It’s “Football” but not as you know it, or not as I know it. They call it Australian Rules Football. Or Aussie Rules. Or for the majority of the country, it’s called AFL.
On arrival in Australia there were four sports I wanted to watch at some point here. Football (or Soccer), Rugby League (or Footy), Cricket and Australian Rules Football (AFL or Footy). So far I’ve seen Football and Australian Rules Football. Hope to go watch rugby league – the Parramatta Eels next.
The season roughly runs from March till October each year, which also happens to be the Australian Winter. It was always a plan to watch a match, and from the start of February I was on the island of Tasmania.
However it wasn’t until June 2010 that I had my first Aussie Football Day. The AFL is the main league and this features teams such as Richmond, Collingwood and Geelong. However all over Australia there are more minor leagues and football is a big part of the culture here. I will be calling it “football” for the rest of this report, even though it’s not football as I know it, it’s easier for me to call it football in this context.
So it was through my workmate Chris Elmer that I got the chance to watch the football. I had left behind the mountain village of Poatina and a season of broccoli farming was behind me, so now I was in Devonport again and working on cauliflower.
I worked with Chris on the cauliflower field and all the guys used to talk about the football (the main AFL) but I knew that Chris was also involved in the local football circuit – Country Football in Tasmania as it’s known.
So it was planned that on a day off, the following Saturday I could go to the football at a small village called Forth. I had been to Forth before, passed through it a few times and once stayed the night there by the park, while working at Kindred the next day.
The date was set – Saturday 5th June 2010, just 6 days before the FIFA Football World Cup began, I was heading for the Australian Rules Football. It was to be a derby type match – Forth from the valleys were playing Sheffield, from the mountains. It was also the Magpies against the Robins. That was their nicknames. Which is the same as Newcastle United or Notts County and Swindon Town or Bristol City in England.
It was to be a full day out, including lunch, pre match banter and two matches on the same pitch. For Australians, Aussie Rules is their proud national sport (not officially the national sport, but they invented this one so it seems like it should be).
It was up early, I was sleeping in Devonport at the time, at the Molly Malone’s Irish Pub and hostel, which is only 20 minutes drive from Forth. I wasn’t actually feeling too good that day, but had a tea and toast anyway. Then into my car and drove to Forth.
It was a day of glorious sunshine to begin with. I could get to the football ground at any time, but decided to stop off in the centre of Forth to begin with to take a few photos of the town. It’s actually the Forth River and the Forth Bridge, in the foreground of which sits the town’s only pub, The Bridge Hotel. Pictured left.
There’s Forth River.
And that is Forth Bridge!
I arrived at Forth Football Ground at 10.55 am. It’s a totally different set up over here for their sport. I guess it’s because the whole country (yes, and even Tasmania) is so spread out. Nothing is close and there are certainly no trains or buses running to and from Forth. Therefore if you ain’t on the team bus, you really have no option but to get there by car.
So there are no turnstiles or traditional football gates on the way in. It’s a wee booth before a massive car park. 98% of the attendance to the match would be in cars anyway. So I took a right hand turn off the main street in Forth, past the wee local shop. And there was the entrance.
“Home of The Magpies – Welcome to Forth Football Club” said the nice wee sign at the entrance. That was on the left as I drove up. On the right was the booth. The two Forth workers there seemed to realise straight away I wasn’t a regular or a local, or even a visiting away fan! I told them I was a mate of Chris Elmer.
I parked and posed for photos with my Northern Ireland fleg by the sign. I wouldn’t like to bet on many other Ulstermen having been there before. This was random. It was in the middle of nowhere. By Tasmanian standards, Forth is not one of the most well known resorts you know…
The guys on the gate on the way in also joked “he’s from Belfast. I think we should be checking him for weapons.” I laughed at that and thought it was good that they knew some of the history and heritage of my homeland. People that have no knowledge of the conflict often spend less time in my company. The reason is simply because when I go somewhere else, to a new environment and culture I do my best to research a bit of it before and try and understand the history and heritage of it.
When someone hears about me, they often neglect to realise I’m from Northern Ireland, a proud and industrious part of the British Empire. No, we don’t speak Gaelic there, no we don’t use the Euro bank currency. We have our own banknotes, from Northern Bank plastic fivers to your Ulster bank 20s, we’re part of the British Sterling Pound Currency. If people have a little bit of knowledge, or at least respect for this then instantly I can feel more happy being in their presence.
Chris was working in the canteen that day. He’s a volunteer at Forth Football Club. Having been an ex-player he still takes pride and passion in the running and goings on at the club. It’s nice to see that culture. He came running over when he saw I had arrived in the car park.
He took me inside the wee clubhouse. It was typical and similar to Football clubs back in the UK. Football clubs such as Alphington AFC (in Exeter) have a pitch, a car park and a wee Supporters Club building, which contains a bar, some history, a kitchen as well as all the facilities you need for the footballers (changing rooms, showers etc.). This was as I had expected.
Chris sat me down and introduced me to a few people and he had to get back to the canteen to cook the chips!
I met Jess his niece, Cameron his son (who plays football but had picked up an injury) and his brother Mick. I sat down at the table with them and chatted for a while.
Meanwhile in the canteen, Dawn from the local pub, The Bridge Hotel was busy in the canteen cooking away. I was allowed to go into the canteen and meet them all and take some photos.
I totally forgot to mention that you normally pay $5 to get into the stadium. On the gate, the two guys charge each car on the way in. It’s $5 a person. But because I was a visitor they let me in for free! What a bonus for a working traveller.
I bought a match programme which I thought I should post to my brother, it was only $2 and was in full colour. I love souvenirs as memories like that. I have many over the years. This was my first Aussie Rules match and I had a nice programme. I actually then decided I would post one to my kid brother Danny and buy one for myself to keep. When I went back to the booth to buy a second programme, they didn’t charge me for it!
The joys of being a visitor and tourist. You remember hospitality like that. It’s like customer service jobs and the like. If someone complains and wants a refund, give them it. They might come back. Don’t give them it, they won’t come back and they’ll make sure a good few others don’t come back either. The hospitality shown by all at Forth Football Club was excellent. The way a football club should be run.
Welcoming to visitors, friendly and polite, raw in enthusiasm and passionate in their love for their team. No matter how big or small the occasion. So I was able to sit down and talk to Cameron and Jess, having a good look at the match programme too.
Forth were the Magpies playing in black and white stripes a la Newcastle United or Nottingham County. Sheffield were the Robins, or The Mountain men playing in black with a red diagonal stripe. I joked to Chris that I should have been rooting for Sheffield as they play in the same colours as my football team, AFC Bournemouth the Cherries! Black and red. But actually I have a hatred for Sheffield Wednesday so there were never an option to support a club of the same name.
I was a true Forth Magpie for the day. Although I wasn’t wearing black and white, had my green Northern Ireland fleece on and I also had my fleg out in the bar. There were TWO matches on as well, which is the norm for Football in Australia.
I had remembered when I went to watch Sydney FC that for the admission price of $25 we got to watch THREE matches for that. It’s good the way the Aussies do sport like that – makes sense, it economises, saves money and is more fun for the spectator. Basically at Sydney FC they had the reserves/youth team on first, then the women’s team, then the main team Sydney FC. If teams in the UK did that they perhaps wouldnt go bankrupt so quickly.
AFC Bournemouth and Glentoran FC should do that. Charge spectators in from 9 am on the morning of the match and you can watch the women’s team first, then the reserves then the main teams of AFC Bournemouth and Glentoran FC at 3 pm. That way the fans will spend a we bit of money, it encourages more people to attend. You have to buy your lunch, drinks and souvenirs there during the day. I really do believe British teams could take a leaf out of this book.
Inside the club house, they had lots of information and history up on Forth Football Club. The local Cricket team also play there, youve guessed it Forth Cricket Club. There were old photos and memories.
And a trophy cabinet.
They also had all the banners from each year that Forth won the league (which was a fair few times down the years).
Soon the first match would be starting, Forth Reserves v Sheffield Reserves, so I wanted to get pitchside but get some grub in before the match. Thats the wee bar before the first match – it was open but nobody was there yet.
Chris calls food or grub “tucker”, so I queued up at the nice wee canteen to get the tucker in.
Bargain price and good food. A lamb mint gravy roll and a drink was just $5, about £2.90 in UK. I had a raspberry cream soda can.
Nothing on the menu was more than $4 which was excellent.
You can eat and drink away pitchside, and watch the match!
What I loved was the way the away fans have all arrived in their cars and they park all around the pitch, an oval shape.
When Sheffield scored they all beeped their horns, and they mostly could watch the match from the comfort of their cars.
The goals are four posts, two high ones and two short ones. You get a “goal” which is SIX points if you get it in between the main goal. You get a “point” which is ONE point if you get it in between the side goal posts. If you hit the post you also get ONE point. Anything else and there are no points.
The goal posts also are not opposite each other, so you have one main side therefore where most of the attacking action will happen at. And the pitch is an oval shape.
A quick check on the League Table in the match programme…how ironic that the team I’m supporting, Forth are placed in fourth…
The closeness of my car to the pitch, but it was too hot to be sitting in a car!!
The referees wore orange.
I also got “backstage” at Forth Football Club. This is the home team’s showers, you can tell by the Magpies Logo.
The home team dressing room!
And the Magpies song and motto, which is sung after every victory. Loud and clear.
Sheffield got the first point of the day, but Forth stormed into the lead early on.
There are four quarters in each match.
Kids and grown ups alike join in the big day out.
Love this photo as you can see the heart of the action on the pitch, and behind it a horse, just to show its a country match in the Tasmanian wilderness (though Forth is not really wilderness…)
Some eye candy. Pretty local girls watch their boyfriends in action.
The stadium from the pitch. You can go onto the pitch at the breaks between quarters.
Kids practice during the breaks, the stars of tomorrow love it.
With my match programme in the Forth FC Bar.
Many Ulstermen been here?? Seriously doubt it.
Top of the league, you’re having a laugh!!! The notes from top club, Motton Preston.
THE MASKED MAGPIE!!! Forth’s notes in the match programme!
Blinded by the sun…
The touchline getting busier. An attendance of around 400 on the day.
Half time in the reserves match.
The Forth team assemble.
The mountain men from Sheffield.
Chris’s niece Jessica watching the match with me. Her brother was playing. Mitchell Aird, number 33 in the reserves.
Pitchside at Forth Football Club supporting the Magpies!!
A bit of horse play…
Chris at the back doing the raffle in between the Reserves and Seniors matches.
The Final score in the reserves match was 112 (17 goals and 10 points) – 61 (9 goals and 7 points) to Forth of course! You will never get a 0-0 match in Aussie Rules. There’s always goals and points!!
My raffle tickets. I didn’t win!
The hardcore Magpies fans watching the big game!
The Seniors Match – Forth v Sheffield
The club president Steven Evans and life member and big fan Tim! Really nice blokes, they chatted away to me, were glad of my support and posed for photos.
Boag’s Beers with the Magpies Hardcore fans!!
Then the rain came and most people ran for cover…
The stand became the new hardcore place to watch from. Nice typical football match roof. Reminded me of 20 years ago watching the Glens week in week out…
The Forth bench. Pitchside burgers and brollys!
The Seniors match had a much bigger attendance, new people had arrived, and the reserves team had finished so they get changed and shout it out for the Seniors.
I was back row with the hardcore at Forth Football Club!
From sunshine to rain, it didn’t stop Forth taking advantage and putting on an impressive display of football for the home fans.
Good shot of the lads watching the third quarter.
Some of the folk watched from inside, with a beer at the bar, or even watching two matches, as the AFL was on the telly – Collingwood were playing.
Last break for the Forth boys before the fourth quarter.
Resounding victory for Forth and the teams shake hands after the match.
The Forth Badge. From one of the official’s tracksuit tops. Up the Magpies!!
Forth leave the field to applause. The final score was 102 – 47, which saw 15 goals and 12 points from Forth. Sheffield scored 6 goals and 11 points. Forth had won both matches on the day. And fairly comfortably in both.
The rain cleared and I captured a rainbow over the pitch at the end.
Chris Elmer my mate from work played in this team, back in 1988. Back row he is second from the right.
Post match with Chris Elmer.
And Forth are fourth…in the table.
After the match I mingled for a while and spoke to Chris and a few of the others. I was really made to feel welcome there and had a fantastic day out.
A big thanks to my mate Chris Elmer and all at Forth Football Club for an excellent bit of hospitality and providing me with my first experience of watching Australian Rules Football live. About 3 weeks later I left Tasmania and my farming job behind.
But the memories of Forth FC will live on. And I hope to go to an actual AFL match some time. Up the Magpies!! Black and White Army!!
Where Was It – Forth Football Ground, Forth, northern Tasmania
What Was It – North Western Football Association Premiership Season 2010 – Country Australian Rules Football matches in Tasmania
My Team – Forth Football Club – The Magpies
Away Team – Sheffield Football Club – The Robins/The Mountain Men
Attendance – About 400 people. I counted just over 100 cars, and of course the team buses.
Reserve Team Score – Forth 112 – 61 Sheffield
Seniors Team Score – Forth 102 – 47 Sheffield
Nationalities I Met – All Tasmanian Australians!
Website – http://www.nwfa.net.au/forth.html
Facebook Forth Football Club – http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=62913052475&ref=ts
OUTSIDE FORTH FOOTBALL CLUB:
INSIDE FORTH FOOTBALL CLUB:
RESERVES TEAM MATCH ACTION:
MAIN MATCH ACTION:
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