Unique doesn’t even begin to describe Australia as a nation. With rich biodiversity, region-specific wildlife, vast desert plains, glorious beaches, and some of the world’s most liveable cities, there are plenty of reasons to make a trip Down Under a priority.

The thong-wearing (read: flip flops), BBQing, beach-dwelling, slang-slinging locals have endless sights to be proud of, from the Great Barrier Reef to Uluru and the Sydney Opera House. Of course, between the months of March and September, there’s something on offer that reeks of atmosphere and culture unlike anything else. In a truly sport-obsessed nation, Australian Rules Football isn't just a game - it's a way of life.

10 Locals call it ‘Footy’

Before even thinking about checking out a game of Aussie rules football, it’s important to get the lingo down pat. While you certainly wouldn’t be chased away with a stick for calling it ‘football’ or ‘Australian football’, you might stand out as a tourist for doing so.

With almost every word in the English language, Aussies love to simplify and shorten. Service station becomes servo, beverage becomes bevvie, and so on and so forth. In that same vein, football becomes footy.

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For foreigners, that makes it slightly easier to differentiate the code from the NFL (football for Americans) and soccer (which the rest of the world calls football)

9 But don’t confuse this with rugby - also footy

Now that we know what to call it, we have to make sure we’re talking to the right people. While Australian football is the most popular sport across the nation, it’s largely localized to the state of Victoria (mostly in Melbourne). This is because, back in the day, it was established as the Victorian Football League (VFL) before expanding interstate.

So, in Melbourne, footy is footy and there’s no question about it. But if we move up north from Melbourne to New South Wales and Queensland, footy takes on a new meaning. In those areas footy means rugby. But wait, there’s more. With two codes of rugby in action (League and Union), you could mention ‘footy’ and be talking about three different sports simultaneously. Confused yet?

8 There are 18 teams spread across the country

The AFL is the country’s largest sports league, hosting at least two teams in each of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia. The league has been trying to expand to Tasmania as well, but nobody wants to relocate at this stage (sorry, Tassie).

Each team, such as the Collingwood Magpies, Carlton Blues, Sydney Swans or Brisbane Lions dons their own unique colors and jerseys, and has an affiliated mascot (usually an animal). There are 9 teams in Melbourne alone (and 1 nearby in Geelong), making Victoria’s capital city the undisputed home of all things football.

7 The stadiums are HUGE!

The size of an Australian Football field is bigger than any other popular world sport. Played on a grass oval, the surfaces range anywhere from 135-185 meters long and 110-155 meters wide. However, even with these colossal fields, with 18 players on each team (and four on the bench, constantly interchanging), areas of the field can still become congested with bodies.

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As one of the biggest stadiums in the world, the MCG is a sight in and of itself. 95,000+ fans cram into the structure’s four levels for the blockbuster AFL clashes, sitting on the edge of their seats as they bite their nails, yell at the players and umpires, and have an all-around good time (unless their team is belted by 100+ points, that is).

6 It’s a sport unlike any other

Now that we’ve learned a little about the league and the culture, it’s time to dive into the rulebook. The game is truly unique, encompassing aspects from a variety of different sports (handball = volleyball serve; ball-up = basketball jump-ball; kick = NFL punt; etc.). While it’s incredibly had to verbally articulate the rules and gameplay to a footy newbie, once they’ve actually sat down and watched a few quarters, the pieces of the puzzle all begin to come together.

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The most similar sport played outside of Australia is Gaelic football in Ireland, but even that’s a tricky one to explain and understand for any novice.

5 Every player is exceptionally athletic

One thing that stands out to foreigners at first exposure to this unique game is the absurd physical fitness of each and every player. They look like their bodies have been chiseled from pure rock, honestly. Each player boasts a mix of elite speed, endurance, strength, and skill, constantly running 10+ km per game. There are no heavier-set defensive players like there is in the NFL either.

Despite all the crashing and bashing, players don’t wear any padding whatsoever (unless they’ve received a prior head knock, a small contingent don soft helmets). The rules of the game are made to minimize the risk of injuries (such as no high contact and no tripping), but as a contact sport, accidents are inevitable.

4 The Grand Final stops the entire station

Played annually on the last Saturday of September, the AFL Grand Final (which is equivalent to the NFL’s Super Bowl) glues supporters’ eyes to their nearest TV screens for the ultimate deciding match. Played at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), over 100,000 diehard fans pack the seats and the standing room to witness the most exciting day on the Australian sporting calendar.

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Victoria's footy obsession is undeniable. So much so, in fact, that a couple of years ago the government created a new, official public holiday on the day before the Grand Final (often verbally shortened to Granny) for fans to check out the Grand Final Parade. It’s the most exciting weekend of the year to visit Melbourne.

3 It’s Un-Melbournian to not support a team

While tourists will be excused for simply admiring the spectacle and not barracking for a particular team, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any local who isn’t diehard for one team or another.

Richmond, Collingwood, Carlton, and Essendon are four of the older, more popular Melbourne-based teams, but the Western Bulldogs, Hawthorn Hawks, and St. Kilda Saints, among others, have some of the most dedicated fans on the planet. Supporters wield tattoos of their club’s logo, don replica jerseys, and even dye their hair for games. Not following a team is frowned upon, but following TWO teams is sacrilege.

Hot tip: don’t walk into a Richmond bar wearing a Collingwood scarf.

2 The rivalries are bitter

When you’ve got a contact sport that takes dates over 150 years, you can bet your bottom dollar that there’s going to be plenty of loathsome rivalries out there. In South Australia, ‘The Showdown’ is whenever the Adelaide Crows play the Port Adelaide Power, and the fire-fuelled Western Derby sparks plenty of heat when the Fremantle Dockers play the West Coast Eagles (in Perth).

The most bitter rivalries of all sit with the Victorian clubs, perhaps none bigger than the Carlton Blues and Collingwood Magpies, or Essendon Bombers and Collingwood Magpies (played annually on ANZAC Day). Players, coaches, and 95,000+ fans get riled up and often walk away voiceless.

1 It’s traditional to have a meat pie and a Carlton Draft at the game

We don’t want to know what Four N Twenty puts in their meat pies but that doesn’t detract from the fact that scoffing one down at half-time is just part of the footy experience. Wash it down with a slightly-overpriced Carlton Draft (a Victoria-brewed lager) and you’re officially a local!

There’s nothing fancy about food and drink at the footy. A cheese platter and a glass of prosecco would come across as awfully snobbish (unless you’ve somehow scored entry into one of the private, corporate viewing boxes). So, devour the pie with your grubby hands, accidentally spill some beer on your mates, and most of all, enjoy the game!

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