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Why Football Means Something Totally Different In America, Australia, and Britain

The US and Britain are often described as two countries divided by a common language, but the world of sport really highlights how different they can be. Two of the most-watched sporting events in the world – the World Cup and the Super Bowl – are both played with two very different games of football. Whilst half the world right now is reading about Bundesliga results and awaiting the Champions League Final, Americans are eagerly awaiting the September start of the season. 

Then there’s Australia, who have its own take on football, which is somewhere in between the American game of football and the British game of rugby – and nothing like the British game of football. Confusing, I know…

Given that we know what the rules of American football are already, let’s see how Australia’s version of the game lines up.

Football in Australia

You would have thought that British settlers in Australia would have brought the name “football” along with their imperialism, but it seems that what Aussies and Americans refer to as soccer never took off there. This is likely due to timings, as rugby and cricket were both big before football was big. Furthermore, football and cricket were both middle-upper class sports, whilst football was deeply working class. Post-convict settlers in Australia simply were more likely to be middle class, and even today, cricket and rugby remain a bigger sport there.

Australia has since invented its own football, often known as Aussie rules. To further confuse things, rugby is massive in Australia too – but this is different.

How Australian football differs from American football

Whilst American football is played on a rectangular pitch, like rugby and soccer, Aussie rules are played on a larger, oval pitch. 18 players play on this pitch, and do not have two separate teams for defense and attack.

Of course, the oval-shaped ball is played in both – whilst the hands are the predominant way to play the sport. American football uses a lot more protection in the form of pads and helmets, whilst Aussie rules is essentially played with a gum shield and that’s about it. You would have thought this would lead to Australian footballers getting tons more injuries but this just isn’t the case. I guess without the padding, they’re not diving into tackles with the same dangerous techniques used in NFL.

There is less stopping when it comes to Aussie rules, making the pace of the game much faster. But arguably because of this flow, there is less tactical depth involved. But despite their differences, the premise remains pretty much the same, and the pitch, player numbers, and scoring are the biggest differences.

Does Australia have a Super Bowl?

Essentially, yes. The Super Bowl in Australia is called the Grand Final, an event that decides who the champion is at the end of the year. The AFL Grand Final in 2022 takes place on September 24th, and is held at Melbourne Cricket Ground. A pre-game and halftime show does occur, like with the Super Bowl, but it’s not quite as big or anticipated. In 2022, R&B songwriter Jessica Mauboy will perform, and the adverts are not quite as anticipated either.

Why are they all called football?

This dates back to rugby in England during the 1800s. Rugby back then was known as rugby football, which was significantly different from football (soccer), as players use their hands to move the ball and tackle one another with more contact being allowed.

This is where both Australian and American football derived its name, as their rules were akin to rugby football, thus changing the first name but keeping “football”. 

So, what is rugby?

As mentioned earlier, Australia also plays a lot of rugby. All of these sports  date back to one moment, when William Webb Ellis in 1823 picked up the ball during a game of soccer (that’s football, to William) and decided to run with it in his hands – though some claim this is a myth. Instead of getting replacing rugby with Aussie rules, they decided to play both.

Rugby is played with no shoulder pads or helmets, in which 15 players on one team have to get the oval-shaped ball to the other end of the pitch for a try (similar to a touchdown). The basic rules are that any player can carry the ball in any direction, with no limits (time or distance). However, when passing with the hands, the ball cannot go forward, but it can go froward if it’s kicked. Any player can kick the ball in any distance at any point during open play, but it’s certainly not the most common way to pass the ball – instead, it relieves pressure and helps move the team further up the pitch, accepting that possession will likely be conceded.

Rugby is a very fluid game with few interruptions, making it more similar to Aussie rules than American football. Rugby remains to be huge in the UK and among Common Wealth countries. If you haven’t played it, as someone who loves American football, it’s certainly worth giving a try.

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