While most Americans may be more familiar with sports such as football, soccer or basketball, very few have heard of Australian Rules Football.
Australian native Amy Bishop, 31, explained that Australian Rules Football, also known as “footy” or “Aussie rules,” is a very popular sport in Australia, and it is unlike rugby, soccer or any other sport.
She also noted that while many Americans may not know of it, it has a presence in America via recreational clubs such as the Sacramento Footy Club, which she founded and was the president of for the past two years.
When she moved from Washington, D.C., to Sacramento in 2008, she decided Sacramento needed it’s own footy club.
“I didn’t start playing Australian football until I moved to U.S.,” Bishop said. “I really enjoyed playing it in Washington, D.C., and then we moved here, and the lack of a football club and lack of people I knew made me think, ‘Why not start a football club so I can keep playing the game and meet people?’ ”
In an official game there are no more than 18 people on each team playing. However, in the Sac Footy Club, there is a limit of nine players per team.
The game is played with a spheroid ball on an oval-shaped or rectangular field consisting of four posts at each end.
Overall, one team wins by kicking the ball between the main goal posts and scoring the most points.
The players attempt to achieve this by moving the ball down the field to a team member who is in a position to score.
“The players can move the ball by hand or kick the ball to a teammate,” Bishop said. “The game is played in four quarters consisting of 25 minutes each, but at our club we play it in two quarters with about 15 minutes each.”
The Sacramento Footy Club was established in 2009.
“It is one club and it plays as multiple teams in Sacramento but we like to travel as a whole team when we play against other cities,” Bishop said. “Sac Footy is a social league and is based on a co-ed, non-tackle version of Australian Rules Football. The club also has a men’s and a women’s tackle team who compete in the United States Australian Football League.”
It started with 30 people attending the first meeting, and now it has grown to more than 100 people, she said.
The club welcomes everybody.
“There is no age restriction, height, or weight (requirement). Anybody can have a go at this game,” Bishop said. “No experience is necessarily needed. Anyone that comes can join now. They are not far behind than anyone else, no one is professional or has been playing it for long.”
Bishop’s husband, Matt Bishop, has had extensive experience with the sport. He is the coach for the club, and he also coaches the men’s national team for the United States, the USA Revolution.
He said that, as a coach, he wants to see individuals achieve their best, and he likes to see people set realistic goals and accomplish them. Watching this process, he said, is what excites him about being the club’s coach.
“I remember one game at the 2010 USAFL National Tournament in Louisville, Ky., our women’s team ( the Sacramento Screamers) lost their first two games of their first ever tournament, and won their third game against Minnesota Freeze, and that was a very proud moment,” Matt Bishop said.
He expressed his concern with Americans and their unfamiliarity with the game.
“It is a sport based mainly on kicking,” he said. “There are not many American sports that have that – soccer, of course, and soccer players are usually good, but Americans are typically more used to baseball/football, and when kicking is the main ingredient in the game, it can be a big challenge.”
As much as footy is a sport, it also has a social aspect. Matt Bishop reflected on some of the tradition with the game in Australia.
“In Australia, the sport is mainly based on the community (rather than) than the sport necessarily, so if you’re playing for a local team, you are generally playing for your community – representing your town or city. Once the game is done and everything is packed, we go out to celebrate and enjoy the day,” he said.
The same tradition holds for the footy club in Sacramento.
Robin Bishop, 27, who is not related to the Australian Bishops but is a player on the team and a student from UC Davis, said she was excited to learn about the club and the sport.
“It is a great workout with positions that are different than in other sports, (and) it is physically challenging,” she said. “The people involved are wonderful. Amy and Matt are great. They are always helpful and encouraging. Everything is well-organized, (we) always know when practices are, there is no confusion, games are always well ran – people show up, smile on their face, ready to play and have a good time.”
Another player, Mel Chen, 29, who is a masters student at San Jose University, expressed his enthusiasm for the sport.
“In this club, my favorite thing is the positive nature. Experienced or not, we are all out there to have a good time – no real egos out there, some competitiveness, but at the end of the game, we head to the bar, have a drink and celebrate.”
Playing Aussie rules is something to look forward to at the end of the work week, Chen said.
A third player, Saleh Tyebjee, 25, who is an engineer at Aerojet and the new president of the club, said he enjoys the various aspects of the sport.
“It is fast-paced. It has the flow and pace of basketball, but it kind of has the physicality of football because it can be a contact sport – being that I have played lacrosse, I find the strategy similar to lacrosse,” he said. “I played a lot of different sports but never played a sport with exciting pace with nonstop action.”
The beginning of the game is similar to basketball because of the tip-off style, but it remains different because the two players are permitted to run and jump at the ball by tapping or punching the ball toward their teammates.
Players are sectioned into three parts: offense (forward), midfield and defense (backline),Tyebjee explained.
Tyebjee said the name of the sport can throw people off when he mentions it, and people assume it is rugby or are focused on how sweet and gentle “footy” sounds.
“People think the name is silly, but I challenge them to come out and play it and see it for themselves,” he said. “It is not a dangerous sport, nor does it have more opportunity for injury than any other sport. The Sacramento Footy club is low-contact … it’s certainly worth a try if anyone is curious about it. They may be surprised at how much fun they have.”
The fee for the full season is $60 and it includes a shirt, weekly awards, field rental and equipments for 13 weeks.
Practices will be: Wednesday, March 30; Wednesday, April 6; Thursday, April 14; Thursday, April 21; and then every Monday night from April 25 until July 18.
The practices are held at McKinley Park.
Games will be every Wednesday night from April 27 until July 20 at McKinley Park on 33rd and H streets.
Opening day was scheduled for March 26, but due to the rainy weather it has been postponed to Saturday, April 2, at McKinley Park from 1-3 p.m.