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Footy's international future - what next and how?

  • Saturday, October 27 2012 @ 06:58 am ACDT
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General News

As Brett Northey remarked about my new book about footy, Australian Football The People’s Game 1958-2058 (wallawallapress.com), Kevin Sheedy suggests that in the future when ‘the Los Angeles Coyotes play the London Wolves for four points’...

Where will footy be in its bicentenary year, 200 years after the world’s oldest form of codified football had its rules written down?  Will there be an international competition?  Or, more modestly, will many international players play in the new Australasian Football League, which will include teams from Auckland and Wellington?  If it is the second, then this will be a kind of reprise of 150 years ago when New Zealand won several matches at the 1908 Jubilee carnival, celebrating the game’s first 50 years.

Here's some thoughts of my own, and a call for discussion from our readership. 


When I wrote the first draft of The 100 Year Plan for the Internationalisation of Football in the late 1990s (later published in WFN- July 23 2008   ) I envisaged that some players from overseas would join the Irish in playing in the AFL.  I guessed that would take up to 30 years. In fact, with the arrival of now premiership player Mike Pyke at the Sydney Swans it took not much more than a decade. I am very happy to have been proven wrong by the former Canadian rugby international.

One of the biggest changes follows the conversion of the AFL to an international view. Visionaries such as Ron Barassi, Brian Dixon, Harry Beitzel and others have seen an international future since the 1960s. First there were Melbourne-Geelong games in Honolulu and San Francisco in 1964?? And Harry Beitzel’s radical tour of the ‘Galahs’ who went off (even more radically by plane rather than boat), to play against Gaelic teams in their game in Ireland and New York (and also played footy in London - and Rumania).

Particularly interesting were the late 1980s experiments – VFL teams matches at the oval (culminating in the ‘Battle of Britain’ between North Melbourne and Carlton, in Toronto (a ‘world championship’), Vancouver, and California, and the ‘Aussieball’ in Tokyo (actually at Yokohama stadium) and footy on ESPN (which needed content) and UK Channel 4 highlights on Sunday mornings.

Those ventures in ‘footballising the world’ – and making lots of money did not return the big dollars. However, many international leagues and clubs were formed in the few years after the experiments of about 1986-9, eg the Danish Australian Football League in 1991, the first matches in Germany, the British Australian Rules Football League (BARFL) in 1990, and in Japan JAFA (now JAFL).

However, popular opinion and even the footy hacks, the journalists, tended to assume that footy overseas equalled a few homesick expats having a kick in the park, followed by a beer, or being up during the night to watch the AFL Grand Final.

That false image has begun to change, mainly as a result of the AFL’s brave initiatives. More people now accept that there are about 100,000 people playing footy around the world, outside Australia. While many people pioneering overseas will rightly say that they would like more resources from the AFL, to go along with the branding, it is also difficult for the AFL. Still, some AFL club traditionalists think that more money should go to their clubs rather than being spent on foreign fields, and for them that includes NSW and Queensland.

Where footy may be in 50 years time or a 100 years may be determined by several things: competition from other sports, particularly soccer and basketball; competition from forms of screen-based culture, particularly games; and whether a pill is invented which neutralises jetlag. If the latter happens, it may be possible for a league to go beyond ‘Australasia’.

I explore the changing landscape, as well as how footy has evolved since ‘the times they are a’changin’ Sixties in the book, which Kevin Sheedy kindly remarks ‘If you love Australian football, its past, its present and its future, then you have to read this book.’  The book, which features Nic Naitanui on the cover, is available from wallawallapress.com

WFN readers we're interested in feedback. What are your thoughts about these three questions:

·         Where will the game be in fifty years time?

·         Internationally, how might it get there?

·         What are the important next steps to ‘Footy’s international future’?