Contributed by: Aaron Richard
In March 2004, the inaugral Australian Football Multicultural Cup was held, celebrating the achievments and contributions of Melbourne's ethnic communities to Aussie Rules. This year sees the cup return, with three Mediterranean sides in Greece, Italy and Turkey taking the field.
World Footy News has previously interviewed players and officials from the sides representing Croatia, Vietnam, Israel and Lebanon. These four sides are all back this year, facing some new competition in sides from the Greek, Turkish and Italian communities and a repeat appearance of an Aboriginal side based around the Brunswick Power Football Club.
The competition will be much stiffer this time round and the Israelis will need to be on their toes if they want to retain their champion status. At least one ex-AFL player will be taking the field in former Western Bulldog Sedat Sir and other ex-AFL players have taken on coaching and training roles.
The Turks especially are looking very good on paper, with Sir and a number of ex-VFA players gearing up. "We had a huge response from people wanting to represent Turkey, we had to cut a group of 52 wanting to play down to 32" tells Turkey team manager Oscar Yildiz. "We've received great support from a lot of areas, we've been in contact with the Turkish Consulate-General and media back in Turkey, we've had articles in 7 or 8 Turkish newspapers, been on SBS radio, local radio, channel 31... We're getting a big swell on the bandwagon as people are starting to hear about it now. We've had a few thousand posters printed up and you can see them all the way from Dandenong to Roxburgh Park."
They've also got an impressive off-field support network, inlcuding Anthony Alessio and Steve McPherson on the coaching staff. St Kilda, Collingwood and Essendon have all donated either equipment or memorabilia. They train twice a week in Coburg and are fast forging a close-knit unit.
In contrast to the Turkish camp, the Italians have struggled to find large-scale community support. As team manager Anthony Paola reports; "At this moment the Italian team has no sponsor and the only companies who showed interest in sponsoring the team have had no Italian connection to them". Their recruiting has also been slower to take off. "We only had a handful of players by mid-January. Then in late January and early February we had a huge wave of itnerest and I've had to turn away some players". The do however have a high-profile coach in Steven Alessio, who unfortunately won't attend the cup due to commitments with the Richmond FC, but will hopefully be able to supply a pep talk before they take the field.
Like the Italians, Greek recruiting has been relatively slow. Manager Peter Zouzounis first heard about the cup through a few newspaper articles last year and was approached to organise the Greek side. "We've got about 30 guys who've trained with us, and of those about 25 have put their hands up as keen to play. It's actually been a bit of a boost Greece being European soccer champions last year as the boys are eager to add to the glory". They're working on gaining support from the Greek community, but as yet it's been a slow response, with the only real media coverage to date having been an article in the English-language supplement of Greek community newspaper Neos Kosmos. Better than nothing, but ideally they're hoping for more. "We really need to get the message out to the Greek community that this is on!"
With the Croatian, Lebanese and Vietnamese sides all with varying plans of establishing footy in the original homelands and the Israel camp having a few players who've actually kicked a footy in the Middle East, one might ask if the three newcomers also have plans to export the game back to Europe. Of the chances in Turkey, Yildiz has this to say; "Our ultimate goal would be to have something happening in Turkey, that'd be grat for the guys here to, to know that they could help out a team playing back over there. But at the moment we don't really have anyone on the ground to organise that sort of thing. I've been in touch with a few teachers at schools and universities, but there's nothing definite at this stage".
Greece too, is currently without anyone on the ground to start anything. Zouzounis says the best hope would be for a Greek-Australian returning to Greece to take the first steps. "Most of my relatives back in Greece wouldn't even know what a footy looked like. But there are a lot of guys who've moved back there, and there's always the possibility if one of the players has a cousin or something who's moved back to Greece from Australiaand might be interested".
In the Italian corner, there's the interesting development that an Italian with no other connection to Australia has already started trying to start a competition in Naples. There hasn't been any formal contact between the Italian Multicultural Cup side and the crew in Italy, but Paola is hoping to be able to raise funds through the cup to help his cause. "I am hoping that this team will be able to help the Italian team who I believe are coming to Australia to participate in an event later this year. I am hoping that we can lend our jumpers to the players - at the moment they have no uniform!"
As for the future of the squads after the cup, the Italian and Greek sides will probably be remain a once-a-year project for the time being with a number of their players being involved at suburban clubs on and off the field, but a lot of the Turkish players are looking at the possibility of a more formal continuation of their organisation. "It's a unique atmosphere at a club were you all share a common cultural bond. Turkish and Australian culture have a lot in common, but there are differences as well and this is the only place where we'd all share this at a footy club" says Yildiz. "We're investigating forming a club, possibly to compete in the Essendon District Football League - we've got some very good players here. It wouldn't be a solely Turkish club, but probably based around the squad we've got together now. Other than that, with regards to setup and professionalism, it'd be a totally normal suburban footy club".
The Multicultural Cup will be held at Optus Oval, Carlton, on Sunday the 13th of March, hopefully with a good crowd on hand and Ron Barassi presenting the championship cup. For more information please see the Australian Football Multicultural Cup website.
World Footy News