I, for one, hadn’t heard of it. And to the best of my knowledge, neither had you—until now.
Australian football—footy, as it is affectionately known—is fast, fun, and available to play in the Bay Area. San Francisco Footy is a co-ed, non-contact footy league co-founded by native San Franciscan and longtime footy enthusiast Jessica Estrada. The group meets once per week at various expansive outdoor spaces in San Francisco.
“SF Footy welcomes anyone to come get outside and play,” Estrada said. “Regardless if you are a current or former athlete, never picked up a ball in your life, or just looking to meet people, SF Footy has something for everyone.”
USF graduate student Robin Bishop has been involved with SF Footy since its inauguration in 2011.
“Footy is a great, unconventional game that many people enjoy for exercise, camaraderie, and fun, regardless of athletic ability, body type, or experience,” Bishop said.
So she invited me to a match last Sunday.
About 15 people showed up to the soccer field in the Sunset, and Bishop introduced me to the gang. Everyone was kind and welcoming as they encouraged me to participate in the upcoming match. I said no (at first), because I only wanted to observe.
Following some casual conversation, the group split into two teams. Each team practiced hand passes and kicks, and the game began shortly thereafter.
My first impression was that footy looked fast-paced and fun. Players ran around the field, passing the elliptical ball by holding it in one hand and whacking it with their other hand, clenched into a fist.
I also learned some of the rules. Kicking the ball through uprights scores points. There are four uprights; a kick through the inner two is worth six points and a kick between an outer upright and an inner upright is worth one.
A kick can also function as a pass. If a player catches a kicked ball before it hits the ground, that player earns the mark and is permitted to back up as far as she wants without defender interference. Earning a mark is advantageous because it gives a player the opportunity to kick the ball towards the uprights uncontested.
After the first half was over, I was once again encouraged to join in the game. This time, I accepted the request. Someone was nice enough to loan me an extra pair of cleats.
For the next 30 minutes, I played and had a great time. I learned there are many different ways to participate in footy. Running, catching, kicking, and passing are all integral and equally important parts of the game. Bishop reiterated this point after the game.
“There is always a spot for interested new players on the field, regardless of athleticism, because Aussie rules football uses so many unique skills and diverse abilities,” she said.
When the game was over, many players were sweaty, some were dirty, and all were in good spirits. It was the final match of the season and everyone prepared to go out for food and drinks. Once again, I was invited to participate. Although I had to decline, I could see why people returned to this group week after week and even hung out before and after games.
“The people who play with SF Footy are fun, inviting, encouraging, and positive,” Bishop said. “We usually go out for pizza or tacos after the games and many of us meet up outside of league games for a kick, a jog, or for a non-sport related night out.”
Even other local media recognize this attractive group. SF Footy won SF Weekly’s “Best Full-Contact Fun with (Clothed) Strangers” award for the year 2012.
“SF Footy provides a social, yet competitive place for many active San Franciscans. Footy is the greatest sport on earth, and we want to provide everyone the opportunity to learn about and how to play this crazy Australian sport,” Estrada said.
While the sport may seem crazy at first, veterans like Estrada and Bishop make it seem safe for all.
“Anyone can play SF Footy,” Bishop said. “The tag version of the sport is set up to maximize fun and safety. The veterans love to teach new people how to play the game and everyone is encouraging.”
Indeed, I could not have felt more welcomed by this group. Before, during, and after the match, everyone was polite and inviting.
SF Footy has something for everyone. Whether you want to meet new people, try new things, or exercise in a fun and dynamic way, SF Footy will welcome you with open arms.
For more information about SF Footy, check them out online at www.SFFooty.com.