Contributed by: Stephen Alomes
The MCG was alive and buzzing, like a spaceship with its night lights on. But last night the action was in the Olympic Room, with an international Olympics kind of feel. The Welcome to the International Cup 2008 brought together 16 nations, 700 guests including footballers in team track suits from the red of Canada, Japan and Denmark to the Green of South Africa, and the black of New Zealand.
You could bottle the excitement as the players felt like running onto the MCG as some will do in the Grand Final on Saturday September 6th, when the two top teams will play for the Cup before an AFL finals match.
There was music, Mike Brady singing how footy is such a part of this old town and the new song and video clip celebrating a unique country and its own unique game, to be released this week.
“This game is forever – how Australian's that”, in the words of the song, might have introduced AFL Commission chairman, Mike Fitzpatrick (pictured above), who said that this year, the 150th year of Australia’s own game, Australian Football, encouraged us to look forward to its international future as well as back to its history. And to recognise the 35,000 players of “our game” around the world and contemplate its future growth.
Mike Brady’s song could easily also have introduced one of the passionate advocates of the multicultural and the international game, Kevin Sheedy. On this night more priest or philosopher than plumber of back pocket, he talked of how the experience of playing football “develops you – it will find your soul”.
As he said it you could feel the excitement in the room.
That excitement spread “internationally” as players from all around the world – from Nauru, Samoa and Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and South Africa, from USA and Canada, Japan, China and India, from Ireland, Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, and the Peace Team from Israel/Palestine joined in to sing along with another Brady anthem, Up There Cazaly.
As the 2005 International Cup-winners’ captain, Andrew Congalton of New Zealand said about how after playing rugby he discovered Australian Football. He looked forward with more excitement to every season playing Australian Football, a game which “offered so much room and so few restrictions, allowing your creative skills to come into play”.
There was the greatest variety of people: the Nauru minister for sport; Phindi, a woman whose intelligence, devotion and dynamism has helped drive the rise of football in South Africa; international football visionary Brian Dixon; coach of the South African team Jason McCartney; and the tall and the short, one Swedish player Mats Wurmbach (208 cm, 6’10”) who seemed to match Fremantle’s Laurie Sandilands for height and Genki Tanaka, from Osaka, who is more of the Tony Liberatore size.
Pleasingly all the speakers and other guests such as former Carlton and Hawthorn great David Parkin were available for photos and happy to chat and mingle amongst the hundreds of players and officials. Most of the players from the counties were there and the mood was one of excitement, perhaps some nervous energy, but also great warmth as players moved quickly to get photos with their opposition.
Now, the bottle will be opened, first at Royal Park on Wednesday and Friday, then at Warrnambool next week, until the champagne bottle pops its cork on the MCG in under two weeks time. A toast to international footy might be the only thing to add about the Australian game’s Olympic night at the MCG.
Editor: Tuesday also saw representatives from the countries and other stakeholders attend an international footy forum in which presentations were given including by the AFL, the Amateur Australian Football Council, and attendees were asked to brainstorm problem areas and possible solutions. Some of it was kicking around "the same old issues" but there were some good new suggestions, plenty of evidence that international development is indeed moving forward, and some promising words regarding the AFL Commission and Federal Government involvement. More about the forum later.
Sheedy meeting more of the world.
David Parkin and to the left, Finland's Izzy Barker.
Canadian coach Mark Block catching up with "the enemy", USA's Jeff Persson, who perhaps uniquely has made the step from IC umpire in 2005 to player in 2008.
Some of the Indian team and officials at the Welcome, as well as Brian Dixon and his wife, and a couple of ring-ins at the back (WFN's Ash and Stephen).
World Footy News