Saturday, September 12, 2009

The AFL - Again

In soccer, the big prize is the league and after that a few cups are considered a bonus. Make no mistake, there are few sets of fans in soccer who wouldn't trade any cup win for a league win. They're the big prize, a true test of skill and ability fused with consistency and durability.

But not in AFL.

In AFL, 16 teams play so that the number 1 team wins nothing of much consequence and, along with the other teams that make up the top 8, go into a kind of cup tournament sort of deal. At the end of that is the grand final where you get to win a flag. Stop laughing. I'm sure it's a very nice flag.

Except being AFL it's not that simple. Never fekking is with this sport.

If you come top 4 you kind of get two bites at getting the cherry that is the grand final, sort of. If you come top 2, you get to play at your home ground. This means that if you actually top the league after a playing a season of this insane sport, running around the ground looking for your missing tooth/finger/eye/arm etc, then you get, as a reward, something nobody really cares about; a minor premiership. Really, that's it.

The real prize is the flag (which is apparently very large, which is something, I suppose) and to win that you have to win the finals series. And whoever invented that madness really needs a good shoeing.

Off we go.

In the first week the top four of the top 8 placed teams in the league play qualifying finals. This is kind of like quarter finals in other, saner, cup competitions. In AFL, presumably just to be awkward, it's 1st vs 4th and 2nd vs 3rd. The winners go through to (bear with me) the preliminary finals. These are kind of like semi-finals in the kind of cup competition that doesn't try and eat soup with a fork. The losers, though, haven't actually been eliminated yet. Yeah, I know. It gets worse. Be prepared for the word 'finals' to start cropping up all over the bloody place from here on.

Now also in the first week, the bottom 4 teams of the top 8 play in what is known as elimination finals, 5th vs 8th and 6th vs 7th. The losers go out, bottom lips trembling, and the winners go through to the semi-finals, except they're not actually semi-finals because the winners don't go through to the actual final final, as would happen in other cup competitions who haven't bred with their sister. Instead, in these semi-finals, the winners from the elimination finals meet the losers from the qualifying finals.

Let's recap that. The winners of 5th vs 8th and 6th vs 7th meet the losers of 1st vs 4th and 2nd vs 3rd in a semi-final that isn't actually a semi-final.

And the winners of those matches go through to what should be called semi-finals (because after this stage it's finals time). But they're not called semi-finals because that would make some sort of sense, and sense has no place, whatsoever, in any way, shape or form, in AFL. These finals are called preliminary finals.

And, just for a change, the match called preliminary final1 will actually be played before preliminary final 2.

Didn't I mention that? Sorry. Yeah, you see apparently because the guy who invented this whole shebang was a bit of a nutbag (or a time-traveller?), it's almost a given there's another layer of confusion. This year, for example, qualifying round 2 was played before qualifying round 1 and semi-final 2 was played before semi-final 1. No, I don't know why either. Why someone doesn't just call the first semi played semi-final 1 is a mystery to me but there you go.

And, finally, the winners of the preliminary finals matches go through to the grand final and play for a flag.

And after all that, it better be a really, really, really nice flag.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fantasy Football

With only two months to go before the English Premier League resumes and it's time to start thinking about the fine, noble tradition that is Fantasy Football.

There are two types, simple and complex, and unless we're all feeling very brave (and flush, as complex is about $80 for the season), I'll be playing the simple version which costs about $20 for the season and is a lot less grief.

Basically the organisers list players, give them each a value, give you, the manager, a fixed budget and then let you pick your best team, and you can't go over budget. You can only have 2 players from one team and must pick a goalie, fullbacks, centrebacks, midfielders and strikers to field a legal formation amongst 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 5-4-1 or 5-3-2. Your team is made up of 15 players, no more or less.

And your team reflects reality. If your striker scores in the EPL, you get three points. If a player gets an assist you get 2 points and if the goalie or defenders get a clean sheet they get 3 points. The defense can also cost you points; concede 1, you get zip, concede 2 you get -1, concede three it's -2 etc etc.

Your team gets a webpage that you and only you can access. You can match yourself against friends and enemies in a custom league, you go into another league against other random players, you get cup competitions where only points from certain cup games count, you can drop players, swap them about, transfer in new blood (5 times a month) and a bunch of other stuff.

But the real fun comes when you buy the two players from YOUR team and then have to fill the other 13 slots with players from other teams, including those you hate. The better the team in real-life, the better they'll do in reality. As a Liverpool fan through and through, I experience pain at having to buy Chelski defenders and ManUre attackers, but they get points. But you don't get enough money to buy 15 superstars, so you have to do your research. Whose been promoted and do they have any half-decent players you can pad the squad out with? Do you go for a few class acts and the rest mediocre at best or do you try and achieve a good, solid team throughout?

I'll be playing (always do, never win a bloody thing) and so will Fiona, but we need more! More dammit, more!

So, for $20 or so for 9 months of mocking friends and family alike for spending 9m on some overpriced tit with two left feet while your bargain basement specials clean up? Or dismissing their paltry football knowledge as your 2 or 3 star players carry a team of journeymen to the top of the league?

Any takers? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Aussie Rules

In AFL, even the match ball can attack at any time.

I have dim and distant memories of watching a tv show back in Blighty called TransWorld Sport. It was an early hours show that featured any sport from anywhere as long as it filled two criteria, namely that it was cheap and entertaining. Aussie Rules ticked both those boxes easily and so I would sit, laughing and wincing in roughly equal proportions, watching this bizarre sport in it's natural environment; the Australian Football League.

I can remember being utterly baffled and yet oddly fascinated by Aussie Rules footy and the AFL and whilst my bafflement has diminished (I was amazed to find the game had actual rules), my fascination continues to grow.

This is a sport where the two teams take to the field dressed in kits that seem to have been taken straight from a 70's disco, all tight shorts and singlets. Their pitch is an oval, like cricket, and the match ball is (I looked it up, trivia fans) a prolate spheroid, which is to say it's like a rugby ball. Also, while Aussies call it football, the ball is moved by way of the hands more than by way of the foot, similar to that other mislabelled sport, American Football. And as in a whole bunch of other sports there are goals and goalposts, umpires and linesmen, catches and kicks.

So, aside from the 70's disco theme, you'd likely think it was all very straightforward. Yep, and then you watch them play the game and you realise why it's almost unknown as a sport outside Australia.

It's insane.

Ready? Off we go...

This is a game where throwing the ball was apparently considered far too girly and so you can only either slap it or punch it to a teammate. Seriously.

And then there's the umpires; three guys run the show (whose sole job seems to be to just yell 'play on' all the time) and he's assisted by a couple more on the sidelines that are responsible for returning the ball to play when it goes out. They do this by turning their back on the game and hurling the ball over their head as hard as they can in as short a time as possible. No, really, they do.

And then there's the goal umpire who, when the ball cross the line between the four goalposts (yeah, four... don't ask), indicates if it's a goal or a behind (6 points or 1 point respectively). And then he waves a flag or two, depending, at the goal umpire at the other end of the oval. He then waves back, which is quite touching, and then they both write the score in their little notepads.

I know how it sounds, but that's what happens. They make a pointy gesture and then wave flags at one another. I'm not making it up. I couldn't.

And it goes on.

Many sports have a blood rule, to legislate for someone who's bleeding or been bled on, and here's the last two sentences of the AFL blood rule...

This player can be interchanged off the ground, or the umpire can call a halt to play while the player is seen to. The first option is that most commonly used.

Yep, if you're bleeding then the umpire is very unlikely to stop the match to allow a player to get treated, even when he's bleeding. Serves him right for bleeding in the first place, I suppose. Poof.

And the blood rule above also mentions the interchange, which is a marvel in itself.

Basically the interchange allows players to be swapped in or out of play. Each team starts with 18 on the pitch (Fiona keeps correcting me here - it's a ground, apparently) and 4 on the interchange. Any of those 18 can be swapped at any time for any of the 4 and, as long as there's only 18 on the field, everyone's fine with it. Now interestingly, in an attempt to annoy Fiona by saying field, I read that last part back to her. She instead clarified another point of the interchange. Apparently there are marks on the pitch through which a player has to leave to be allowed to sit on the interchange bench. Leave the pitch anywhere else and whilst you can be replaced to make up the 18, you can't re-enter the game later on. This is presumably to weed out the wimps who can't play on in a cast and need a stretcher.

So you have players regularly jogging on and off the pitch during the game. But that's not all. Oh no, not in AFL. In AFL you have runners and drinks carriers.

The first time I saw either of those, I thought someone in the crowd had made a dash across the field (ground, yes dear). You have to understand that, in the Premier League, the only people allowed on the pitch during play are players or officials. Anyone else setting foot on the turf tends to get a good shoeing from the stewards and/or the police. And then they get banned from the ground.

In AFL, a runner will pop on and have a chinwag with one or two of the players and a drinks carrier will wander around and provide refreshments. And don't think for a second these people all run on like their shoes are on fire, bottle in hand, dispensing much-needed fluids. Far from it. Some are so old and creaky the best they can manage is a gentle stroll. It's far from uncommon to see some poor bugger huffing and puffing around trying frantically to avoid getting in the way of the actual game.

And then there's the cheer squads, sections of the crowd behind the goals that wave giant pom-poms to put off goal kickers.

And let's not forget the giant, fan-made banners that the teams run through when they first come on.

The list of things that makes AFL bonkers goes on and on and all of them, in their own way, are fantastic.

But above and beyond all of this, and probably explaining why this fantastic sport will never be a global game, is it's sheer merciless nature. To give you an idea, consider it's two closest comparisons in terms of gameplay are rugby and gridiron. Look up safety equipment for those two sports and you go from the sublime (padded shirts and head protection in rugby) to the ridiculous (full face guard helmets and something akin to body armour in gridiron).

Look up safety equipment for Aussie Rules and you get gumshields.

Oh, and they pad the goal posts. They're probably expensive.

So as a result, you get the unique experience that combines skill, athleticism and physical endurance with the expectation that you can 'run off' a broken leg.

You get AFL.

And it's bloody, brilliant and bloody brilliant.

ps - It's worth remembering that the above video is from one single season of AFL. Ponder on that as you watch.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Selling Up

Well a procession of estate agents have paraded through the house and, just to make things nice and easy, came up with a 'big chunk of dough' difference higbetween their highest and lowest guesstimation.

I chose 5 estate agents in all (the scientifically approved method of typing oily, self-serving, robbing bastards into Google and seeing who came top) and they varied hugely from a cursory look through and what turned out to be the lowest price through to a very thorough examination and, of course, the highest price. Everyone else took the middle ground between them and presented with an uneasy mixture of practised over-familiarity and vaguely disinterested professionalism. Even if the 'thorough examination' one hadn't been highest we'd have likely gone with her simply by virtue of the fact she does her homework and (seems to) offer a fairly personalised service as opposed to the cookie-cutter standard set by the rest. Also I wanted to punch her a whole lot less than the others.

So now the fun and games start. There's a bucketload of stuff to do around the place, from the big and 'eek!' kind (extending pavers, scrubbing concrete and existing pavers), to the 'this will cost more than it should' kind such as a few repairs and some redecorating and finally the inevitable, dreaded de-clutter, storage and dress for presentation.

Fiona is thoroughly involved in what I suppose is kind of a homework assignment, immersing herself in tv programmes like The Unsellables and Selling Houses Australia. I don't mind the latter one as it features an English bloke I vaguely recognise called Andrew Winter who goes to houses that have been on the market for ages and not sold. What follows is halfway between character assassination and friendly abuse (well, he is English) as dear old Andrew points out the blatantly, blazingly obvious to the baffled Aus homeowners.

The last episode of SHA featured a biker couple (not a great start) where one was dying and the other had an obsession with all things froggy (ornaments, wall decorations, soft toys, live ones, toys and God only knows what else totalling about 7000 or so), which made you wonder which of them was more deserving of pity.

Though a Kermit-themed house was, indeed, a blatantly, blazingly obvious impediment to a sale, further light was shone on the mystery of the house-that-wouldn't-sell when Andrew Winter went out back and found that the yard stank of dog shit and the back of the house was stained with dog piss. See what I mean? Blatantly, blazingly obvious enough? Apparently not for the bikers who seemed to think that whilst this was a bit off-putting, all it needed was someone to be able to 'see through it' to the potential of the house and everything would be apples (which is pretty much my favourite saying, by the way). The fact that no-one in four years had so much as made an offer didn't seem to give them so much as a pause for contemplation. Even more comically, man-biker sprayed carpet detergent over his garden and plants to hide the smell of the dog-do. Needless to say, grass and foliage looked suitably unimpressive as a result.

The gardener/landscaper bloke on this show is, like Andrew, English and, even more than Andrew, brings a ruthless practicality to proceedings. In the corner of the garden was a small, creeper covered den of sorts, where the biker's (probably mulleted) children would play in. As mum-biker explained this, starting to well up and no doubt consumed a thousand fond memories of good times etc etc, English gardener said a cheery 'sorry!' and laid into it with a sledge-hammer. I think he was smiling when he did it. I know I was. They deserved it for the dog-poo, if nothing else. Also, Fiona reliably informs me, the bikers were fairly textbook definitions of 'bogans', a kind of slang Aussie term that means thick, uneducated, cheaply dressed and uncultured. We have those sorts in England, of course, but we at least put them all in East Anglia, one of the areas most likely to flood due to global warming in the UK, which proves we're certainly capable of forward thinking, if nothing else.
But Andrew and his team sorted it all out and got the place sold, so all's well that ends well, I guess. And now Fiona and I have to do the same thing and, assuming the place sells in fairly short order, we can then turn our attention to finding our dream home.

At least there's no frogs here, aside from the squeaky buggers that Missy drags in.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The V8 Interceptor

Look, I was struggling to name this blog, ok? I've been meaning to start one for ages but, as usual, couldn't even get past the blog title. All of the good ones were taken, so much so that at one point I even thought of calling this blog allofthegoodnamesweretaken, but it was taken. All that was left were obscure movie reference types, which seemed a bit too smug, even for me. I needed something movie-ish and yet recognisably Australian. And then inspiration came to me in the form of my model of The Greatest Movie Car Ever that sits on my PC.

The 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe. The pursuit special. The last of the V8 interceptors.

Or, as most of you know it, the black car from Mad Max 1 & 2. Obviously the car wouldn't lower itself to appear in Mad Max 3 Beyond TelstraDome, and who can blame it?

But I'm not exaggerating when I say I consider this fine vehicle to be the greatest movie car ever and it has held a special place in my heart since I first saw Mad Max 2 back when I was 12 or so. MM2 tied together my two favourite genres - post-apocalyptic and road movies - in a way that no other movie has since. It was also my first exposure to Australia in any meaningful way.
When Fiona and I decided to move to Australia, though I knew Australians fuelled their cars at filling stations and not via bloody hand-to-hand combat on the open road, I was still a bit disappointed. However though I reluctantly had to accept there was almost no chance of coming across mutants in hockey masks or leather clad bikers with foot high mohicans here, the odds of doing so seem to be improved if you go to Tasmania from what I'm told, which is something I suppose.
But I digress.

Although the original Mad Max car is in a museum in England, my home country had pretty much chuff all of it's own that could hold a candle to it, though in terms of looks I always thought the Ford Capri (Euro version, not Aussie) was a decent budget replacement. I owned two and despite managing to combine the unlikely pairing of being both underpowered and tail-happy, I loved driving them.

Yeah, I know. It only looks like a V8 interceptor (hallowed be thy name) if you look at it through a welder's mask and squint, but you see what I'm getting at.

But I digress.

The Ford Capri was the best I could do and both of mine did a decent job, not only as faux movie motors but also as cheap, reliable cars. They were certainly better than the mad as hell Ford Transit van I owned. Deep purple in colour, jacked up at the back, ground scraping chin spoiler (great idea in England, land of the speedbumps) and a dashboard, I kid you not, that was little more than a plank of wood with the instrument cluster nailed to the top. Clearly the previous owner had delusions that this might have been a mobile pleasure palace of sorts judging by the burgundy deep pile carpet he'd plastered across almost every inside surface from the doors to the roof. In reality I think it would have become like an anti-shaggin wagon so he sold it. I bought it because it was cheap, bonkers and went like stink thanks to all manner of highly dangerous modifications that had been done to it. Sadly all those mods meant the thing did about 9 mpg (it had the aerodynamics of a choc-ice) and that, plus the fact some witty fucker would hum the theme tune to The A-Team when I drove past, meant I parked it up and sold it to someone I obviously didn't like.

But, I digress. Again.

Back to cool cars, post-apocalyptic wastelands and mutants.

You know while I think about it, in retrospect, there was probably more chance of coming across fuck-ugly mutants, of either the hockey-mask wearing or mohican varieties, in the wild and wildly inbred areas of Lincolnshire and Norfolk anyway. And as a side note, when I ever I type Lincolnshire, it always comes out as Lincolnshite - I'm not sure if that would qualify as a typo or a statement of fact.

Maybe if society and civilisation crumbles back home in Blighty then by the time Fiona and I go back we might have to fight our way around the country, waging war on carrot-crunching yokels in souped up tractors to get to my sister's place or fighting gangs of marauding savages to get to mum's in Aldershot (Aldershit?). Actually, come to think of it that's pretty much how Aldershot is now, really. I mean, I'm not saying it's ugly but if a natural disaster swept through it then the headlines would be something like Hurricane Hits Shithouse Town, with a byline of does £2m of home improvements. Old joke but oh so very, very true.

But I digress. I do that lot. Maybe I should have called the blog butidigress.

Nope. Just checked. Taken. Ho hum.