Why is AFL played on an oval?


Footy fever is very much alive at any time of the AFL season, as fans flock to support their team on the playing field.

But one question that has always sat there unanswered: why is AFL played on an oval?

It’s a question that dates back to the creation of the sport itself, which you’ll be interested to hear, wasn’t initially played on an oval.

The creation of AFL

The first game of what is now known as AFL – or Aussie Rules – was played on a school field in 1858.

According to the Australian Football League, that match between Melbourne Grammar School and Scotch College was the first recorded game. It was played on a large, rectangular sporting field, often with trees dotted across it!

Talk about obstacles. In some cases, trees were used as the goals.

And one more notable difference: the ball was round.

In 1869, two matches were played on Melbourne Cricket Ground: one between Melbourne and the Victorian Police Force. The other is between Melbourne and the 14th Regiment. However, cricket clubs refused to let this occur regularly on their grounds, in fear it would ruin the turf.

Despite these games, they were once again played in the open parklands.

In 1876 in Carlton, the football club fenced off a new ground, with an admission fee to cover the costs. Cricket clubs soon realised there was money to be made.

Football officially moved onto the cricket grounds, and the game went from being played on a rectangular field to being played on an oval on.

The rest, they say… is history.

Here are 8 more commonly asked questions about the shape of an AFL oval and the ball.

1) Why are AFL ovals different sizes?

Now that we have a good understanding of how AFL evolved from a rectangle playing field to the oval fields we are used to today, it’s worth looking at why these ovals are different sizes.

It’s all down to history!

Each oval has been created to fit the stadium and with it came a range of different sizes.

AFL was actually invented as a way to keep the cricketers fit during the Winter months. The AFL grounds were eventually built on top of the cricket grounds in the already existing cricket stadiums. As a result, there was no standard size for them. This has led to what makes the sport so special in Australia today.

Each stadium is known for its unique qualities which adds to the game and how it’s played. There is no uniformity.

The MCG is known as the largest stadium, however, it’s not actually the largest ground in AFL. There are many others that are longer and wider, just with a smaller capacity to them.

2) Is the MCG round or oval?

The Melbourne Cricket Ground “MCG” is the most well-known ground in Australia. It is big enough to fit 100,000 fans to watch a game of AFL. It is the principal oval for the AFL and where the Grand Final is held each year.

In fact, it’s the 10th largest stadium in the world. And it’s an oval shape.

In the Summer months, the MCG is used as a Cricket ground, and of course in the Winter months the AFL takes over. They simply (or not so simply!) remove the cricket pitches when the football season begins – or for any other events that take place there.

The MCG is 160 metres long and 141 metres wide (give or take):

  • Centre square: each line is 45 metres long
  • Goal square: width is 6.4 metres
  • Goal square: length is 9 metres.
  • Goal posts are 15 metres high and the point posts are 10 metres high.

3) How is an AFL oval?

It’s no secret that AFL has evolved over time. The first balls they played with, were in fact round. AFL took its roots from soccer, which is why the ball was shaped this way.

In 1880, T.W. Sherrin (a name you’ll recognise on many AFL balls today) invented the official AFL ball. He was given a misshapen rugby ball to fix and created a new shape with rounder points.

It meant the ball could bounce more easily and even easier to kick.

4) What are the dimensions of an AFL ball?

Today, an AFL football is a symmetrical oval shape.

The standard size is 720-730 millimetres in circumference and 545-555 millimetres transverse circumference. It is inflated to a pressure of 62-76Kpa.

When it comes to professional matches, the home team is expected to supply a minimum of two footballs to the field umpires before the start of the match.

These umpires then present them to the captain of the away team, who chooses which football to be used.

5) What are the dimensions of an AFL oval?

Even at the highest level of the game, there are no set dimensions for an AFL field.

They are typically between 135 and 185 metres long from goal to goal and 110 to 155 metres wide. They all require a minimum of at least 5 metres of space between the boundary line and fence for safety reasons.

So, just how much do they differ?

Here are some of the main AFL grounds. Let’s use the MCG as our base, which is 160 metres long and 141 metres wide. Here’s how it compares to some of the other grounds out there:

  • AAMI: extra 5 metres long and less 8 metres wide
  • SCG: less 8.5 metres long and less 5 metres wide
  • Westpac: less 8 metres long and less 21 metres wide
  • Subiaco: extra 15 metres long and less 19 metres wide

As you can see, there are some big differences here!

Naturally, there have been calls for uniformity of the grounds. Some people complain that the extra metres can give one team an unfair advantage. But, each field is unique, which is what adds to how special the game is.

By changing the grounds, we would no doubt lose that originality and character of each stadium. And where’s the fun in that!

6) Which AFL grounds are the biggest?

There are a number of AFL grounds across Australia, all varying in sizes and capacity. Here are some of the biggest when it comes to capacity:

  • Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne: capacity 100,000
  • Stadium Australia, Sydney: capacity 83,500
  • Optus Stadium, Perth: capacity 60,000
  • Marvel Stadium, Melbourne: capacity 56, 347
  • Adelaide Oval, Adelaide: capacity 53,583
  • Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane: capacity 52,500
  • Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre, Brisbane, capacity 49,000
  • Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney: capacity 48,000
  • The Gabba, Brisbane: capacity 42,000
  • McDonald Jones Stadium: capacity 33,000
  • AAMI Park, Melbourne: capacity 30,050
  • Bankwest Stadium, Sydney: capacity 30,000
  • Henson Park, Sydney: capacity 30,000

7) What is the biggest oval in Australia?

As the venue with the largest capacity, many people mistakenly believe that the Melbourne Cricket Ground is the largest AFL oval in Australia. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It actually falls a lot lower on the list than you might expect.

The University of Tasmania Stadium (UTAS Stadium), formerly known as York Park, is a very well-known AFL and Cricket ground in Tasmania. It has a venue capacity of 20,000, and it is the biggest ground in Australia. It measures in at 175 metres long and 145 metres wide.

Here is a rundown of the length and width of some of the largest ovals in Australia, according to Fox Sports:

UTAS Stadium175m145m
TIO Stadium175m135m
GMHBA Stadium170m116m
TIO Traeger Park168m132m
Adelaide Oval167m123m
Cazaly’s Stadium165m135m
Optus Stadium165m130m
Spotless Stadium164m128m
UNSW Canberra Oval162.5m138m
Jiangwan Stadium160m136m
Etihad Stadium160m129m
Mars Stadium160m129m
Blundstone Arena160m124m
Metricon Stadium158m134m

It is worth noting that these figures are an approximate – and even vary to some of the figures we mentioned earlier in the article.

Depending on where you look on the internet, you’ll find they vary slightly from oval to oval. Even the figures on the AFL website aren’t 100% correct, with some of the grounds themselves suggesting the figures are out.

However, you can still gain a good understanding of the size differences using them as a reference.

8) Is the Gabba bigger than the MCG?

The Brisbane Cricket Ground is commonly referred to as the Gabba. It’s a very well-known sports field in Brisbane, and the nickname came from the suburb of Woolloongabba where the field is located.

While it’s clear that the capacity of the MCG vs The Gabba has a significant difference (100,000 vs 42,000), the size of the oval also differs greatly.

The Gabba is actually one of the smallest grounds in Australia and is just 137 metres wide and 156 metres long. It’s only slightly skinnier than the MCG.

The history of AFL is a long and interesting one, with the game evolving greatly in those initial years. It’s safe to say it’s well and truly here to stay and loved by Australians from state to state.

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