Football in Australia
Australians love their ‘footy’. Each weekend during the colder months, thousands of Australians descend on football stadiums around the country to support their teams.
A serious ritual, this process involves proudly wearing team colours, barracking for favourite players, and engaging in enthusiastic cheering at every opportunity.
The country has four major football codes, each represented by a professional league at an elite level:
- Australian Football League (AFL)
- Australian Rugby Union (ARU)
- National Rugby League (NRL)
- Football Federation Australia (FFA)
Football in Australia has traditionally been a male sport, but starting in the late twentieth century women began playing from a grassroots level to the highest levels of the game.
In each Australian state and territory the word ‘football’ has a different meaning. For those living in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia, football usually refers to Australian Rules Football. In the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Queensland, it could mean rugby league or rugby union. The word ‘soccer’ equates to the National Soccer League for all of Australia.
The football code an Australian plays or follows is often dictated by where they live, their cultural heritage, or by the code they were taught at school.
But for the players and supporters of all the football codes across Australia, the end of summer is welcomed since it signals the start of the 'footy' season. The professional football season usually stretches from March to September, when fans crowd stadiums in their team colours to cheer and soak up the atmosphere of the game.
Australian Football League
When it comes to professional football some of the most loyal and dedicated fans are those devoted to AFL. Often referred to as ‘Aussie Rules', the game originated in Melbourne, devised as a way of keeping cricketers fit in their off season. AFL is now taught in schools and clubs across the country and the code is a significant national sport.
The first Australian Rules competition was in 1866. The Victorian Football League (VFL) was established in 1896 and by 1925 there were 12 clubs involved. The line-up remained unchanged until 1987 when Brisbane and West Coast joined what had by then become known as the AFL. By 1997 the competition comprised 16 teams with two each from South Australian and Western Australia, and one each from New South Wales and Queensland. The remaining teams were from Melbourne in Victoria.
The AFL is Australia's premier spectator sport attracting millions of people each year. According to research conducted in 2000, it had the third highest number of registered players of any Australian sport, at 443,978.