Australian football (or Australian rules or Aussie rules) is the uniquely Australian football code that started out largely as a way for cricketers to keep fit in the winter and has become the No.1 sport Down Under.
Bookmakers and sportsbooks worldwide usually refer to the sport in their indexes as AFL, though this acronym actually refers to the No.1 competition in the sport, the Australian Football League.
Played between two teams which each have 18 players on the oval-shaped field, Australian football is a fiercely physical sport which has its roots in rugby and has some similarities with Gaelic football.
Useful AFL pages:
There is no offside, so players can (and do) roam the field at will, with the oval-shaped ball propelled by foot or by hand, though rather than throwing the ball, it must be hand-balled (held in one hand and struck with the other).
Players can mark the ball from a kick and once a mark is taken the player cannot be tackled until he continues play or the umpire calls play on. They may have around 20 seconds after a mark to take a shot on goal.
There are four posts at each end, with a goal (six points) scored by kicking the ball between the middle two posts, which are substantially taller than the two outer posts. If the ball passes between the larger posts and the smaller ones on the outside, or strikes the larger posts, a point is awarded.
The game is divided into four 20-minute quarters plus stoppage time, with short breaks between the first and second quarters and third and fourth quarters and an extended break at half-time (between quarters two and three).
The non-stop nature of the game puts a premium on stamina, with frequent interchanges to freshen up the players.
Where is Australian football played?
The Australian Football League is the game’s top competition, with teams based in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Geelong and the Gold Coast. It attracts massive support and television numbers, not to mention huge interest from gamblers in Australia and elsewhere, and runs from March until the grand final on the final Saturday in September (or sometimes the first Saturday in October).
The game’s spiritual home is Melbourne and it is the dominant winter sport in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. It is also popular in NSW and Queensland but rugby league and rugby union hold sway in those states. It is hugely popular in the Northern Territory, hardly surprising given many of the great players have been indigenous Australians.
The next rung down from the AFL includes the Victorian Football League (VFL), South Australia National Football League (SANFL) and West Australian Football League (WAFL), while there are also strong state leagues in NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory and countless country and junior leagues.
The top junior league is the TAC Cup, which is the most common pathway for young players to arrive in the AFL, through its national draft held late in the year.
There are organised leagues outside Australia, particularly in Asia and Europe, while players from outside Australia have risen to the highest levels of the AFL.
In particular many Gaelic footballers from Ireland have tried their hand and flourished, including Jim Stynes, who rose to become a superstar of the Australian game, landing its highest individual honour, the Brownlow medal, in 1991.
Brief history of Australian football
In the 1840s a game bearing some resemblance to modern-day Australian rules began to emerge, with some rules borrowed from soccer and rugby.
It was not until the late 1850s that the clear structure of a new game emerged in the greater Melbourne area. On June 15, 1858, St Kilda Grammar and Melbourne Grammar played the first recorded game of “Victorian rules”.
The well-known cricketer Tom Wills became involved as a pioneer. He had been sent to England to attend Rugby School where he played rugby to keep fit for cricket.
Wills co-umpired the famous match between Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College on August 7, 1858, which is immortalised as the starting point of Australian football. There were 40 players a side, the ball was round and the field massive, and the two schools still play annually, though the rules are very different to that first match.
New rules, known as the Melbourne Football Club rules, were first set down in 1859 and this laid the foundation for the growth of the game, particularly in schools.
The Victorian Football League was formed in 1896 with eight of the most powerful clubs from the Victorian Football Association joining for the 1897 season: Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, St Kilda and South Melbourne.
The VFL had expanded to 12 teams by 1925 and was the dominant competition.
In the late 1980s, the VFL began to expand beyond Melbourne and after the 1989 season the league changed its name to the AFL. It remain No.1 on the Australian sporting landscape for TV numbers and attendances.
Types of bets on the AFL
There are hundreds of betting options for each AFL match as well as many options for betting on each round and each season.
Here are the most popular bet types on AFL matches and see here for our guide to sports betting.
Head-to-head: Simply pick the winner of a match.
Handicap: Pick the winner taking into account the plus or minus handicap.
Margin bets: Pick a team to win by more than a nominated points margin.
Under/over points total: Pick whether the total match points will be over or under a certain figure.
Scorecast: Combine picking the winner straight-out or with a handicap with the total match points option to increase the odds.
Quarter-by-quarter: You can take many of the above options but bet on a single quarter or half.
Premiership winner: As soon as one season concludes the betting will open on the winner of the next season’s grand final. Can offer great value.
Minor premiers: Bet on who will finish on top of the ladder at the end of the regular season.
Top 4: Take the odds about your selected team finishing in the top four on the ladder at the end of the regular season.
Top 8: As Top 4 but just need to make the top eight.
Wooden spoon: Bet on a team to finish bottom of the ladder.
Grand final quinella: Simply pick the two teams who will play off in the grand final come season’s end.
Brownlow Medal: A massively popular betting medium for AFL fans, this involves betting on players to land the game’s highest individual award, which is voted upon by the umpires and is decided at an awards ceremony on the Monday before the grand final.
Coleman Medal: Bet on which player will top the goal-kicking table at the end of the regular season.
Rising Star: An award for the best young player in the game as voted on by a selection of football experts.
How do the AFL season and finals work?
Greater Western Sydney joined the competition 2012, bringing the number of teams to 18. The season proper consists of 23 rounds, with each team playing every other at least once and some other teams twice. This seemingly inequitable draw is based on finishing positions from the previous season. It sometimes gives teams finishing well down the ladder one season a great chance to surge the next, so it is well worth investigating the draw closely when placing long-term wagers on season outcomes.
The top eight teams after the home-and-away season qualify for the finals in September. The team finishing top is the minor premier, though as with many Australian sports, this is not considered overly important other than to give the team a favourable draw for the finals. Grand final victory is all important.
The finals run over four weeks as follows:
Week 1: Qualifying finals: Team 1 v Team 4; Team 2 v Team 3. Elimination finals: Team 5 v Team 8; Team 6 v Team 7.
Week 2: Semi-final 1: Loser from qualifying final 1 v winner from elimination final 1; Semi-final 2: loser from qualifying final 2 v winner from elimination final 2.
Week 3: Preliminary final 1: Winner from qualifying final 1 v winner from semi-final 2; Winner from qualifying final 2 v winner from semi-final 1.
Grand final: Winner of preliminary final 1 v winner of preliminary final 2.
Quick guide to the AFL’s 18 teams
Nickname: Crows. Joined league: 1991. Home ground: Adelaide Oval. Premierships: 2. Most recent: 1998.
Among the most powerful clubs off the field and have had their share of success on it since joining the AFL as the first South Australian club in the national competition. The Crows (south Australians are known colloquially as Croweaters in Australia) leave little to chance in their pursuit of a flag to sate their massive supporter base.
Nickname: Lions. Joined league: 1997. Home ground: Gabba. Premierships: 3. Most recent: 2003.
The Lions were formed from a merger of the struggling Brisbane Bears and the foundation club Fitzroy Lions. They are based in Brisbane but retain a strong connection with their Melbourne faithful. Enjoyed a golden period with a hat-trick of flags from 2001-2003 with a team considered among the best of the modern era.
Nickname: Blues. Joined league: 1897. Home ground: MCG, Docklands. Premierships: 16. Most recent: 1995.
The Blues are, along with Collingwood and Essendon, considered one of the Giants among Melbourne clubs, but the balance of power has shifted as they have endured one of the bleakest periods in their history since their last flag. Carlton, so long regarded as the “silvertails” of the league, still have plenty of financial clout and they loom as the league’s sleeping giants.
Nickname: Magpies, Pies. Joined league: 1897. Home ground: MCG. Premierships: 15. Most recent: 2010.
The Magpies are the biggest sporting franchise in Australia; the Manchester United or Dallas Cowboys of down under, if you like. From working-class roots, the Woods have enjoyed a fair amount of success, though have also had more than their share of glorious failures over the years, falling victim to the dreaded “Colliwobbles”. They boast a fanatical band of supporters, more than any other club. But they are also hated with passion by rival fans. Ask a rival supporter which team they cheer for and they will tell you: “Team X … And whoever is playing Collingwood.”
Nickname: Bombers, Dons. Joined league: 1897. Home ground: Docklands, MCG. Premierships: 16. Most recent: 2000.
The fallen giants of the league who enjoyed incredible success in the 80s and 90s but were brought to their knees by a performance-enhancing drug scandal in 2012. The Bombers were found guilty of implementing an illegal supplement program and had 17 players suspended for the 2016 season. The question is not how they will recover from the damage from the suspensions and inevitable compensation cases that will follow, but can they recover at all?
Nickname: Dockers. Joined league: 1995. Home ground: Subiaco Oval. Premierships: 0.
The second West Australian team to arrive in the competition and have had to struggle to shake the tag of the West Coast Eagles’ poor relation. The Dockers for a few seasons forged a reputation though as close to unbeatable on their home turf, but have yet to taste the ultimate success at the MCG on grand final day. Have arguably the worst theme song in sport.
Nickname: Cats. Joined league: 1897. Home ground: Simonds Stadium. Premierships: 9. Most recent: 2011.
For many years the Cats were derided as the flashy team that would always crumble at the big moments. They were labelled “the hand-baggers”. Well, they have put that to bed thanks to their achievements of the past decade, snaring three flags and compiling an incredible win-loss ratio over that time. Geelong now have a ruthless edge and feel it is nothing more than their right to be contesting deep into the finals each year.
Nickname: Suns. Joined league: 2011. Home ground: Metricon Stadium. Premierships: 0.
The Suns have built a handy list of players thanks to generous draft concessions from the league, and it was considered a formality they would rise to the top of the heap in record time. Alas, it has not happened like that. The glitter strip has turned the heads of a few young players and there have been claims a poor culture exist at the club. It remains to be seen if they can recover and fulfil their early promise.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
Nickname: Giants. Joined league: 2012. Home ground: Spotless Stadium. Premierships: 0.
The newest team in the AFL and have arguably taken a more measured approach than fellow newcomers Gold Coast. They have young talent in spades despite quite a high turnover of players but have retained superstars such as Jeremy Cameron, a full-forward who could spearhead a serious flag challenge. The Giants have not set the world on fire off the field though when they start winning against the big teams, the fans should emerge.
Nickname: Hawks. Joined league: 1925. Home ground: Melbourne Cricket Ground. Premierships: 13. Most recent: 2015.
A true powerhouse of the league, the Hawks dominated in the 80s and three premierships in a row in 2013-15 was more of the same. Renowned for being among the most professional and pragmatic of clubs. They have become a giant in terms of fans with their “family club” mantra. They seem an arrogant lot, but clearly they have earned the right to display a little swagger.
Nickname: Demons. Joined league: 1897. Home ground: MCG. Premierships: 12. Most recent: 1964.
One-time giant of the league fallen on hard times. The joke about the Demons runs along the lines you will find most of their fans on the ski slopes of Mt Hotham mid-season than you will in the grandstand of the MCG. I guess that if potential superstar Jesse Hogan, the Rising Star award winner in 2015, progresses as the Dees’ faithful hope, that will change pretty quickly. The only way is up.
Nickname: Kangaroos. Joined league: 1925. Home ground: Docklands. Premierships: 4. Most recent: 1999.
North shot to the top of the charts in the mid 90s, with their success largely built around champions such as Wayne Carey. They have emerged in recent years as a dashing side that can tear rivals apart in short bursts. But they have not been able to match the top dogs. They need another champion to step forward.
Nickname: Power. Joined league: 1997. Home ground: Adelaide Oval. Premierships: 1. Most recent: 2004.
Port were the dominant club in south Australian football for many years, winning seemingly endless SANFL titles. They joined the AFL as the Power in 1997 and won a title just seven years later, defeating the ageing Brisbane Lions. They have struggled to make a finals impact much since but are showing signs of life. Port’s fans expect nothing less than ultimate success, but it’s not quite as easy on the national stage.
Nickname: Tigers. Joined league: 1908. Home ground: MCG. Premierships: 11. Most recent: 2017.
It had been a long time between drinks for the Tigers and their long-suffering supporters until they finally struck gold in 2017. For so long they seemed to lack that hard edge which could take them all the way. It’s been a long battle but they may have finally shaken the “Ninthmond” tag, given to them for their habit of finishing just out of the finals.
Nickname: Saints. Joined league: 1897. Home ground: Docklands. Premierships: 1. Most recent: 1966.
If you think it’s tough being a Richmond fan, spare a thought for the Saints’ faithful. They have just the solitary flag in their history (and they were a foundation club) and a reputation as whipping boys for the rest of the league. They had a great chance to break the drought in 2010 but drew with Collingwood in the grand final and were thrashed in the subsequent replay.
Nickname: Swans. Joined league: 1897 (South Melbourne). Home ground: SCG, ANZ Stadium. Premierships: 5. Most recent: 2012.
The Swans have fought long and hard to forge a foothold in a rugby league-dominated city. But it’s a fickle market and the Swans can’t afford to drop too far off the pace. Have built a strong culture and so hard to beat on their home turf. Sydney have developed a reputation of canny traders and have a habit of being able to recruit big-name players looking to escape the AFL fishbowl of Melbourne.
Nickname: Eagles. Joined league: 1987. Home ground: Subiaco Oval. Premierships: 4. Most recent: 2018.
One of the real power clubs off the field and they entered the AFL fielding a virtual WA state team and quickly embarrassed the Melbourne teams with a couple of premierships. Have had a rocky journey at times but no expense is spared in keeping the Eagles flying high, with a grand final loss to Hawthorn in 2015 spurring them on.
Nickname: Bulldogs, Dogs. Joined league: 1925. Home ground: Docklands. Premierships: 2. Most recent: 2016.
The honest toilers of the league and everyone’s second-favourite side. Have had limited success, but they are slowly emerging from the against-all-odds mentality and emerging as a club which can match the high-flyers. Were rebranded the Western Bulldogs in an attempt to grow their small supporter base through appealing to the entire West of Melbourne, after a long history as Footscray.