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Why Australians celebrate the AFL Grand Final and how you can too

Sydney Swans fans.
Sydney Swans fans cheer on their beloved team.

Supplied: AFL

The AFL Grand Final is not just the biggest show in Melbourne on October 1, it is also being broadcast live to millions of people around the world. So what is it about this football code that not only has most of Australia in its grip but also a growing international fan base?

As you can see, there's no other game quite like it.

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What is AFL? See Aussie Rules Explained. YouTube: AFL

What exactly is AFL?

The Australian Football League (AFL) is the professional league of Aussie rules 'footy' - one of the most popular sporting codes across the country.

During the winter months, thousands of Australians head to their closest football stadium each weekend to 'barrack' or cheer for their teams.

Supporters are extremely dedicated, wearing the colours of their favourite team in the form of jerseys, scarves and beanies to show their loyalty. It is considered a game of the people, for the people.

The game itself is played on a massive oval football field which is between 135 and 185 metres in length, and 110 and 155 metres in width.

The games starts with an egg-shaped balled being bounced high in the centre, and from there object of the game is to move the ball down the field and score. During a full match players can run between 12 to 20 kilometres in total.

There are four 20 minute quarters, and extra time is added to each quarter for stoppages of play.

18 teams are in the AFL, and there is at least one team from every Australian state except for Tasmania. Teams are comprised of 22 players, with 18 permitted on the field and 4 on an interchange bench.

Around nine per cent of AFL players are Indigenous Australians and about 14 per cent of players come from culturally diverse backgrounds. Each year the AFL holds rounds celebrating both Australia's Indigenous and multicultural populations.

The AFL season is made up of three parts: a pre-season, a regular season which runs from March until September where each team plays 22 regular season games, and a finals season. The finals played over four weeks, involve the eight teams who have done the best in the season.

From there, two winning teams make the grand final, which is played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) which can hold more than 100,000 people.

The MCG is one of the most iconic sporting grounds in the country and is known all across the world for hosting sports and other events.

The iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.

ABC

If you can't make it all the way to Melbourne for the grand final never fear - there are events for footy fans all across the globe on grand final day.

Why is AFL so popular in Australia?

The game has a long and rich history in Australian culture. It is said to have originated in Melbourne in 1859 after four men drew up the first set of rules having played football in England and Ireland. It is also believed to have been influenced by the traditional Aboriginal game Marngrook, played by the Gunditjmara people from western Victoria. The ball they used was made from a possum skin filled with charcoal and tied up with tissue from a kangaroo tail.

AFL Ball
An AFL ball.

ABC

Its popularity grew in the late 19th century because of the great involvement of fans of the game. People grew to love their local clubs and saw them as an integral part of the wider community.

The game was unique to Victoria for many years, starting out as the Victorian Football League (VFL), but changed to the Australian Football League in 1987 when Queensland and Western Australian teams joined the competition.

Millions of Aussie football lovers head to watch games each year. In 2015 over 6.8 million fans attended AFL games, compared with under half the numbers for NRL (Australia's National Rugby League) attendance. This is the forth highest domestic attendance of any sports league in the world.

From a financial point of view, the AFL generates millions of dollars of revenue from ticket sales, club memberships, television rights, sponsorships, and team merchandise.

The sport has even begun to gain momentum further afield, with a handful of affiliate leagues starting up across the Asia-Pacific in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, where the game was introduced during the war at the end of the 1960s.

What's the deal with the AFL public holiday?

The AFL Grand Final Holiday is the newest pubic holiday in Victoria, and was first gazetted for citizens in 2015. The date of the holiday is on the Friday before the AFL Grand Final, and is referred to as the AFL Grand Final Eve public holiday.

"Grand Final Friday" is promoted by the government of Victoria, and was a campaign promise from the current Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews MP.

The City of Melbourne hosts a Grand Final Parade featuring the coaches and players of the competing teams. The parade attracts more than 60,000 visitors to the CBD and this year and this year four-legged dogs fans are being welcomed into the city to attend given that one of the teams has a bulldog mascot.

AFL cup
The AFL premiership cup makes its way through the parade.

ABC News: Sam Clark

Who is playing in the 2016 AFL Grand Final?

This year the Sydney Swans Football Club are playing their third grand final in five years. The Swans have won five VFL/AFL premierships over the course of the League’s 116-year existence.

They will be taking on the Western Bulldogs, based in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray, who have not played in a grand final match for 55 years, playing their last grand final as a VFL club in 1961.

Not only will this be a clash against two teams, but also a clash against two states, pitting NSW and Victoria against each other.

The Western Bulldogs in a huddle before the game.
The Western Bulldogs in a huddle before the game.

Supplied: AFL

Australia Plus TV is broadcasting the AFL Grand Final between the Sydney Swans and Western Bulldogs live on Saturday 1 October.  Visit the Australia Plus TV Sports Lounge to find your local broadcast times.

NRL (Australia's National Rugby League) fans can listen to the Grand Final between Melbourne Storm and the Cronulla Sharks live on Sunday October 2 via the Australia Plus Expats app.  It is available for free on iOS and Android.

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