Learning the game abroad: non-Americans and non-Australians in the USAFL

Tuesday, June 05 2007 @ 02:01 pm ACST

Contributed by: Ash Nugent

Australian football’s involvement in the global scene (at least seriously), has only occurred in the past two decades. We are gradually seeing more exhibition matches played on foreign soil and higher participation levels outside of Australia – the figure of around two thousand players for the United Sates is not huge, but when you consider this was only a few dozen ten years ago, it is impressive growth. Other nations like South Africa have similar levels to the US, but they are expected to skyrocket into the tens of thousands in a few years time.

We're familiar with expat-Aussies trying to convert the locals, but with all these new markets comes an interesting possibility – players learning our great game outside of Australia and outside of their own homeland. WFN sought out all the clubs in the USAFL (and managed to get responses from most of them) about whether on not they had any non-Australians and non-Americans on their list, who they were, and how they had stumbled across our great game.

Responses ranged from the recruits thinking they were turning up to for training with an American football club, to link-ups with Gaelic clubs to word-of-mouth. Three players – Rob Brunton (Baltimore Washington Eagles), Frederik Schulin (Beachside Sharks) and Junji Shibata (Seattle Grizzlies) have actually played football for clubs in two countries, both outside of Australia.

Of course this article only looks at the current players on USAFL club lists. Atlanta has no ‘foreigners’ on their 2007 roster, but has had four since its establishment, two of whom feature strongly in the club’s history. Barry Collins (Irish) and Alp Oran (Canadian) played 93 games between them. Collins was runner-up in the club’s Best and Fairest in 2005 and won the award in 2006. That was no small achievement, making him the first non-Australian to win the award.

What should also prove interesting will be selection time for the 2008 International Cup, and whether players competing for clubs outside their homeland will be considered by squad selectors. This may prove difficult as there are normally several lead up events to a squad being named that a player in the US may not be able to attend, even if they are willing to represent their country in Melbourne.

Below is the list of all the USAFL clubs and players on their lists which fit the above description.

Club Player Details Player Details
Arizona Hawks No foreigners
Atlanta Kookaburras No foreigners
Austin Crows Barry O’REILLY
Prev: None
Rep: None
About: Has been playing footy for one year, the similarity to Gaelic football was most appealing.
Baltimore Washington Eagles Rob BRUNTON
Prev: Lawrence Park Rebels (Canada)
Rep: Canada Northwind (2002 IC)
About: Introduced to footy in 1995/96 and was hooked.
Bakersfield Barbarians Could not contact
Baton Rouge Tigers No foreigners
Beachside Sharks Frederik SCHULIN
Prev: Århus Bombers (Denmark)
Rep: Denmark Vikings (2002 IC)
About: Introduced to footy by an Aussie friend in Denmark in 1999. Liked the physicality of the sport and its difference to mainstream sports. A former president of the Århus Bombers, he moved to LA because of work and wanted to continue playing Aussie Rules so he contacted the LA-based teams. It proved a great way to make new friends in a new city.
Boston Demons Could not contact
Chicago United Deri MORGAN
Prev: Chicago Sharks, Chicago Swans
Rep: None
About: Was introduced to footy by an Australian from work and has now been playing the game for four years.
Cincinnati Dockers Stephen SHAW
Prev: Unknown
Rep: Unknown
About: Is in his fifth season, holding down a position on the wing.
Dallas Magpies Could not contact
Denver Bulldogs No foreigners
Florida Redbacks Mustapha TURAY
Sierra Leonean
Prev: None
Rep: None
About: Introduced to footy through a friend about two years ago.
Fort Lauderdale Fighting Squids One Russian and one Irishman but no details
Golden Gate Roos Mark FALLON
Prev: None
Rep: None
About: Introduced to footy by a work colleague who was a member of the Golden Gate Roos. He has now been playing for about four years.
Prev: None
Rep: None
About: See left.
Golden Gate Roos Brian REILLY
Prev: None
Rep: None
About: : A Gaelic footballer introduced to Aussie Rules.
Houston Lonestars Jared MAIDENBERG
Prev: Christ Church Grammar School (Perth, WA, Australia)
Rep: None
About: Studied years 10-12 in Australia back in 1987-89. Last year he finally picked up a footy again for the Lonestars.
Kansas City Power No foreigners
Las Vegas Gamblers No foreigners
Los Angeles Swans Could not contact
Louisville Kings No foreigners
Milwaukee Bombers Paul CONWAY
Prev: None
Rep: None
About: The Bombers train opposite his house and he became interested when he saw them having a kick. He has now been with the club for three years.
Minnesota Freeze One player, no details
Mojave Greens Could not contact
Nashville Kangaroos Could not contact
New York Magpies Pavel GNITETSKIY
Prev: None
Rep: US Revolution Reserves (2007)
About: They thought the club was an American football club, and were confused when they turned up for training in April 2006 – but decided to stick with it.
Prev: None
Rep: None
About: See left.
North Carolina Tigers No foreigners
Orange County Bombers No foreigners
Philadelphia Hawks Could not contact
Portland Power No foreigners
Riverside Raiders Could not contact
Rocky Mountain Saints Could not contact
San Diego Lions Albert YAKUBOVICH
Prev: None
Rep: None
About: Heard about the club through a friend and decided to come along to training. He is still with the Lions, and was part of their 2006 National Championship title. He has now been playing the game for two years.
Prev: None
Rep: None
About: After moving from Ireland, was looking for a sport to keep him fit between Rugby seasons. He walked into an Aussie Pub in Pacific Beach, CA and asked if there was a local Aussie Rules team – they happened to be having a meeting at the time. A couple of weeks later he played his first game with them, and has since given up rugby to concentrate on footy.
Seattle Grizzlies Junji SHIBATA
Prev: Kyoto Kockatwos (Japan)
Rep: None
About: Is in the US as part of the USAFL and Nippon AFL’s (Japan) player exchange program.
St. Louis Blues Could not contact

* Note:
No foreigners denotes both no Australians and no Americans on the club list at time of survey. 'Prev' is an abbreviation of 'Previous clubs' whilst 'Rep' is an abbreviation for 'Representation achieved' (National squad, Regional squad, League All-star squad etc.)

On another note, but still relevant to the concept of players playing football in different countries, one of the USAFL's own - Colin Murphy of the Seattle Grizzlies is currently in Victoria, Australia to improve his footy skills. He is playing with the Sorrento Sharks in the Mornington Peninsula Nepean League.

It is Murphy's second trip down under, his first trip was as an exchange student in Numurkah (Northern Victoria), through Rotary International. Somewhat surprisingly, he only began playing football when he returned to the US, with the Grizzlies. His second trip is to catch up with acquaintances from the last time, whilst improving his footy skills - he played two matches with the Revolution against Canada in Toronto, but wasn't happy with his performance, and saw playing in Australia as his greatest chance of improvement.

The US Footy website recently ran their own story on Murphy.

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