Florida Footy on the Rise
Friday, June 24 2005 @ 11:55 pm ACST
Contributed by: Troy Thompson
Florida is often associated with being the first place Hurricanes hit the US coast. Of course hurricanes don’t just appear, they develop quietly hundreds of miles offshore before hitting with devastating force. The Florida Redbacks similarly have been developing quietly for some time now and strengthening to hit the USAFL with some force of their own.
With year round warm weather, great beaches and golf courses Florida is popular with many Americans on the East Coast as a southern playground and a place to escape the Northern winters. It has also been a popular home for many of Australia’s professional golfers and international tennis players. It is also continually growing and provides many opportunities for Aussies in plenty of other fields as well.
The latest of these opportunities is to play Aussie Rules Football. Since the year 2000 a number of Aussies spread around the cities of Florida have been trying to put the dream of a Florida Football League together. In that year they had a team travel to play Atlanta. Due to a lack of numbers they combined with players from South Carolina and Louisville and went down heavily to the home side. In the following years efforts were made to go to the next level in forming teams but things just couldn’t quite get off the ground.
In 2003 Atlanta and Florida played their first Australia day clash with Atlanta narrowly taking the trophy, but the Florida team showing that they had now got their act together and would only go forward from here. A series of metro games began between the Redbacks squad splitting into Sarasota and Tampa teams. The next step was to move to become the fourth team in the SEAFL for 2004. Although included in the fixturing their games were not to count as official season points. They ended with a win at home and loss away against Atlanta, a win against North Carolina and the struggling Tri Cities Saints forfeited to them. The club made their first appearance at the Nationals in 2004 combining with the Golden Gate side winning two of their three Division III games.
2005 has seen the club’s first full schedule season in the newly formed EAFL. Concessions given to the club acknowledging their fledgling status means that although each team play each other once, Florida is only required to play one away game, and that at the relatively nearby North Carolina. So far they have won their matches at home against Baltimore Washington by 91 points and defeating the highly fancied Boston team by 17 points. A promising sign in the win over Boston was the debut of 15-year-old Adham Makki garnering numerous possessions and kicking a goal on debut for the Redbacks. This has really opened things up for the team who plays while the sun shines but will not find the other four teams underestimating them after that result. Should they be able to continue this form in their upcoming home games the real test will come when they do make their one road trip against the seasoned North Carolina team. Their final scheduled EAFL match for the season will be at home against the powerful (and currently undefeated after three matches) New York Magpies who are also a highly ranked and experienced USAFL team.
While the EAFL has provided the Redbacks with a solid schedule, the local metro league competition between Sarasota and Tampa has provided a good base of experience, fitness and familiarity going into the 2005 season. Favourable winter conditions in Florida allowed these games to run from November through to the end of January this year.
With a growing number of players travelling from around Florida to these games it has become clear that other cities have enough base numbers to begin forming their own teams. Ft Lauderdale was the first to announce this year that they were forming a club. With their base of players already with experience with the Redbacks or in the metro games they have formed a club with the immediate goal of playing 10 metro games this year, and continuing to supply as many players as possible to the Redbacks team. This past Saturday they played their own first metro game between a Ft Lauderdale side and a Miami side, effectively splitting their own club for this match. As for their longer-term future, Ft Lauderdale president Cameron Pinnock said they hope to become a powerhouse in Florida football “We see ourselves as being like the 90's Detroit Pistons "The Bad Boys" of Football. When you come and play you know that you will have a good, fair, but hard game”. The club is based around a core group of about ten Aussies but have already a similar number of American recruits and it has to be said the Fighting Squids, as they are known, have made amazing progress in three months.
As to other potential teams to form in Florida, there are a few definite candidates. Orlando (famously home of Disneyworld among many other attractions) would seem to be not far behind Ft Lauderdale, with a solid base of players. However it seems their close proximity to Tampa (about an hours drive) has meant that the push to start their own team is not a priority at this stage. In years to come they believe they will form their own team and have good facilities available when this happens. Jacksonville was one town that looked promising a few years back but their Redbacks representation has dropped to just a single player, Perry Vaught, while he would love to see a team in his town it is not likely to happen in the near future. Gainesville is home to the University of Florida and also has a strong base from which their own team could be launched. With a number of Aussies at the University, local James Scott believes the area is prime for developing Aussie Rules due to the large student population keen to try new sports and appropriate facilities being available. Outside of these centres there are also current players from Miami, Pensacola and Naples that are the base for local get together, kick in the park sessions – and remember this is how most of the teams in the USAFL including four times national champs the Denver Bulldogs began.
So while some may be hearing of the Florida Redbacks for the first time this season, as if from nowhere, there is actually many years of work gone into bringing all of this together. The potential for footy in Florida is huge, and should they maintain their current focus of the Redbacks being the travelling state team fed by the individual cities they may just develop into the strongest region in the country. Just how strong might this hurricane be, only time will tell?