in membership and had 15 teams by 2005. In 1990, the VFL rebranded to the Australian Football League (AFL), representing national inclusivity. Today, the VFL has 18 teams.

Rules of Australian Rules Football

The AFL developed several rules and regulations to ensure fair play and healthy competition. Here are some of the laws governing the Australian sport:

  • A goal is scored when a player kicks the ball between the middle, taller goalposts, or through the outer posts.
  • Scoring between the middle posts earns the team six points, while an outer goalpost score earns them one point. In addition, a team earns one point if the opposing team forces the ball over the scoring line.
  • Players can pass the ball by hand, kicking or tapping. Holding the ball is not allowed.
  • Footie players can score from anywhere on the pitch. The game does not have the offside rule common in regular football.
  • How many rounds are there in Australian Rules Football? An AFL game has four quarters, each lasting approximately 20 minutes. Extra time is given per the Umpire's (referee's discretion).
  • The team with the highest points at the end of the game is declared the winner.
  • A player can tackle their opponent from the shoulder downwards to try and get ball possession. Additionally, players cannot push their opponents from the back.
  • The game does not have a goalkeeper.

Australian Rules Football positions

rules of Australian Fules Football
Australan Rules Football is the most popular spectator sport in Australia. Photo: Mark Brake (Modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

What are the roles of the 18 players on the pitch? Each player has a defined role that fits into the team's overall play. The field is divided into left, right, and centre parts with different positions at each point:

  • Full forwards: Left Forward Pocket, Full Forward, and Right Forward Pocket. They attack the goal and trap the ball in.
  • Half forwards: Left Half Forward, Centre Half Forward, Right Half Forward. These players set up scoring shots, attack the goal, and trap the ball in that area.
  • Centre line: Left wing, Centre, Right Wing. They recover the ball from the back line and set up scoring shots.
  • Halfbacks: Left Half Back, Centre Half Back, Right Half Back. Their role is to recover the ball from the back line and clear it forward.
  • Full backs: Left Back Pocket, Full Back, Right Back Pocket. They hold the ball in that area and clear the ball forward.
  • Ruckman: Contests for the ball with a fellow Ruckman, opposing him at the centre.
  • Rover: Lurk around centre-bounces and receives the ball from the Ruck rover to complete a clearance.
  • Ruck-rover: Handles the ball once it is tapped down by the Ruckman, allowing easy clearance.

Australian Football League Hall of Fame

Australian Rules Football field
Unlike other football variations, Australian Rules Football does not have a goalkeeper. Photo: Mark Brake (Modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

The AFL Hall of Fame was instituted in 1996 to recognize renowned players in the country based on record, character, integrity, and sportsmanship. To be eligible, athletes must be retired for at least five years.

The annual Grand Finale of the Australian Rules Football is among the most-anticipated games in the country. The sport has brought Australians together as they enjoy the thrill of the game and the process of their teams battling it out for the top.

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Grace Waruguru photo
Grace Waruguru
Grace has over 4 years of experience in article writing and digital media content creation for various local and global brands. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Communication (Public Relations) from Daystar University, Kenya.