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Australian Football: 100 Minutes of Hard Work


The rules of their games may differ, but for football players the world over, whether they are butting their armored heads on an American gridiron, running fast and loose in the soccer oval at Rio or wallowing with a Rugby ball in English mud, half time is the same. With the half-time whistle, the voice of the crowd dies, the coaches speak, the players let their bodies go slack and suck in air rich with the mixed smells of liniment, sweat and fresh, crushed grass. To the Australian players shown on the opposite page the precious 15 minutes of half time mean more than to any other football breed. An American player on a good two-platoon machine plays about 15 minutes a half. By half time in the special game of Australian Rules Football each of the 18 men on a side has played 50 minutes and expects to play 50 more, on a field three times as large as an American gridiron.

Australians play four different kinds of football, but in the state of Victoria and the city of Melbourne, where the championship match shown on these pages attracted 99,000 spectators, Australian Rules Football is unquestionably the favorite game. The Rules game resembles somewhat the harum-scarum, wide-open play of Gaelic football, and it was derived in part from a wild sort of sport that early Irish immigrants to Australia developed around the informal rule, "Kick wherever you see a head." In the present Australian game there are more rules and not so much mayhem, but just as much action. Only two substitutions are permitted during the 100 minutes of play. Trainers are allowed to tend the injured on the field while the battle swirls on. The players have the option of punting, drop-kicking, passing by punching the ball with one hand, or running, provided they touch the ball to the ground every 10 yards. A ball kicked through the goal posts without touching any player counts six points. A ball put by any means across the goal between secondary posts flanking the goal posts counts one point. Tackling below the knees, hacking (kicking an opponent) and slinging (seizing by the neck) are forbidden.

The referees try to see that fists and feet are used properly, but with 36 Australians milling about on a four-acre field there is a certain freedom of play. There are still rules in the book harking back to the old days when no one had too much scruple. By the rules still, either captain can halt play and ask the umpire to count heads to be sure the opposition has not sneaked fresh troops onto the field.

During short breather between periods weary Melbourne players sprawl out on field

Soaring like muscular ballet partners, a Collingwood footballer tips a high pass away from Melbourne foe while tight-packed 99,000 cheer spring-toed play

Young, feasting fans eye field action while open-mouthed Melbourne-section rooter howls support to no avail as her team gets upset 82-64