A passion for ‘footy’: USA Nationals showcase the fast-paced, aggressive Australian sport this weekend

Aussie Football: Photo by Rabbit Kirkman  In a game against the Nashville Kangaroos, the Louisville Kings’ Brian Bowling takes possession and moves upfield while teammate Patrick Choe (right) pulls up short.

Aussie Football: Photo by Rabbit Kirkman In a game against the Nashville Kangaroos, the Louisville Kings’ Brian Bowling takes possession and moves upfield while teammate Patrick Choe (right) pulls up short.

Forget the pigskin for a moment. Set aside the endlessly trolloped hype of the NFL and its media war machines fueling the glut of coverage of a pro athlete’s every blink, stutter and breath. For those who have grown apathetic to that greasy appeal to our pocketbooks — in lieu of our love of great athleticism — a raucous, rollicking alternative presents itself this weekend. Convening 3,000-plus strong upon the Louisville Soccer Park, the USA Australian Football (or “Footy”) League will play host to the 2007 Nationals tournament Oct. 13-14. True to the game’s roots, the weekend promises plenty of spirited play, unpretentious athleticism and gallon upon gallon of good Australian beer.

Given U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s recent Bathroom-gate antics, it may sound unseemly when a grown man describes his passion for “footy.” But Matt Seuling, coach of the Louisville Kings Aussie Rules Football team, can articulately do just that.

“Aussie rules football is a good combination of basketball, rugby and soccer,” he says. “We play a fast-paced, high-scoring game much like basketball, but we also have quite a lot of contact similar to rugby tackles, and without the padding. Additionally, the field is almost twice the size of a football field and the ball is always live, so the movement is a lot like soccer.”

With roots traceable to early forms of rugby and Gaelic football in the mid-1800s, “footy” is thought to predate all other modern forms of football, including our own American version. Originally started as a means for Australian cricket players to stay fit in the off-season, the game borrowed from the aborigine pastime Marn Grook, but it quickly took on a life of its own.

The sport is riotous, aggressive and passionately territorial in its mother country. Millions of caterwauling footy fans pack Australian arenas every year to gorge on meat pies and Cooper’s beer, and victorious crowds traditionally rush the field to congratulate their heroes personally in a barley-soaked revel.

Australian rules football found its U.S. home here in Louisville 10 years ago, when Louisville resident John Harrell strung together enough players for an 18-man team in 1996 and began what is still an ongoing rivalry with Cincinnati players. By 1997, the first National Tournament was played in the River City, and, thanks in part to Harrell’s evangelizing the sport, it has spread with a viral ferocity — the league now boasts 46 teams nationally. (Sadly, Harrell, passed away in 2003 at age 37.)

United States Australian Football League president Robert Oliver explains that fans should keep an eye out for non-stop action and a fast-paced game, as there are no time-outs and no such thing as a “dead” ball, as in American football. He notes, “We’ll have plenty of Australian food and drink on hand for people to try, and it’s such a challenging, physical sport that fans are assured quite a lot of action.”

Oliver continues: “It’s funny; Australian Football got its start in Louisville in a very ‘Australian’ way, so to speak — over a beer with some mates. The USA Footy League, which is now hundreds of players strong and gaining international recognition, was started when John Harrell met a few friends in a bar in Indiana. After a few beers, the three friends kept talking and decided to form the USA Australian Football League. Ten years later, we’re pretty excited to come back to Louisville and have our best Nationals ever.”

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USA Footy League 2007 Nationals
Oct. 13-14
Louisville Soccer Park
River Road
Free; 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
(More than 30 teams will compete in the round-robin style tournament, with game times and tournament activities posted at www.usfooty.com and at www.louisvillekings.com.)