Contributed by: Brett Northey
More details are emerging of Aussie Rules UK's plans for a national league in 2007, with 5 divisions planned across Britain, featuring 21 teams of 9 per side, possibly including quite a few existing British Australian Rules Football League clubs.
The details are revealed on the ARUK website and include contact information for each of the clubs. WFN has not confirmed that these are final numbers for the new league, but plans appear to be well advanced.
Strangely the new league includes teams with the same names as many of the BARFL's Regional League clubs (their website is down at time of writing due to short-term problems with their provider). Statements from both the BARFL's President and ARUK's General Manager Brian Clarke had appeared to say that he would not target Regional League clubs, yet already they seem to be included in the proposed 2007 ARUK competition.
Regardless, it appears the new system will go ahead next year, and its success or failure will be crucial to whether the game goes forward more rapidly in Britain, or goes backwards with damage to the game outside of London. By reducing the players on the field to 9 per side, as is seen regularly in the United States with "metro footy" leagues, the ARUK competition will be able to field more teams in an area, increasing the chance of sides having the numbers to take to the park and decreasing the travel distance. The BARFL had used a 14-a-side system in the Regional League, often with teams fielding less, so ARUK will still need to find a lot more players besides those coming from the BARFL.
The next big challenge will be coordinating the competitions and providing umpires. One of the challenges the BARFL found was getting clubs to perform administrative tasks, and a major complaint back to them was lack of umpires. Clarke is a regular umpire in the UK, but will presumably have plans to source many more for 2007.
Another aspect in the competition's favour is that 9-a-side will allow smaller fields to be used, and ARUK has suggested that Rugby pitches will be used and affiliations with Rugby clubs sought.
There will be much to do but Clarke has the benefit of working on Aussie Rules fulltime and has also appointed Australian Bryce Stone to handle Wales. Stone has ancestral connections to Wales and has been preparing the way for footy there for some time.
The 5 divisions and competing teams planned are:
Durham, Newcastle Magpies, Middlesbrough Hawks, Hartlepool Dockers
Manchester Mosquitoes, Liverpool, Leeds Lions, Hull, Birmingham
Brighton Swans, Bournemouth, Thanet Bombers, Portsmouth Pirates, Southampton, Swindon Devils
Cardiff Panthers, Cardiff Double Blues, Swansea Black Dogs, Newport Sea Lions
It's possible that the top teams in each division will play off in a finals series for a championship title. The lack of a Scottish division suggests the SARFL have remained loyal to the BARFL, though they may have lost Middlesbrough from their league. How the BARFL react and whether they will attempt any sort of Regional League next year remains to be seen. Whether any players who leave the BARFL to play in the ARUK competition will be eligible to represent Britain at the 2008 International Cup also is as yet unclear.
Politics aside, the new competition appears to have a head start thanks to the apparent recruitment of existing BARFL clubs and at least two keen workers in Clarke and Stone. Clarke has also suggested a major announcement of a sponsor will follow shortly. Certainly ARUK appear to have achieved a successful coup. Nevertheless this remains a very large undertaking and the challenge of 2007 awaits.
World Footy News