As a teenager playing soccer(europäischer) Fußballsoccer at his local club, Johannes Binninger imagined — as most boys do — scoring a goal in a game to win both the match and the championship. Later, at the age of 28, Binninger found himself almost living out that dream, when he took to the field for Germany in the final of the last world cup.
The sport, however, was not football as it is known and celebrated around the world. Instead, it was the little-known game of Australian Rules. The 2018 season of the Australian Football League Germany (AFLG) begins this month.
Ask Binninger, and he’ll tell you he liked the game from the moment he first saw it in Munich’s Hirschgarten. An unrulywild, unbändigunruly bunchHaufenbunch of men were running drills that involved long sprints with an oval ball while trying to to evadeausweichenevade tackleAngrifftackles. “Is this rugby?” he asked one of the guys bent over double after a long run. “nah (ifml.)neeNah, mate (Aus, UK ifml.)Kumpelmate,” the man replied. “Aussie Rules.”
For those unfamiliar with Australian football, it comes, as the name to implyandeutenimplies, from Australia, where things are a little more rough-and-tumblewild, raurough-and-tumble than elsewhere. unlikeanders alsUnlike American football, Australian Rules has no paddingPolsterpadding. Unlike in rugby, you don’t have to to passpassenpass the ball backwards when moving forwards. Unlike in soccer, you can use your hands to tackle and to pick up the ball. But like basketball, you can jump and, if you’re good enough, use your opponents’ backs to to soarsich in die Höhe schwingensoar more than two metres off the ground.
The game is normally played on an oval field about 180 metres in length. Importantly, as far as Binninger is concerned, there is no offsideAbseitsoffside. The 18 players in each team are free to run as far as they can, but they need to be fit, because games last up to two hours. Binninger is not big, but tough and quick, so he enjoys the running and doesn’t mind the tackles.
“It is the intensity that I love,” he explains. “Australian football is fast flowing. There are lots more goals than in soccer, and the bounceAufprall; auch: (Ball) prellenbounce of the oval ball makes it unpredictableunberechenbarunpredictable. You can’t really plan the game: it becomes chaotic, and you have to stay focused.”
Fast but fair
For Germany, 2017 was a banner yearerfolgreiches Jahrbanner year: it saw the country’s national team at the Australian Football International Cup for the first time. Also standing in Western Oval in Melbourne last August, before the ball was bounced to start the final, was Basti Esche. A small cannonballBombecannonball of a man, Esche is a backman, or defender, for the Eagles, the German national team. In Germany, Esche, a 33-year-old brewerBierbrauer(in)brewer, plays together with Binninger for the Munich Kangaroos.
Basti took up “footy (Aus. ifml.)Australischer Fußballfooty”, as the Australians call it, at university. He was never impressed by soccer. People to exaggerateübertreibenexaggerate contact to bring on fouls, he believes, making it more theatre than sport.
“It is a tough game,” Esche says of Australian Rules. “You know you’ve been on the field when you finish. But win, lose or to drawunentschieden spielendraw, it is the most fun I’ve experienced in any regulated sport.”
He adds that it is “super fair”. “When the umpireSchiedsrichterumpire blows the umpireTrillerpfeifewhistle, people accept the call and get on with the game. You don’t have everyone arguing,” he says.
There, in the middle of Western Oval, also waiting for the umpire to bounce the ball, was Fabian Cordts, 32. More than two metres tall, Cordts is a ruckmanSpieler(in) im Außenquadratruckman, and it is his job to try to to tapdribbelntap the ball down to his smaller teammates. In Germany, Cordts plays for the Hamburger Dockers, one of the Kangaroos’ fierceerbittertfiercest rivals. Among the German Eagles’ national team were players from the other six Australian Football League Germany (AFLG) teams: the Berlin Crocodiles, Dresden Wolves, Rheinland Lions, Stuttgart Emus, Freiberg Taipans and the Frankfurt Redbacks.
In spring and summer, the teams travel around Germany playing against each other. On the field, the games are hard and competitive, but afterwards, the teams meet up over some beers, fire up a barbecue and talk. Chris Odenthal, the coach of the Dresden Wolves, started playing in 2006 with his three brothers.
“After a game, everyone gets together for a drink and a BBQ, including your opponent,” explains Odenthal. “It is part of the spirit of the game, and I haven’t experienced that type of camaraderie with any other sport.”
Aussie rules explainedQuelle: YouTube
A rough history
Australian Rules football began in Melbourne in 1858, though its origins are still to be subject to debatedebattiert werdensubject to debate. The game could be influenced by rugby and GaelicgälischGaelic football from Ireland, but others believe aspects come from marngrook, an Aboriginal ball game involving running and high leapingSpringenleaping.
Tom Wills, considered to be the father of Australian Rules, grew up in the bush, where he befriended local Aborigines and learned their language. Later, he attended the elite Rugby School in England, to captainanführencaptaining their cricket team and playing an early version of a game that later became the sport of rugby.
Whatever its origin, footy is the number one football code in Australia, easily more popular than rugby and soccer. Crowds of more than 50,000 attend the weekly matches between the 18 professional clubs in the Australian Football League. The introduction of a professional women’s league in 2017 is driving the game’s already great popularity amongst women even higher.
The grand final, the equivalent of the National Football League’s Super Bowl in the United States, is when the two best teams to play offausspielenplay off for the championship. The game takes place on the last Saturday in September and is always a to be a sell-outausverkauft seinsell-out. In 2017, more than 100,000 people watched the Richmond Tigers, a team from an old working-class suburb of Melbourne, to defeatbesiegendefeat the favourites, the Crows from Adelaide.
Two weeks before that, in Germany, about 200 people stood on the sidelineSeitenlinie, Ausliniesidelines of a sports ground in Dresden watching the AFLG final. The Berlin Crocodiles beat the Kangaroos to win their first-ever championship.
Founded in 1995, Munich is the oldest Australian Rules club in Germany. With seven premierships since 2003, when a formal league was finally established, it is also the most successful team. Berlin had made it twice to the final before, but was soundlygründlichsoundly defeated both times. They won at their third attemptVersuchattempt.
“Mate, that was a huge reliefErleichterungrelief,” says Jan Meinecke, the coach of Berlin. “It has been many years coming, and even one month afterwards, the guys are still regularly getting together to celebrate.”
A few “exotics”
Fabian Cordts, president of the AFLG, says some clubs, such as Dresden, have almost all German players. Other clubs, like Hamburg and Frankfurt, have a more even mix of Germans and Australians as well as other nationalities, such as the Irish, Americans and other “exotics”, who are well represented.
“Obviously, we’re trying to encourage as many locals to play as possible,” he explains. Cordts has been a driving forceAntriebskraftdriving force behind the formation of the German Eagles. The results of all this were seen last summer in Melbourne when the Eagles — all of them German nationals — competed as one of 18 teams in the Australian Football International Cup. Reflecting the spreadVerbreitungspread of the game, the other nations included Fiji, France, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, the United States and the eventualschließlich, spätereventual world champions, Papua New Guinea.
As they were in Australia for the first time, Germany played in Division 2. The Eagles won two of the three games in their group and then beat China in the semi-final to set up a final against the Croatia Knights, one of the strongest teams in Europe.
At the opening of the game, Cordts tapped the ball to a German player and, after a few action-filled minutes of play, Binninger to sweepdahinsausen, fegenswept on to a loose ball to kick Germany’s first goal. He was greeted joyfully by his teammates, and it was as if his teenage fantasy were becoming reality. Unfortunately for the Eagles, all further celebration was done by the Knights, who kicked the next 11 goals for an easy win.
After the game, Binninger said experiencing Aussie Rules in the birthplace of the sport was amazing. He promised out loud to be back in four years’ time and do better. Esche, Cordts and the other Eagles nodded in agreement.
The new season
The 2018 season starts on 7 April, when the newly formed Württemberg Giants (Freiberg and Stuttgart joined forces) play the Dresden Wolves and Rheinland Lions. For more information, see www.aflg.de