AFL back in North America

Wednesday, January 18 2006 @ 11:55 am ACDT

Contributed by: Brett Northey

The Swans versus Kangaroos AFL match at Los Angeles last weekend was a long overdue return to the US for Australia's top sporting organisation. After years of lobbying and aborted attempts, the event finally happened. With so much to organise and all involved relatively new to such a task (given the AFL's long absence from North America), it was inevitable that not all would go smoothly. But critically the game was held, the AFL clubs appear to be pleased with the outcome and no major injuries were sustained - always handy when hoping to make it an annual event. The following summary is drawn from several media reports.

In "AFL Returns to USA", by Michele Garval reporting for AFANA, the author wrote:

The first exhibition game of Australian football I saw was played in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (between Hawthorn and Collingwood) in the fall of 1988 on a Canadian regulation size football field which has a playable area of approximately 55 by 140 yards (51m x 129m). It was reported to be the only field available that did not have Astroturf (a brand of artificial grass) as a surface.

Watching that game reduced to 15 players and 25 yard penalties looked like a scene out of Gulliver’s Travels. Giants from another planet completing filling the field and the match bared little resemblance to an actual game of footy.

Since the advent of footy in the US, we have become more savvy and creative in using open fields and chalking out our own ovals to more conform in size and shape to Australian footy fields. It’s now possible to have an exhibition game in North America that is very exciting to fans. With the high costs of travel to Australia to see footy in person, this was a rare opportunity to see the real thing.

Today’s match at UCLA was played on an oval drawn on the campus intramural (athletic fields just for students) and was small and rounder than a typical oval but much closer to a regulation footy field. The rain the previous day made the field wet and slippery in spots though as the game went on the sun and wind improved conditions. Earlier, prior the main match, the USAFL staged a match between the US Revolution national squad and a team of Aussie ex-pats, most of whom play on a club somewhere in the US.

The featured match was between the reigning premiers, the Sydney Swans, and the Kangaroos from North Melbourne. Even with a slightly reduced playing field both teams fielded 18 a side. The first three quarters were dominated by the Kangaroos and only in the fourth quarter did the footy live up to expectations with the Swans finally getting a few goals to make the match a bit more respectable. AFANA has a full match report at our web site.

Neither team played their most senior players and stars and the match was a chance for the young players and new recruits of both sides to get some match experience and for the coaching staffs to evaluate how they will perform against AFL competition.

Other events of the day included booths around the grounds with information on Australian travel from various Tourism boards of the Australian states and territories. Wolfgang Puck, the famous chef, catered Aussie tucker, beer, and wine. Steve Irwin and the Queensland Tourism board had a petting zoo for a limited time (it closed at half-time!) with a kangaroo (in a cage) and some wallabies. The Qantas Girls Choir was singing continuously and the Marryatville High School Big Band from Adelaide, South Australia was also present.

The reporter noted that there were several organisational issues, with the significantly reduced number of tickets available (due to safety considerations by UCLA fire wardens) and major catering problems.

Elsewhere on AFANA it was reported that:

Following warm-ups by both squads, the National Anthems of the USA and Australia were sung by the Qantas Girls Choir. Then the coin was tossed by the Hon. Peter Costello and the Swans won the toss, selecting the north end of the field to defend.

Finally, the match got underway. Contrary to claims of the organizers, this was not the first sanctioned AFL match in the United States, the most recent previous one having been in 1990. Both teams planned to get plenty of playing time for their young players in front of the smaller than hoped for crowd.

Throughout the game the Swans struggled to convert any opportunities and the game was dominated by the sharper passing and better marking of the Kangaroos. The Roos scored the first goal and were never headed however throughout the first quarter it was fairly even and though the boys from North Melbourne lead at the first break by eight points, the Swans fans had hope.

A big 2nd quarter put the Kangaroos in control as they piled on five goals in rapid succession and soon opened up a 19 point lead. By the main break, the more efficient offense of the Kangaroos had put them up by a commanding margin of 28 points. The Swans were employing their standard tactic of flooding however their young players were unable to keep control of the footy making it possible for the Roos to scrape out goal after goal.

As the 3rd turn began, the game quickly got completely away from the Swans as the blue and white crew added three more goals and kept the footy in their end almost the entire quarter. With a 48 point margin beginning the last turn the result was no longer in doubt and both coaches substituted freely. Late in the 4th quarter the Swans finally got some goal production however by that time it was too little too late. Few of the well known players on either squad took part in the match.

The Age's Real Footy reported in New year reborn in the USA that:

The 2006 AFL season is officially underway. As always, with the pre-pre-season, it features players you've never heard of in places you're unlikely to get to - in this case, the University of California Los Angeles intramural field for the match between the Kangaroos and Sydney.

Although much of the crowd seemed to be Australian expatriates, there was a distinctly LA feel to the setting, if not the game. The intramural field was vast and lushly grassed, with a slight but noticeable slope to one end.

Some of the sights were possible only in Los Angeles, or America, anyway: American son throwing the ball in the manner of a National Football League quarterback to his father; Australian dad catching and kicking the weathered yellow Burley, a textbook-perfect drop punt.

The lower end of the ground was renamed the Steve Irwin End to complete the Australianisation of this part of LA westside. The Crocodile Hunter's show, featuring a king cobra, an anaconda and a baboon, took place before the game.

Converts weren't hard to find. A two year-old boy walked along the makeshift fence holding hands with his mother. "Arzi, Arzi, Arzi," the boy chanted.

A brief pause, and then, the unfortunate second line remembered: "Oi, oi, oi."

Quarter by Quarter and Final scores:

Sydney Swans 1.1 2.0 0.1 3.0 Final 6.2 (38)
Kangaroos 2.3 5.2 3.3 3.0 Final 13.8 (86)

GOALS - Sydney: Currie 2, Bevan, J Bolton, Ablett, Dempster
Kangaroos: McIntosh, Jones 2, Hale, McMahon, Brown, Thurley, Harding, LeCras, Perkins, Makepeace, McConnell

Attendance: unofficially estimated at 3200
(sold out due to capacity issues - safe to say interest was a lot higher)


World Footy News
http://www.worldfootynews.com/article.php/20060118062554982