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There are a few gentlemen, and ladies, who want to make it clear that this isn't rugby. Not that there's anything wrong with rugby, but this ain't it. This is footy - Australian Rules Football. So grab a Foster's and listen up.

Tackling Down Under

Transplanted Aussie brings footy to U.S.

By Sarah Hoye

 

There are a few gentlemen, and ladies, who want to make it clear that this isn't rugby. Not that there's anything wrong with rugby, but this ain't it. This is footy - Australian Rules Football. So grab a Foster's and listen up.

 

When you think of footy, think of soccer. Well, sort of.

 

"It's more a game of keep-away than a game of tackle," said Milwaukee Bombers center half-back Mike Perrone, 25, a pharmaceutical sales rep originally from Lansing, Mich., now living in Milwaukee. "But it's competitive and full contact."

 

And boy does Perrone know it. In the weeks before the tournament, he fractured his face in 10 places, breaking five bones and earning him a titanium plate in his cheek.

 

"My face is surprisingly almost normal," he chuckled. "I think anyone who loves competitive sports will like this. It's a great team concept."

 

The Milwaukee Bombers will host the U.S. Australian Rules Football League National Championships Oct. 1-2 at the Milwaukee Polo Grounds in Merton.

 

In general, footy is played on an oval field twice the size of a football field. There are four 20-minute quarters. The goal of the game is to score by kicking the footy (the ball) through four-post goalposts at both ends of the oval. Teams get six points for kicking the ball between the two inner posts and one point for getting the ball between the inner and outer posts.

 

Australian Rules Football debuted in Melbourne, Australia, in 1858 and has since grown to one of the country's largest spectator sports, drawing over 5.9 million fans throughout the season. However, it wasn't until 1996 that a match was organized state-side.

 

"It's a strong reminder of home," said Paul O'Keeffe, 38, the Aussie-born founding president of the United States Australian Football League and current president of the Milwaukee Bombers. "And it's a fun game to play."

 

After moving to Milwaukee in 1995, O'Keeffe said, something was missing. He reminisced on the days he played footy back home and wondered if he could get something going in the states.

 

The first game was played in 1996 when a group of Midwesterners got together for a solidarity game. Over the years more and more footy clubs began to pop up around the country. Due to the interest, and with support of the Australian Football League, the U.S. league was born. Today, the Bombers even have club teams for women and children.

 

"At that point there was like five clubs in the country and I said 'Why don't we make it a league?' Now we have 2,000 players countrywide," said O'Keeffe. "Now, about only 20 percent (of the players) are Australian. It's been a great ride and everyone seems to be liking it up."

 

And the Bombers are liking things, too.

 

When the Milwaukee club joined the USAFL in 1998 it was in Division III. They have moved up the ranks over the seasons, making it to Division I this year. They lost during the semifinals last year, but hope to take it all this season.

 

And the players are having a good time along the way.

 

"There's nothing like getting out on that field. It's very physical, fast and very different," said back pocket Barry Arnold, 40, a portfolio manager and a native of New Berlin.

 

"All you have is a mouth guard, a jock, and you go bang 'em up."

 

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