Contributed by: Brett Northey
A battle may be looming in Britain as the long standing league the BARFL (website down at time of writing - a bad omen?) appear set to be challenged by the relatively new organisation on the scene, Aussie Rules UK, in regions outside of London. In an interesting twist last month the founder of ARUK successfully ran for a position on the BARFL Committee before resigning the following day to pursue plans for a new league in 2007 with hints of a significant sponsor. Not surprisingly both sides have different opinions on how this has all unfolded and whether the existing Regional League will be affected. Is there to be a battle or something completely different...
The BARFL has been in charge of the game in Britain since 1989/90 and are the body recognised by the Australian Football League. Over time it has slowly grown to have two London based leagues (the Premiership and the Conference), and more recently the Regional and Scottish Leagues. One criticism sometimes levelled at the volunteers running the organisation has been the domination of expatriate Australians in the London clubs. With the establishment of the Regional League there have also been complaints of large travelling distances and lack of support. The first issue seems to be an unavoidable by-product of the small number of regional clubs being widely spread - something the BARFL has hoped to rectify with the steady formation of new clubs. The second issue is more complex and only those closely involved in footy in Britain would know whether the League should be better able to support the clubs. Some of these issues will probably be explored in a later story.
Another contentious point has been whether junior development has been pursued strongly enough. Enter ARUK, which for the past year or two has taken on several existing school footy programs and commenced others, with the support of Sport England funding. This program has at times been in cooperation with the BARFL but other times relations have been undeniably strained, with ARUK founder Brian Clarke having run-ins with BARFL committee members, such as an online feud on the BARFL Forum that ultimately saw him banned from it. We won't comment whether that decision was justified or not (arguments can be made either way), but simply report it here as it is particularly relevant to demonstrate that relations between the two bodies have been strained for some time. In fact both sides have reported these strains to WFN and others right from the very start, which makes Clarke's run for the BARFL Committee all the more interesting.
Many who follow international footy assumed a clash was inevitable and it appears as though this may come to a head in 2007. Intriguingly Clarke ran for the BARFL Committee and both sides comfirm he was successful, but subsequently resigned after his plans for a new league spread around Britain were not well received. Clarke claimed the plan would take the pressure off the BARFL to run a geographically wide league whereas the BARFL President would appear to feel that it would be a rival to the existing Regional League. Clarke has previously argued that such plans would help grow the game whilst some others have argued it would undermine the BARFL and be in direct competiiton. It is a classic polarising issue that sees people fall into one camp or the other, probably along pre-existing lines.
The key questions which will only be answered as these plans play out are:
- will the ARUK league be split into regional divisions to reduce travel? (it would seem so as Clarke has been keen to demonstrate that travel has been a major issue)
- will the ARUK league have many teams competing? (presumably if there are multiple divisions)
- will it capture a swag of new players or will it drain and therefore weaken the BARFL? (on the surface one would expect a drain but Clarke has stated that it will not so presumably he has detailed plans)
- will the new league be able to capture a spectator base, utilising Rugby or soccer fields for 9-a-side? (this would be a world first and open many new opportunities)
- how much new money will ARUK bring to the game (Clarke has suggested significant amounts from a sponsor, which could be the key catalyst that brings the newcomers success)
- was the league intended to replace the BARFL Regional league or be completely separate to it? (this issue has been put back to Clarke based on his comments below that the new league would be separate to the BARFL Regional League but also that it would take the pressure off the BARFL to run such a league. We've sought to clarify this issue but hadn't received a response at time of publishing. Any forthcoming details would be included in a probable follow-up story in the coming weeks. Still, it is probably a mute point as clearly the two leagues will go ahead separately, unless either folds).
Expect to hear much more about this unfolding footy drama as the 2007 season quickly approaches. In the meantime here is how events occurred according to BARFL President Remon Gazal, as posted on the BARFL's Forum, followed by responses from ARUK's Brian Clarke to a series of WFN questions on the issue.
BARFL President Remon Gazal in response to a query from Regional club the Manchester Mosquitos:
At the BARFL AGM, Brian Clarke of Aussie Rules UK ran for a place on the BARFL committee and was voted in along with Don Eastwood, Martin Smith, Chris O'Neil, Dan Bussau and myself as President. Later in the meeting he outlined plans to set up a 'National League' targeting existing Regional clubs as participants and listing other areas he hoped to set up new '9 a side' teams to play a competition on a Rugby oval.
It was pointed out by many of the clubs present and the Committee that setting up a rival competition was in conflict with Brian's role on the Committee and after much heated debate, Brian agreed to remove his plans for the national competition. The following day he resigned from the BARFL committee and expressed this in a letter to all BARFL London Club Presidents along with his plan to continue his foray into a 'National League' with a commitment that he would not target existing BARFL Regional clubs for this competition.
The BARFL are still committed to the growth of Australian Football in the Regional areas and will be continuing a Regional competition in 2007 and dearly hope that the Mozzies will compete again in 2007 as they did in 2006 and build on their success. We are also hope to increase the number of teams competing in the Regional areas and through this, reduce the amount of travel that regional clubs face from week to week which ultimately will make the league and its teams stronger.
ARUK head, Brian Clarke, responding to WFN questions:
Were you elected to the BARFL committee at the recent AGM, and if so, what was your intended outcome?
I stood for election in an effort to put past differences aside. Unfortunately it was obvious that RG did not want me to be on the Committee, but despite this 4 out of the 6 BARFL clubs were happy to back me. Most people are tired of the politics and just want to concentrate on growing the game.
At the AGM did you present plans for a "National League targeting existing Regional clubs as participants and listing other areas he hoped to set up new '9 a side' teams to play a competition on a Rugby oval."?
Yes. Unlike others in the BARFL I travelled to the regions in 2006 and umpired matches involving all of the regional clubs. The feedback was consistent - the BARFL is too London-centric and does very little for the regional clubs. They were all very unhappy with the lack of umpires and the amount of travel required.
Were you proposing that this include all Regional League clubs, and did you intend for it to be run as a BARFL league?
No. Nothing sinister here. The BARFL is run by volunteers, all of whom are very busy with their own careers. They have a hard enough time running a competition in London, yet alone outside of it.
Is it true that "The following day he resigned from the BARFL committee and expressed this in a letter to all BARFL London Club Presidents along with his plan to continue his foray into a 'National League' with a commitment that he would not target existing BARFL Regional clubs for this competition."?
Yes. After presenting my plans to the Committee I was accused by RG (Remon Gazal) of having a conflict of interest and was asked to resign from the Committee. I was quite taken aback at this, as I was presenting a proposal that would take the burden of having to run a regional league from the BARFL, allowing them to concentrate on the London competition. However, the proposal was immediately targetted as a 'rebel' league.
The following morning I consulted various people and it was clear that, following the hostile reaction to my plans, the relationship would be unworkable. As a result I had no choice but to resign from the Committee.
Would you care to comment further on your plans for 2007 and any areas you expect to have clubs?
A major sponsor has come on board and we will be making an announcement at the end of December. It is an exciting time for footy in the UK.
Would you describe ARUK and the BARFL as in any way linked or have all official ties been severed?
ARUK enjoys an excellent relationship with a majority of the BARFL
clubs, specifically the West London Wildcats, Sussex Swans, Wimbledon
Hawks and North London Lions. In 2006 Little League matches were held
during half-time breaks at WLW, SS and NLL. Further, the NLL hosted an
Auskick centre at their ground at the end of the season, which was a
great success. ARUK will continue to work with these clubs in 2007.
Expect some fireworks very soon. For better or for worse footy is in for some big changes in the UK in 2007. Let's hope Australian Football is the winner.
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