Regional England United in 2010
Monday, March 29 2010 @ 08:20 am ACDT
Contributed by: Aaron Richard
Regional England has seen a great number of new clubs formed in the past few years, with the growth in club numbers lead by the three regional divisions of the ARUK National League, which operated largely separate to AFL Great Britain. 2010 has seen some personnel changes in English footy, and reports indicate that this year the English footy scene will be significantly more united than for some time.
GB Bulldogs coach Mark Pitura told WFN that he is very optimistic about the new structure, saying "AFL Great Britain is more united than ever. All clubs have come underneath this umbrella."
With all footy clubs in England now part of the one structure, last year's ARUK clubs in regional England will form the AFLGB North East, Central & North West and Southern divisions, although they will essentially remain self-governing leagues. Each division will have a main premiership competition featuring five teams, with a number of further development clubs playing friendly fixtures during the season.
World Footy News spoke to a number of key figures from the regional English clubs about the upcoming season.
Central & North West Division
In addition to the five clubs in the main schedule, the Liverpool Eagles and new clubs from Wolverhampton, Peterborough and Hull will compete in a new social division, with both the premiership and social leagues kicking off on May 8th.
Footy in Central England got its first local league in 2009, with the creation of the Birmingham Bears, Huddersfield Rams, Liverpool Eagles and Leeds Jets making a regional comp a possibility for the first time. This competition is set to be re-invented and expanded in 2010, after the creation of a Central and Northern regional body at a conference hosted by the Manchester Mosquitoes in January this year.
Kathleen Wheeler from the Manchester Mosquitoes feels the future for footy in the region is looking bright, saying "The conference was brilliant. We had representatives of most of the clubs in the Central and Northern regions of England there, along with representatives of AFL Britain. We have moved on a bit and am happy to say there is no division in terms of leagues."
"We have agreed to form a Central and Northern England Region of AFL Great Britain, which will be made up of two leagues at this stage - the Central & North West League and also the North East League. The hope is that as new clubs are formed, a Central League based in the Midlands will eventually be formed."
"The Central & North West League will include Manchester and Nottingham, the ARUK clubs Huddersfield and Birmingham, with the addition of the newly-formed Sheffield. We are also going to schedule some friendly matches for those teams who may not yet be in a position to play a full competitive season."
The Huddersfield Rams recently hosted the northern leg of the GB Bulldogs trials for the upcoming test against Denmark, and the club's credentials were boosted further by Danny Armitage and Jason Battye becoming the first Rams to get a Bulldogs guernsey.
Club founder Karl Haigh is confident the Rams will be able to go back to back in 2010, saying his club has the right mix of youth and ability to beat out the Mosquitoes and Scorpions. "Obviously I am of course tipping the Rams as favorites - especially as we have so many England and GB players compared to the Mozzies and Scorpions. They may have more experience, but we have far more youth, strength and skill."
"Unfortunately the Leeds Jets are not entering a team, due to a lot of students and Aussies going home, but we are working on getting them back for next year. Leeds Met Taipans are forming, so hopefully we can keep this uni team going through the summer."
"I am not too sure on the other clubs preparations, but I know full well that Sheffield Thunder are on fire. We have been working and training together as they are not far at all from us, Garth Nevin is an absolute legend, his commitment is second to none and with me, him and Kat Wheeler from the Mozzies working together, the North is now formidable and fast becoming the place to be for footy."
"Our focus for this season is obviously retaining the Premiership, but this will only be short-lived with one senior team, so our grass-roots development program which we have set in place will be our main goal. I play full forward for Huddersfield Brothers Pierce Gaelic Football team, so we have devised a plan with the council to do a joint venture to go into 200 schools around Yorkshire, teaching Aussie Rules and Gaelic Football as a new impact sport on the national curriculum for the Kirklees area."
"This looks like it is going ahead very soon and with this as a new full-time occupation for myself and (Rams coach) Neil Morrison, we have always got the Rams in the back of our mind. It will be massive for the club as we intend to have 12's 14's and 16's up and running by 2012 with a tour of Melbourne arranged by 2014 for juniors and the seniors. We already have three schools which are ready to compete in a junior comp which Head of School PE Department Dave Wheatley (Dragonslayers and West London Wildcats) and Jason Battye (GB Bulldogs and Rams) are helping to organise."
The Rams signed a sponsorship deal with international corporation Easi Lift Loading systems this year, with the undisclosed four-figure sum to help out the clubs enormously after starting the 2009 season from scratch. Haigh describes the deal as another feather in the club's cap, saying "this is massive to us and we are delighted that such a massive corporation has shown such a huge interest in The Rams and also the sport of Aussie Rules."
"This emphasises that we are in the fastest growing sport in the world right now, not only for the UK, but Europe as a whole - Easi Lift Loading Systems is all over Europe, which can open the door to European inter-club competitions."
North East Division
The Newcastle Centurions went undefeated through their season in ARUK North East Division last year, defeating the Durham Saints in the Grand Final to claim the premiership.
The Centurions wear black and white verticle stripes, traditionally worn by both the AFL club Collingwood and also Newcastle FC, who play the round-ball kind of football in the English Premier League.
This year, the Centurions are again tipped to be tough to beat, in a field consisting of the Centurions, Middlesbrough Hawks, Hartlepool Dockers, Durham Saints and the Gateshead Miners. A planned sixth club based in Sunderland is still yet to make it onto the field, with the league so far being unable to find someone to take the reins at the fledgling club.
Shaun Bulmer from the Gateshead Miners told WFN there are over sixty players in the league, almost all of whom are local-grown talent. "Each club has between 12-15 players in their squads. We only have one Aussie, Newcastle have two, Hartlepool have one and Middlesborough have two or three.
"In 2009, the Newcastle Centurions dominated the league, winning all of their games, including the Grand Final against the Durham Saints. Durham and Middlesborough were very close in terms of standard and had a couple of close games during the season. Ourselves (Gateshead) and Hartlepool were a little off the pace, as both teams were full of players who were new to the sport, whereas the other teams had a lot of experience."
"Newcastle would be favouites again but I think Durham, led by England Dragonslayers captain Adam Ballard, will mount a strong challenge."
The North East Division is also hoping to enter a representative side into the National Carnival to be held by Portsmouth Pirates at the end of April.
The Redbacks are led by Robert Fielder, also the coach of the England Dragonslayers and assistant coach of the British Bulldogs, who explains that the Southern League are consolidating their existing 5-club structure in 2010, but are hoping that some new clubs will be ready to make a commitment to weekly footy by next year.
"There are plans for the future for expansion, but Guildford were not ready at this stage, hopefully 2011. Existing clubs are being encouraged to play friendly matches against them in the bye weeks."
"It will be the AFLGB Southern League. Our representative team, made up of British players, is known as the Southern Saxons. They will play in the Brit Cup along with the other rep teams."
"Reading will still be in the London comp. Bristol have made contact, unfortunately a bit too late for this season, however they are looking to play more locally, so with the possibility of a Bath and maybe a Swindon team starting again, there could be another league starting in 2011."
As well as potential for a new league in the West Country around Bristol, the areas of Cornwall and Kent have been mentioned as possible locations for new regional divisions in the near future.
Kent was home to the Thanet Bombers, who competed in the BARFL and ARUK's Southern Division in the past but have since gone into recess. Some members of the Bombers are reportedly keen to restart the club and kick off others in the area.
Cornwall in England's far south-west has not yet seen an Australian football club step onto the field, although there are currently efforts to found a league with the assistance of members of the Welsh ARFL, with news on this project to appear on WFN very soon.