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Saturday, September 26 2020 @ 06:36 pm ACST

Obituary throws up questions about British footy history


The stories and speculation as to where, when and by whom Australian rules has been played in Britain have been discussed at great length. A thriving league is said by many to have existed in the Clyde area of Scotland around World War I, although others claim the league is an urban legend. Similarly, there is much speculation as to whether footy could have gained - or maybe even did gain - a foothold around the turn of the 20th century with a touring British Lions rugby tour playing some matches under Australian rules while on tour.

Matches at Oxford and Cambridge Universities have been played for many decades, although neither institution has ever taken the sport past an annual novelty fixture or entered a side in the BARFL or ARUK.

But there was also a league - the Australian Rules Football League in England - which existed in the 1960s and 70s, supported by "Professional Australian in Britain" Rolf Harris among others. This league got a mention in the obituary of one Michael Cyril Hall, a Western Australian who died in May this year.

Hall was born in 1920 in the Perth suburb of Subiaco, best known as the neighbourhood with the stadium the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers call home. After serving with the Australian army in the Pacific during World Way II, he eventually moved to England in 1963 with his wife, working as a salesman.

After a few years in London, he was part of a group putting the groundwork into a footy league in Britain. According to his obituary:

The Londoners could hardly believe what they were seeing: Australian men playing a rugged sporting in which the title, Australian Rules, seemed the biggest misnomer ever. There seemed to be no rules. Also, the players were wearing WA state guernseys.

But as they watched they began to take an interest and, soon, the Australian Rules Football League in England was formed and the Poms began to play the game. There is now a thriving league structure in Britain and Mike Hall was the man who did the most to make it happen.

It was in 1967 that Mike put on the first game after consultation with a few other exiled Australian, and he did it to raise money for the victims of the terrible bushfires which swept Tasmania that year.

Regents Park London was the venua for the first match. It raised 138 pounds which was sent back to the Apple Isle. Matches were then arranged against teams of Royal Australian Navy personnel who were based in Britain, school sides and rugby clubs. In an interview many years later, Mike recalled: "About four months after that first match, we decided to form a league." By 1970, the league had six teams, including two English rugby sides which used the sport to keep fit in the northern Summer close season.

"I always had a spectator interest in the game," said Mike, who supported Perth in the Western Australian Football League. That interest led to his presidency of the Australian Rules in England, a position he held for two years before returning to Australia.

The obituary goes on to mention that Hall received the Order of Australia Medal in 1997 as well as other community service commendations in Australia, before dying at the age of 86 in May this year.

However, the link between Hall's league and the leagues and clubs now playing in Britain is somewhat tenuous. Our sources at the BARFL say they aren't sure of the exact details, but they think the league dissolved around 1973, roughly fifteen years before the BARFL in its currently incarnation started to come together in the late 80s.

Another article mentioning this league is London footy sixties style on the footy history site Full Points Footy. This article mentions clubs such as the Kensington Demons, Earls Court Magpies, Oxford University Blues, Australian Dentists and an Australian Navy team from Portsmouth, as well as high-profile Australians such as Athol Guy from the Seekers being enticed to have a kick.

Apparently there was a fairly large (if brief) amount of media interest from newspapers and radio - although the article also mentions that the league was ultimately doomed by the transient nature of Australian expats in the UK and a lack of local involvement - a problem still faced by international Aussie Rules clubs today.

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