After an off-season of changes footy gets underway for Europe's heavyweight
Wednesday, May 07 2008 @ 11:41 am ACST
Contributed by: Brett Northey
Australian Football in Britain is something of a sleeping potential giant. With so many expatriate Aussies there have been many teams come and go, particularly across England, but always a sense of not enough involvement from the locals. However slowly but surely more and more have made their mark across the various competitions. With an image overhaul for the top body and hopefully a new sense of cooperation from all involved, we could be seeing the beginning of the next phase for the game in Great Britain. Meanwhile 2008 promises to be an interesting year with new clubs and movement of old ones. We look at the changes and list all the teams and where they are playing.
Since 1989 the British Australian Rules Football League (BARFL) has overseen steady growth, with strong London clubs, a regional league and the loosely affiliated Scottish league. However junior development was sporadic, small scale and certainly from a PR point of view not clearly defined.
The last few years has seen the emergence of Aussie Rules UK, firstly taking on junior development then creating its own 9-a-side regional leagues involving both new teams and BARFL clubs. At some stages there was a working agreement between the two groups and backed in with some AFL support (1000 junior footballs a handy kickstart). But over the last two years the relationship soured and it wasn't clear where ARUK would fit within the national framework. A new way forward was needed.
In late 2007 what was to become the final BARFL committee was elected with a mandate to work towards establishing a framework along the lines suggested by people such as new BARFL committee member Glen Ocsko and new President Sam Percy (reprising his former position). The BARFL re-launched as AFL Britain, with the BARFL committee becoming the AFL Britain committee. The plan called for the AFLB to focus more on the big picture for the game in Britain, with a new committee to oversee the strong London leagues as AFL London whilst leaving other areas to operate within that AFLB framework, such as ARUK continuing with the regional leagues. Meanwhile the Scottish league, the SARFL, has continued on more as an interested onlooker, and the new Welsh league has dropped the Aussie Rules Wales moniker, re-launching itself as the Welsh Australian Rules Football League.
In some ways the changes could be viewed as mostly cosmetic. In the wash-up the same kinds of bodies still exist and will have to learn to work together, but with some different people, the right attitude and a fresh start of sorts, there’s some optimism they can move forward.
There was one key change - for a new committee to take on the running of the London leagues, allowing the old BARFL / new AFL Britain committee to concentrate on the wider view - something always in their mandate but difficult to do justice to whilst also running the London leagues. We haven't seen the details of the new London board, but Kat Wheeler (Manchester Mosquitoes President and member of the AFL Britain committee), confirmed that a new committee has been created to run AFL London. Whether all the various leagues across Britain will happily play under the AFL Britain banner remains to be seen, but it is felt that an intentionally less strict framework and a new name should make it easier for semi-autonomous leagues to affiliate, be it now or once AFLB has proven its worth.
So with all the changes afoot, what leagues will be run in 2008, and what clubs are playing where?
The London Premiership and Conference commence soon, with the same teams as last season. The Social League will feature London sides, including the new Dulwich Dragons, as well as former BARFL Regional League sides such as the Manchester Mosquitoes and Nottingham Scorpions.
The 2007 Welsh season struggled to get their inaugural teams on the field for a regular full round of matches (generally merging as one or two sides), so in some respects their 2008 three team league will be their debut (it's been described to us as its first official season). Up north, and the Scots continue to work on an Aberdeen club, but for 2008 they already have commenced their four side league the same as last year, with two in Glasgow and two in Edinburgh.
The ARUK Southern League lists five sides and the ARUK Northern League is to feature four teams. The proposed ARUK Central League, which had been going to include Manchester, Nottingham, Leeds Lions and the Liverpool Eagles is apparently not proceeding, with our information being that only Manchester committed (as stated, they'll now play in the Social League) and the Lions and Eagles are not ready for competition. Sadly the Southern League's Thanet appears to have folded - or at least have not entered any competitions and concede on their website that gathering numbers is proving too tough. The Swindon Devils have fallen off the map altogether, but Bryce Stone at the Wales ARFL has explained that many of the players will form the core of the new ARUK Southern club Chippenham, with some of the others dispersed amongst other local clubs.
At this stage it's looking like 36 teams, ranging from 9-a-side up to full-field. With so many clubs running around Britain there's a lot to keep track of, so here's a consolidated list, based on our most recent information. Happy to hear of any teams we've missed.
AFL London – Premiership
North London Lions
West London Wildcats
AFL London – Conference
Regents Park Lions
Shepherds Bush Raiders
AFL London – Social League
South London Demons
Bounds Green Lions
Manchester Mosquitoes (no league in 2007, Regional League 2006)
Balham Hawks (in from Conference)
Dulwich Dragons (new)
Under development - Gwent
Brighton Black Swans
Chippenham Redbacks (new, based on Swindon)
Out - Thanet (folded / on hold)
ARUK Central – not proceeding
In addition there have been plans for ARUK to run an under 16 league with the London clubs. We hope to have more details of that later.