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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Scoring in Australian football is different from other codes. The game has no tries or touchdowns and no crossbar in the goal area. The two ways to accumulate points are goals and behinds. A goal is worth six points and a behind is one point. To score a goal, the ball must come off the foot of an attacking player whereas a behind can be scored in a number of ways.

At each end of an Australian rules football ground are four posts: two goal posts and a behind post to the outside of each goal post. Each set of four posts is set in a straight line despite the rest of the ground being oval shaped. The goal posts must be at least six meters (about 20 feet) in height and the behind posts at least three meters. The distance between each post is 6.4 meters (or seven yards). A straight line is drawn on the ground between the four posts. All posts are padded to at least 2.5 meters (just over eight feet).

For a goal to be scored, the ball must be kicked by a member of the attacking team and must pass completely over the line between the two goal posts. The ball can be held before being dropped onto the foot and kicked through or can be soccered through, including any accidental contact with an attacking player’s foot. The ball can go through the goals on the full or it can bounce any number of times or roll through the posts, so long as it is kicked by a member of the attacking team and doesn’t touch another player before it crosses the line. The ball can pass through the goals at any height, including higher than the goal posts themselves.

A behind is scored when the ball crosses the line between one of the goal posts and a behind post. The most common way to score a behind is where an attacking player kicks for goal but the ball goes to the outside of a goal post instead. This can be the result of pressure from the opposing team or a poor kick from a set shot after a free kick is awarded. Sometimes the angle that a player has to shoot from is acute and only an extremely accurate kick will carry the ball through for a goal.

Other ways to score a behind in Australian football are many. This includes where the ball is kicked towards goal but it hits another player, from either the attacking or defending team, before passing through the goals. This often occurs when players contest a mark (catch) on the goal line and the ball crosses this line. Where an oppostion player kicks, handballs, taps or carries the ball through the goal posts, or between a goal post and behind post, a behind is scored.

If the ball touches the goal post, a behind is always scored. In this case, it doesn’t matter whether the ball was kicked or touched in some other way by any player. Nor does it matter if the ball bounces off the goal post and comes straight back into the playing area, or if the ball ricohets off the goal post, including the padding, and goes through the posts. It also includes where the ball trickles towards goal and comes to rest up against the goal post.

Further, where a defending player has the ball from a free kick and is standing outside the field of play near the scoring area and doesn’t bring the ball back in over the man marking him (i.e. he plays on), a behind is registered. If an opposition player is touching the ball at the same time an attacking player kicks the ball through the goal posts, a behind results (although the player kicking the ball may have a free kick awarded against him for kicking in danger). Any behind that isn’t the result of a kick by an attacking player is called a rushed behind.

If the ball hits a behind post on the full from a kick by a player on the attacking team, the ball is considered to be out of bounds on the full and a free kick is given to the defending team. If the ball hits a behind post in any other way, it is deemed to be out of bounds and will be thrown back in by a boundary umpire.

The term “behind” goes back to the days when the game had no behind posts or scoring of behinds. The first set of rules for Australian football in 1859 stated that when the ball was kicked behind the goal, the defending team brought the ball out 20 yards from goal and kicked it to restart play. Behind posts were used for the first time in 1866.

A goal umpire decides if a goal or behind has been scored, but only after being given the all clear (or touched all clear) by a field umpire. He or she (an increasing number of goal umpires in Australian football are females, including at national level) may consult with field or boundary umpires before awarding a goal or behind. The goal umpires indicates that a goal has been scored by raising both index fingers to about chest high. For a behind, one index finger is raised. The umpire then picks up two flags for a goal, or one for a behind, and waves them above their head. This allows the goal umpire at the other end of the ground to see what has happened, and also the scorers. The flags are kept in a pouch or bracket at the back of each goal post and are returned to this spot after each score has been signalled.

If the ball is kicked through the goal or behind area but touches an umpire or a team official (runner) on its way, then a goal or behind is still scored. Sometimes the ball passes through the goals or for a behind but no score is registered. This happens when an infringement occurs against the atttacking team, resulting in a free kick to the other team.

At the end of a quarter of play or at the end of the match, the ball must have left the foot of the player kicking the ball before the siren starts for a goal or behind to be counted. A goal or behind can be scored after the siren when it is the result of a free kick having been awarded before the siren sounds. A field umpire may still award a further penalty if a player infringes when the player with the ball is kicking for goal after the siren. For example, if the opposition player runs over the mark, a 50 meter penalty may be awarded, bringing the kicker within much easier range of the goals. Or if one of his team mates infringes in any way, the player with the ball may lose his opportunity to kick for goal.

After a goal is scored, the boundary umpires run with the ball back to the center of the ground and pass it to a field umpire who bounces the ball to restart play. Thus, unlike soccer or rugby, neither team is favoured at the restart. After a behind, a player from the opposition kicks the ball back into play and may run as far as a line drawn 10 yards or nine meters in front of the goal before taking his kick.

For several years, the pre-season competition of the Australian Football League (currently the NAB Cup) has awarded nine points for a ball kicked from outside the 50 meter (about 55 yards) line drawn on the ground in an arc this distance from the goal. This is called a super goal. Other goals and behinds are scored in the usual way. When an attacking player has a free kick, the mark or infringement (and thus the man standing the mark) must have taken place at least 50 meters from the goal for a super goal to be scored.

Scores can range from nil (although this is unusual and has never happened in the Australian Football League, the code’s premier competition) up to more than 200 points, which will probably include at least 30 goals. A more typical result might be Melbourne 14.18 (102) defeated Sydney 15.9 (99), where the first figure is the number of goals scored (worth six points each), the second is the number of behinds, and the third figure is the total numbers of points. Note that the winning team isn’t necessarily the one that kicks the most goals, although this team is the winner in most cases. A result from the pre-season cup might be Geelong 2.13.10 (106) defeated Brisbane 1.11.12 (87). Here, the first figure is the number of super goals (worth nine points each). In the long term, the number of goals and behinds are similar.

A draw can and does occur although this is infrequent, perhaps happening in something like one match in 100. Finals matches include provision for extra playing time in order to break a tie.

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