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Dragons in the news - Melbourne's Asian footy club breaking down barriers

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The Elgar Park Dragons, a mainly Vietnamese-Australian footy club who kicked-off in Melbourne this year, got a fairly impressive write-up in The Age newspaper today. The article mentioned some background to the Dragons, including the beginnings in the Multicultural Cup, plans to tour to Japan later this year, the substantial fan base starting to build at matches and the 4-5 winning record the Dragons have achieved so far - not bad for a start-up suburban club.

An extra item of interest (not in the Age's article) for the WFN readership - according to our sources, inaugral Dragons' captain Jiaming Pi (who's actually Chinese, rather than Vietnamese) was previously a key member of the Düsseldorf (now Rheinland) Lions in the AFL Germany.

The original article can be found here.

Dragons break down barriers
Nick Sheridan, June 24, 2007

IN MANY ways, the Elgar Park Dragons are like any other suburban footy team — they have a coach who used to play in the VFL, they train twice a week, and they have guys on their team with nicknames such as Boner, Skids, JP and the Machine.

But there is one thing that sets the Dragons apart from just about every other football club in Australia — their players are virtually all Asian. The Dragons, who play in the Victorian Amateur Football Association club 18s competition, are the brainchild of Tri Thoi, Searn Ear and Pete "Skids" Nguyen, who formed the club at the end of last season.

The blueprint for the club came from Thoi, who had been organising a Vietnamese team to compete in the multicultural cup that is staged in Melbourne each year.

Nguyen, who is vice-captain of the Dragons, said they could see from the response that an ongoing club would have a good future.

"We decided to establish a club so we can send out a message to the Asian community that 'your kids are welcome to come out and have a go'," said Nguyen.

"We got the numbers of all the guys playing for the Vietnamese squad and we asked if they've got any friends that were interested, then we set these friendly matches up and we were getting 40 and 50-plus guys coming down just wanting to have a kick," he said.

"Once we said that there's a club forming and it's Asians playing, it sort of leaked around, and now we've got people from all different areas — from the western suburbs and from the eastern and northern (suburbs), they're from everywhere."

It was that word of mouth that brought the Dragons to the attention of the team's inaugural captain, 27-year-old Jiaming "JP" Pi.

Pi had been playing with the Hawthorn Amateurs, but the prospect of being a part of an all-Asian footy club had instant appeal to him.

"I've always wanted to do something like this to get other Asian kids involved, so they know the culture and so they get assimilated to Australia a bit better," he said.

For Nguyen, too, the Dragons represented a golden opportunity to expose guys from Asian backgrounds to an aspect of Australian culture they may not have been privy to in the past.

"I don't think they were comfortable in that (suburban football club) environment because they'd never been in an environment like that before, so knowing that they were coming to a club where there was an Asian committee looking after them, I think they were a little bit more comfortable," he said.

Pi said the success of the Dragons thus far was a sign of the strong potential for the growth of the game among Asian communities.

"There's a lot of people in the Asian community who like to watch football but don't really understand it and they're intimidated by the culture because they associate it with the singlets, and the thongs and that sort of thing, but they really love the game.

"This is one way that we can slowly introduce the guys into the team, and into the whole environment, and that way the AFL will benefit because they will find a whole lot of people who never understood football before will start to attend games, because all of a sudden they're infatuated by the game because their son plays, or their cousin plays," he said.

The coach is Nguyen's younger brother Michael, who has played in the TAC Cup, the VFL and the QAFL, and now works as a multicultural development officer for the AFL.

Aside from securing some lucrative sponsorships from Thoi's multimedia business and a local Asian club night, the Dragons have arranged an end-of-season trip to Japan where they will compete in a tournament against some local Australian football teams.

But that does not mean the Dragons have not faced the same challenges that are common to any club around Australia.

"Half the battle is to get the guys to training, get them on the park. I mean you call a praccy (practice) match and you'll have 40 blokes there, whereas at training you'll only have maybe 15," coach Nguyen said, adding that the geographical spread of the players compounds this problem.

"We're training out in Box Hill North (their VAFA club affiliate) and a lot of these guys are based out in Springvale and out in the western suburbs, so it's pretty tough for them to come out."

After nine games, the Dragons have won four and lost five and their enthusiasm about the team is obvious.

Not only has the team's full complement of eight players allowed on the bench significantly consistently outweighed the opposition's interchange options, they are also always accompanied by a medically qualified volunteer trainer, a runner, and friends running water, not to mention the dozens of spectators at many matches that have dwarfed the opposition crowds.

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