By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)
I’m sure we’ve all been to our fair share of football games in the UK. But with four different football ‘codes’ down under, watching live matches is ever so slightly different …
Soccer culture and what Aussies call the ‘English Premier League’ culture could not be more contrasting. I couldn’t believe that I was watching Sydney FC play against Adelaide United whilst sat in the sunshine with a picnic blanket on a small hill next to the pitch. I’m used to being cramped into a damp stand where a roof over your head is an absolute treat. The attendance for the A-League champions numbered only 11,217 spectators, similar to the capacity of League One side Rochdale AFC from North Manchester. As you can imagine, the chants aren’t quite the same as in the UK but I can assure you that the language is just as fruity! If you get the chance, I’d definitely recommend getting your hands on some AFC Champions League tickets. When Sydney FC played against Shanghai SIPG, we got the chance to see big names like Oscar, Ricardo Carvalho and Hulk play on Australian soil.
AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL
If you refer to ‘football’ or ‘footy’, Aussies from Melbourne will normally assume you are talking about AFL – although those from New South Wales and Queensland might contest this and argue that Rugby League is the ‘real footy!’ A great way to immerse yourself in quintessential Australian culture is by heading to see an ‘Aussie Rules’ match for yourself. I was lucky enough to visit the Melbourne Cricket Ground with my friend whose family are members at Richmond Tigers (big thank you to the Bales!) Unlike in England, four Melbourne-based teams put their rivalries aside to share their home games at ‘The G’ so there is plenty of opportunity to watch AFL at one of the world’s biggest stadiums. Even walking down the Birrarung Marr, the famous walkway towards ‘The G’, was a special opportunity in itself. The Indigenous-titled path was full of fans singing and chanting together. We watched ‘The Tiges’ beat Melbourne Demons on ANZAC Eve, a commemorative occasion that celebrates national unity. Australian identification within AFL is paramount and so this was a perfect way to experience true ‘Aussie’ footy.
Rugby League’s cultural significance is demonstrated through the acclaimed ‘State of Origin’ series between New South Wales and Queensland where they battle for their hegemonic sport. Rather than having a home ground for a particular club and sport like Manchester United exclusively playing football at Old Trafford, the Leichardt Oval in Sydney is used for lots of different football codes and lots of different teams. A big group of us watched Sydney-based NRL teams West Tigers and Manly Warringah – a great rivalry to witness. West Tigers only have around five home games here per season so their supporters flocked to Leichardt for the nearly sold-out event. Such was the competition between these two teams that you could literally hear the hits of tackles throughout the intimate yet packed Oval.
Although Rugby Union is much more prevalent in the UK, it isn’t quite so popular in Australia. Their love for Rugby League is much more significant. We watched a Super Rugby fixture where New South Wales Waratahs beat Queensland Reds at the Sydney Cricket Ground which was completely different to what I have experienced at the other football ‘codes.’ NRL at the Leichardt Oval was filled with close-proximity viewing, yet Super Rugby at the SCG was the polar opposite. Unlike being part of the vast Aussie Rules audience at the MCG, the Super Rugby fixture only attracted about a third of the SCG’s capacity. Being normally used for cricket or Aussie Rules Football (which is played on a circular field), it was a really interesting experience to be physically distanced from the action. Clearly, the cultural significance of sport internationally is completely different. I’d really recommend going to a Sydney Swans AFL game to see what the SCG would be like when full to the brim.
Overall, watching live sport in Australia is something not to be missed. Australian Rules Football and Rugby League have rightfully earned their title of ‘footy’ which is really interesting to encounter for us Brits who have grown up on just one football ‘code.’ Being able to actually experience the different aspects of this sporting dispute provides a great insight into this great debate amongst Australian culture! Which camp will you choose?