AFL Idiosyncrasies, Part One: Scorelines

Much like Greg Matthews, whose predilection for bowling flighty, flamboyant off-spinners from around the wicket with his hat on earned him unofficial ‘rare unit’ status within the Australian cricket set-up, AFL is an idiosyncratic and complex beast. As such, The Public Apology founder Dave Edwards is here to guide you through the various obscurities that make this national sport so unique. In Part One, Edwards provides a guide on how to best communicate AFL scorelines – a tricky task for anyone not already familiar with the code.

Recently I caught myself using rugby league parlance while watching an AFL game in Melbourne. It’s an easy thing to do, given I was born and raised in Sydney and, as such, have been exposed to rugby league on a daily basis – much like the residents of Beijing consider +500 pollution levels a fact of life.

Chatting with fellow TPA scribe Sam Perry, I accidentally referred to the half-time scoreline in the Collingwood v Essendon Anzac Day match as 41-all. I said it with Ray Warren-like confidence (and possibly in Ray Warren voice, I can’t quite remember but the odds are good), only to quickly realise that’s not how AFL people speak.

Sure, 41-all is technically correct. Both sides have amassed a total of 41 points in the two quarters, and the game is consequently locked at 41 a piece.

But this was very rugby league of me. And, in the game of rugby league, that parlance is entirely correct.

Cometti, a true professional and great caller of scorelines
Cometti, a true professional and great caller of scorelines

But in AFL, where information is key, one must outline the number of goals scored, followed by the number of behinds, then follow that with the aggregated score. This requires great attention to detail and an intricate understanding of where both teams are at in terms of goal-kicking and point-scoring.

Luckily, in this case, 41-all equated to six goals and five behinds for both Essendon and Collingwood. It goes without saying that this data must be compressed even further to simply be said as: six [goals] five [points] 41 [total] plays six [goals] five [behinds] 41 [total].

In real-time, this sentence would sound as such: “six five 41 plays six five 41.”

Leaving the grammatical errors aside for one moment, I’d just like to quickly celebrate the brevity and crispness of such a sentence. It conveys all the necessary information of an AFL scoreline into seven words, which is no easy task for the laymen.

While rugby league has its own complexities in the form of tries scored and conversations/penalties made, you will never hear a commentator or fan break out the full scoreline at an NRL game.

"Four tries three conversions a piece now, fellas!"
“Four tries three conversions a piece now, fellas!”

Here it is irrelevant that Cronulla scored four tries, two conversations, one penalty goal and a field goal in the 79th minute to edge out Canberra, who mustered five tries and one conversation in their 23-22 defeat.

Sure, that information will be covered in the post-match commentary, with question marks again looming over Jarrod Croker as a crunch-time goal-kicker. But rugby league is not about the crisp delivery of information; and to be fair, no-one has ever made that argument.

And just lastly, if you are from a rugby league state, you are probably used to clinical, even-numbered scorelines – for example, 12-all; 24-all; 24-16, etc. But in AFL, the scorelines can range anywhere from the conventional (say 12.9.81 def. 8.6.54) to the downright weird (22.9.141 def 4.11.35).

So be prepared for that – and work on your six-times’ tables while you’re at it.

By Dave Edwards

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