Scotland's brave new footy world
Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 01:20 am ACST
Contributed by: Peter Parry
After a successful first year in its 2004 season, the Scottish Australian Rules Football League (SARFL) is building up for the finale to its second season with a Grand Final set to be played in Edinburgh on 22 October. The Scots also have big plans for the future, hoping to put a 3-year plan in place to enter the International Cup in 2008.
2004 was a watershed for the game in Scotland, with the introduction of an organised league structure for the first time. Founders Richard Prentice and Andy Butler, who had both played some informal, ad hoc football in Scotland after playing in the same North London team, took control in Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively, and a 3-team format was played last year.
This season has seen much of the good work continued, and the organisation of the league has taken a step forward. With its own website up and running from the start of 2005, the SARFL has been able to spread awareness of the league to a greater a degree than had been the case previously.
“Last year we really relied on word of mouth to let people know we were here, handing out fliers and just talking to people”, commented Eddie McAvinchey, part of the SARFL Committee and a player with the Glasgow Sharks. “However the website has been invaluable. Myself and Andy Butler will take any opportunity now to put postings on websites which might bring us to the attention of potential players. It seems to be working. Now we’re starting to address finances – you won’t get very far without that.”
Andy Butler, an Australian expat who has settled in Scotland now, is fully aware of the problems a league like the SARFL faces. “Edinburgh and Glasgow don’t have the same size and type of Australian community as London. Any Australians who come to Scotland and play some football in the league are more often than not going to be transient and might only be here for a year, or even just a few months”. But he is also hopeful about what the SARFL is doing to counteract that. “While it’s great to have experienced players coming in and making the games really competitive, the sustainability of the game in Scotland relies on us being able to attract local players to the game as well – your Scots, Irish, English and such – and ensuring they stay as a regular part of the set-up. Given time they’ll be able to compete just as well as the Aussies we have playing. Some of them can even do that now.”
Butler’s comments in this regard are supported by looking at the likes of Clifford Richardson, a player for the Edinburgh Uni Bodysnatchers. Clifford played for his native Ireland in the recent International Cup and was picked as one of the tournament’s Allstars. Edinburgh’s Scott Robins is clear about what the driver is in this regard: “Clifford is a guy who is a natural sportsman, but like anyone he needed to pick the game up from scratch. Some of the Australians we get playing up here are great, and they really give the local fellas something to aim for. Clifford is a good example of the local guys upping their game when faced with some decent competition.”
Robins’ point about the quality of the talent SARFL has attracted is borne out by the result in April’s Haggis Cup, a 3-way competition played in Edinburgh between the Sussex Swans, Edinburgh Old Town Bloods and the Glasgow Sharks. In what was regarded as a bit of an upset, a talented Edinburgh side beat the Swans in a tense final, doing much to enhance the credibility of the game in Scotland.
But the SARFL want more. Eddie McAvinchey explained that they are hoping to put a 3-year scheme in place which allows them to seriously consider entering a team in the 2008 International Cup. “If we’re going to do this it means taking some serious decisions, putting in twice the effort we do now and also speaking to the right people, in both the public and private sectors. I’d like to think that in the next year or two our UK players will have enough experience to field a good Scottish side in the Brit Cup and challenge the top London teams. After that, if we have support on the finance side of things 2008 might definitely be worth serious consideration”. In this regard SARFL will also be entering a largely UK-based team in the EU Cup in London this October.
As mentioned, the SARFL Grand Final is being held on 22 October in Edinburgh and the report will follow on WFN.