Local Footy building in Prague and Zagreb
Wednesday, July 22 2009 @ 03:52 PM ACST
Contributed by: Aaron Richard
For the past few seasons, the bulk of matches for the Czech Lions and Croatian Knights has been supplied by the Tri-Nations series they conducted together with the Kangaroos from Austria's capital Vienna.
This year however has seen both clubs shift their focus onto kick-starting domestic competitions, with the Czech AFL playing their fourth match between the All-Stars and Marauders this week, and the Croatian Association of Australian Football now up to six matches and counting between cross-town rivals the Zagreb Hawks and Agram Power in their second local league season.
These developments are part of a wider trend across Europe, where former one-club-countries such as the Netherlands, Norway and Austria are seeing the foundations laid for local comps.
Kicking on in Prague
Footy in the Czech Republic began back in 2005, hosting their first event as the Prague Cup in November of that year. At that stage there were plans for local sides in Prague and Brno, with the Czech Lions a representative squad of the Czech AFL, however it was to take a few years before the Czech footy community could take the next step.
2008 saw the Czech AFL successfully host the EU Cup, and the organisation has come along in leaps and bounds over the past 12 months. The league decided to shift their focus to mainly working on local competition, cutting back on the number of international tournament events they plan to attend. This has seen the creation of two sides in Prague, the All-Stars and the Marauders, wearing jumpers originally created by Big Rooster Footy for European tournament all-star sides. The season has also seen plenty of growth in recruiting beyond the Aussie expat crowd.
Kevan Lyons from the Czech AFL says the organisation is very happy with the successes in recruiting local Czechs and other non-Aussie beginners into the Marauder and All-Star squads. "We have some excellent recruitment over the winter and early 2009 and have had no less than twenty guys and each and every Wednesday training session so far this year. Twenty-six has been our top, at least a couple of times."
The Czech footy scene is a very multicultural one and, as Lyons notes, expat Aussies now make up less than a third of the playing numbers. "For the first time, we don't have double figures for Aussies this year. Most are Czech, with 12 regulars, then 9 Aussies, and players from England, France, Ireland, Belgium, Belarus, US and Slovakia in our regular line-up. We also have Aussies with dual nationality from Canada, Poland and Malta. So yeah, a very mixed bag, but the core is now Czech, of which we are extremely proud and happy."
Knights on a Quest for European Domination
Footy in Croatia had its beginnings in January 2006, when after years of trying, Kolja Koracak founded the Zagreb Giants. Koracak had learnt the game in the USA, playing in the Arizona AFL whilst living in Phoenix. The Giants made their debut in the first Eastern European Tri-Nations in June of that year, and defeated both the Austrians and Czechs to win the cup.
Not too long after this, the Giants became the Zagreb Hawks after creating a partnership with AFL club Hawthorn. The national team took on the name "Croatia Knights", wearing the traditional red and white checks.
Although plans for teams in Split and Rijeka announced over the year haven't yet come to fruition, Croatia's second team was finally created in Zagreb last year. The side was dubbed the Kapitol Saints, with the Saints and Zagreb Hawks playing out a 5-game championship. The premiership went right down to the last game, with the Saints coming out winners.
This year, the championship kicked off its second season in March, with the Kapitol Saints renamed Agram Power, Agram being one of the historical names for the city of Zagreb.
At this point in the season, the two teams are sitting with three wins apiece, with the deciding seventh match to be held on Saturday 19th of September. Both the Zagreb Hawks and Agram Power are made up almost entirely of born-and-bred Croats or Croatian-Australians.
Despite international matches being put in the back seat for season 2009, neither the Czech Lions or Croatian Knights are abandoning them entirely. Both sides will be at this year's EU Cup, the Czechs are preparing for a clash with Germany on August 1st, and the Knights travelled to London early this year for a friendly against the West London Wildcats.
Croatia were runners-up on debut in last year's EU Cup, and will be eager to go one better at home this year. With a team with a proven track record, and a large expatriate community in Australia who have produced plenty of stars in the AFL and state footy leagues, the future looks exciting for the sport from down under in Croatia.