50 THINGS WE LOVE ABOUT FOOTBALL

As we begin this bracing undertaking to tell wistful stories about the world of Australian Rules Football and its culture, we at the Fifty decided we’d love to start by breaking it right down to the specific things we treasure about the game.

It very quickly dawned on us that there were a lot of them and that it was likely there were others out there who felt the same. This is not an all-encompassing list, nor are we telling you this is what you should like, because anyone who is a football fan knows that would be impossible. This list resembles things that we, at The Fifty, admire, remember and can’t let go of when it comes to football.

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  1. The word footy: It feels weird that there are other sports in the world that are referred to as footy. Rugby is not footy. Gaelic is not footy. Soccer is not footy. Footy to us means finals in September sun and pre-season in January heat. It’s part of who we are as Australians. There’s no other kind of footy than the AFL.
  1. Sherrins: The Kleenex of footballs. The red scuffing on your hands. To be tucked in your bag to take overseas in case you miss home. To buy two Sherrins because one is your “good” one and the other is to be used to kick on the road and ruin. To kick it in like knocking in your cricket bat. To get stuck in gum trees.
  1. Longevity: Football has been around for 159 years. Some countries aren’t even that old.
  1. Commentary: There’s an art and elegance to calling a game that we as fans absolutely adore. It’s something we tend to forget, that most of the memories we have watching or listening to footy, is often accompanied by the person behind the microphone. Jesaulenko’s mark was unreal but Mike Williamson’s “Jesaulenko YOU BEAUTY!” is what we remember. Dennis Commetti owns “centimeter perfect!” and Anthony Hudson’s “I see it. But I don’t believe it,” still rings true after Nick Davis’ dismantling of the Cats in 2005.
  1. Old suburban grounds: There’s nothing like the feeling of nostalgia knowing that there have been many greats bleeding and sweating it out in the local change rooms and gyms before the modern game took over and everything had standards.
  1. Mateship: Aussie Rules unites men and women. It makes them stand up for others. Apart from the dummy spits, footy has the ability to allow fully grown adults to bond over the smallest things or moments that can’t be replicated elsewhere.
  1. The biff and the banter: It’s becoming more rare to see the brawls and king hits from decades ago, but when it’s on, it splits the crowd in two. Danny Frawley called throwing punches similar to getting an “ear massage.” The game has become too quick and too scrutinized to entertain dust ups anymore, so we’ll have to continue to re-watch those Biffs N’ Bumps Vol.23 video tapes over and over again to remember.
  1. The one percenters: Whether it be a shepherd, a spoil, a golden fist, unrewarded running from the back line or forward line without getting a touch, or just pure class in a second, third and fourth effort: they’re all as amazing as each other. That’s why we love the one percenters.
  1. Mike Pyke: We love that Mike Pyke went from scoring tries against New Zealand for Team Canada right into winning a premiership with the Swans in 2012. Living proof that our great game is international and anyone can play it.
  1. Rivalries: You have your local derby’s in Adelaide, Sydney, Queensland and WA which provide extravaganza’s each year. There’s the Line in the Sand rivalry, where Essendon and Hawthorn have been at it since the 70’s. Richmond and Carlton will probably never bury any form of hatchet.
  1. The Sweet Pain of the Richmond Tigers Fan: We feel you, Tigers fans. You’ve had the right caliber of players and coaches to be a consistent finals team but something is missing. Maybe you are cursed. Tigers fans are an interesting mob to watch: winning means finals (finally!); losing means heartbreak (and finals footy next year).
  1. Footy Colloquialism: How many times have you watched a game of footy and heard things like “screamer” or “worm burner”? There’s a “bag” for goals (and lots of them), a controversial tackle called the “Chicken Wing” and the “Daisy Cutter” named for a perfect low-moving pass. There is a glut of football terms that describes our game that would confuse newbies to no end. Grubber? Don’t Argue? Roost? Banana? Footy fans know the lingo.
  1. The Shout of Ball: We love seeing first time watchers of AFL at a live game respond to a packed out house in unison shouting ‘BAAAALLLLLL!’ as an unsuspecting ball carrier is swept up in a tackle from behind. Just magic how it reverberates in your spine.
  1. Craig Willis: Please welcome Craig Willis to this list. Proudly brought to you by Carlton and United Breweries. “The Voice” is synonymous with any big event during the footy calendarrrrrr.
  1. Crowd Synergy: You can’t find a more engaged crowd than a football crowd. Carlton fans used to cry “WOOOOOF” for Ang Christou in the same way Demons fans howled “OOOOOOZZEEEE” for Adem Yze and how Hawks fans now yell “BROOOOOST”, after an evasive and slippery Luke Breust.
  1. No Half-time Shows Required: We have a cracking, homemade game. There’s no need for sideshows. No cheerleaders, no cheesy organ music during intermissions, no fake hand claps blaring through the stadium speakers. No halftime shows required.
  1. Footy Grub: Traditionalists will flock to pies and a bucket of chips with extra salt probably because you can eat with one hand and hold a footy record or beer in the other.  Usually eaten quick and accompanied by third degree burns, but, if you had to eat and watch the football, there’s no other better way really, is there?
  1. The Banners: Despite the dedication of the members and supporters in the creation of these tissue-paper giants the best part is what is written on them: cheeky back handed jokes, opposition taunts, milestones, remembrance and admiration. Let’s just hope North Melbourne never do that weird floaty balloon curtain thing ever again.
  1. Cheer Squads: Truly the place where you’ll find the most rabid, hardcore fans. This is where you’ll find those humans who, no matter what has happened in the game, believe there is a government level conspiracy to screw their team out of the free kick just paid against their beloved club.
  1. The Father-Son Rule: The rule reeks of tradition and sporting romanticism. There’s something poetic and historic about carrying the family bloodlines throughout different eras.
  1. Kick to Kick: The great tradition of going for a kick on the M.C.G after a game is still one that lives on today. You can’t do that in the NBA or NFL.
  1. A Full 360 Degrees: No offside. No perimeter boundaries. No positional boundaries. No half court rule. Nothing one-dimensional. The ball can move wherever you want it to go which can imply chaos. But it is organized chaos.
  1. Toyota AFL Legendary Moments: Who can forget a slightly larger Wayne Harmes sliding in the dirt or Bruce Doull looking about ready to snap poor old Steve in the streaker suit. All of these were brilliant. Stephen Curry and Dave Lawson take a bow.
  1. Eddie McGuire, Eddie Everything: We complain about Eddie’s face being everywhere but if it wasn’t him, it’d be some other executive suit with less personality who’d be less of a tyrant and media tramp. Now where is the fun in that? Admit it, there’s a small part of us all that loves Eddie deep down.
  1. The Fact Women Are Finally Playing It: It’s 2017. About time. It’s cracking football.
  1. Josh Kennedy’s skip for goal: Is there anything more awkward to watch in football right now than the Kennedy skip into goal? We’ve all seen it. And there’s a small part of us that think he’s going to trip over his own legs running into goal. But then those feelings all disappear when he connects from 50-metres and puts it through the big sticks with a perfect rotating drop punt. It is ugly going in but beautiful coming out.
  1. The Three-Peat Lions: The Lions won a lot of fans during their three peat and not because they beat Collingwood – that’s probably part of it some will argue – but because of the players they had and champions they turned into: Voss, Ackermanis, Black, Scott brothers, Lynch, Brown, Lappin, Johnson, Bradshaw, Power, Ashcroft, White, Pike, Hart. The fact that there’s old Victorian fabric in the Lions makes this a treasured three years for many football fans.
  1. The 52 goals kicked between Essendon and North Melbourne, R16, 2001: It’s been dubbed the greatest comeback in the history of the game. A massive 52 goals were kicked that day. That’s not a normal day out in the park, but constant scoring is part of football that keeps us on our feet and wholeheartedly engaged all day.
  1. Jim Stynes: Owns the longest streak for most consecutive played ever at 244 that no-one will ever forget, or beat, for that matter.
  1. Bound for Glory, Holy Grail: Two soundtracks for football that still hold up today. One reminds us of finals football at Waverley Park, the other gives you goose bumps about winning premierships.
  1. How it can be a mood killer: If your team loses on a Friday night, you’re usually ruined, mentally, for the entire weekend and show signs of crabbiness and curtness around your friends. It’s actually mind blowing how a game can control your emotions like that.
  1. Mullets and Staches: There should be a real, physical, Hall of Fame for football’s mullets and moustaches. A place where you can visualize retro football in a facility like a museum. Consider the men who donned those ‘business-at-the-front, party-at-the-back’ cuts as football specimens and artifacts. Cloke. Dipper. Malthouse. These men would feature in this fictional retro museum.
  1. The Hanger: Taking a hanger on someone’s shoulders is as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s so rare and exclusive to our game that it makes football considered lawless. Imagine if NBA players could jump on shoulders and dunk at the same time, with no foul? Exactly.
  1. Anzac Day Football: The Anzac tradition – the minute silence, the notes of the bugle, the 90,000 fans– is unrivaled for a regular season match.
  1. Greg Champion: Corny and dorky is what you probably think of it now, but back when the “That’s the Thing About Football” promo was on T.V. before and after games of football, it’s what made you get excited about football. It woke you up.
  1. The evolution of the modern game: Back pockets are built like midfielders. Key position players are guys who can run half marathons and kick goals. Defenders are thrown into the forward set up. This multi-positional mindset is because the game is more athletic and quicker than ever before. It’s not predictable. It is breathtaking at times.
  1. Post Goal Celebrations: Players use a litany of methods to laud goals. And they are: hugging the crowd, flipping the bird (yes, Nathan Brown), a high-five, hugging team mates, two-arms wide open, the salute, prison bars, the fist up, the run-jump-and-hug, the “I can’t hear you” and the one solitary finger in the air sometimes with a wiggle. Sometimes without.
  1. The Draw: If you’ve ever watched a drawn match at the M.C.G, you’ll know it’s weird when the final siren sounds. No words can describe it. It’s just weird.
  1. Football Cards: Apart from collecting them, the great things about football cards is that they educated us on statistics, players who had and didn’t have moustaches and the evolution of player portrait photos. The pink gum lasted three chews but whatever. For kids who wanted more football, cards were the “it” thing.
  1. Leigh Matthews snapping a point post: Are you kidding me? This moment is so majestic, he really does earn the nickname “Lethal” as one of the toughest units to play the game. It made every footballer want to break point posts in half.
  1. Talk Back Radio: The drive back home from the M.C.G. through the city bottlenecks is softened by the fact you can listen to the cesspool of callers spleening about football results, under performing players and heroic moments. There is a certain kind of envy hearing grieved fans yell questions into their mobile phones to talk back hosts. It’s almost therapeutic.
  1. Not Having to Pretend to Care About Other Sports: Football is back. Say goodbye to those EPL fantasy forum discussions and those other sports you vaguely care about but aren’t willing to jump off a cliff for. You true love has returned.
  1. Nicknames: Nicknaming is a sport, a rite of passage. Sometimes they don’t make sense and yet they do make sense. Here are some rollicking names: Macedonian Marvel, Velvet Sledgehammer, Duck. Joel Corey has “Smithy” because he has no last name. Andrew Swallow gets “Spitta” and there’s “Bags” for Hugh McCluggage. What about Jarrad “Microphone Head” Grant and Brett “Megahead” Ebert.
  1. The Torpedo: AFL players are getting snapped up by the NFL because of their long range. The kick most call a “torp”, “spiral” or “barrel”  is a dying art form but still leaves fans in awe when a full back kicks to the centre of the ground, or when someone launches one from the centre square into the stands.
  1. Bruce McAvaney: He’s been calling sport since ’76. He’s covered the Olympics, racing, golf, tennis and 10 Grand Finals. He’s the comfort we crave when football is on T.V. There’s no-one else who loves football more than Spruce Bruce. We hope he recovers soon!
  1. The M.C.G: It becomes a cauldron and boiling pot on Saturday afternoons. It’s a hulking outdoor football theatre that seats 120,000. It’s the place that turns regular people – the players –  into icons we care about. We lose ourselves and find ourselves there. It makes us feel alive.
  1. Heroes and Villains: The fact that this list is basically an endless stream means football has integrity and potentially some delicious narratives. Villains: Jason Ackermanis, Stephen Milne, Wayne Carey. Heroes: Leo Barry, Nick Riewoldt, Patrick Dangerfield.
  1. Getting inspired again and again: This year we’ll probably see Nick Riewoldt back into a pack and take a game saving mark. We might see Joel Selwood dive on a loose ball in front of three defenders storming him. We’ll see comebacks. We’ll see struggling teams deny superior teams. Inspiration is everywhere.
  1. The Spray: We all fear the spray because let’s be real, if you’re ever on the receiving end of one, the spray makes you wish you lived in some underground bunker away from sunlight. John Kennedy’s famous “Don’t think, don’t hope, do! Do something!” spray inspired many coaches to pull off similar gestures to their troops. Ron Barassi, Terry Wallace and Mick Malthouse delivered. Malcolm Blight also didn’t mind a verbal barrage. But the spray has given fans both an extraordinary highlights reel and an inside look into the vulnerability of footballers.


    The Fifty’s 50 Things We Love About Football list was compiled by Nick Papadakis, Simon Drum, Justin Robertson and Damien Peck.

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