Australian Rules football elbows its way into Russia
Sunday, November 17 2013 @ 07:25 pm ACDT
Contributed by: Wesley Hull
The following story looks at the Australian Rules football scene in Russia. It has been given to World Footy news to reproduce as a way of highlighting the tremendous work by Roger Scott and his crew to build the game from scratch in a country not usually associated with the sport.
Roger Scott began learning Russian while still in Australia. He works in commercial real estate in Moscow, and on Sundays teaches all those interested how to play Australian football, a game little known in Russia.
Moscow. One of the first warm days in August. At a small stadium in Lefortovo park, there are two dozen immigrant workers from Central Asia playing football (soccer), and several more people playing frisbee on the edge of the field. At five in the afternoon they are replaced by strongly built guys, about eight of them, carrying an oval ball.
"Whenever you come here, somebody is always playing football (soccer): in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening. Were there more of us, we would have just occupied this field and that's it," one of them says with a slight accent. The playing field in Lefortovo is free, therefore clashes of certain "subcultures" are inevitable.
The guy with an accent is called Roger Scott. "Like the rabbit," he says, when we are introduced. Roger is from Australia, but has been living in Russia for eight years already.
He has a double-headed eagle tattooed on his right shoulder. "It helps in difficult situations with the police. Although I don't have to show it that often these days, Moscow has become more civilised," he says, with a faint nostalgia in his tone.
Roger began learning Russian while still in Australia. He works in commercial real estate in Moscow, and on Sundays teaches all those interested how to play Australian football, a game little known in Russia.
"When I was a kid, I did not play very well. But in Russia I began to miss Australian football. I ordered a ball on the Internet and had it sent over from Europe. Then I began to look for people. It may have helped that the Eurosport TV channel in Russia began to show footy. One of the first to come was Fyodor, who fell in love with the game at first sight. “He is now in charge of the Russian Federation of Australian Football," says Roger.
Despite this being a game associated with a high risk of injury, the training session of the Moscow lovers of this Australian sport is held in a friendly atmosphere. Although from time to time it is interrupted by football lovers from Central Asia, violating the implicit rule on demarcating "the spheres of influence".
"We want to run, to mess around,” says Sergey from the Space Pirates team. In addition to footy, he also plays in an amateur rugby club, Forum. “Compared with rugby, Australian football is more fun, as it were. We are given a bit more freedom here."
The Russian footy league is at its inception. In addition to the Pirates, there are two more adult teams and two youth ones. When recruiting new players, Roger is looking for people for whom Australian football could become their main sport pursuit: he thinks it is easier to teach somebody from scratch rather than retrain rugby players.
Roger says three training sessions are enough to build one's confidence on the playing field. Newcomers join the "draft" and become members of one of the existing teams.
"We are not looking for people with some extraordinary physical features or abilities. Big, small, medium-height – there is a place for everybody. We just want train fitness and physical form. We have a 17-old guy playing with us and he is doing just fine: getting the ball, dodging opponents, and it's hard to catch him," says Roger.
Australian football is taking root not only in Moscow, but in Yaroslavl and Novokuznetsk too. Overall, there are some 100 people trying to play it. It is not yet possible to unite them, although the idea is there. "I just don't have enough time and money to go to those other places, Russia is too big," Roger explains.
The main events so far are local tournaments. The key ones are: the Gagarin Cup and the Concrete and Steel Cup. They involve all the five Moscow-based teams. In-between competitions, Space Pirates, Shooters and Thrashers hold demonstration games.
Two years ago, ahead of the European championship, a team called Russian Tsars was set up, Russia's national team, mainly comprised of Moscow players. The name was invented by Roger and the uniforms were ordered from Ireland. The project was sponsored by an Englishman, who paid for the team's trip to the championship.
After three months of training, Russian Tsars came the 10th among 18 teams, but since then they have not had any big games, since the sponsor has left Russia. But still they are planning to take part in Euro-2014 and even hope to come up in the top five teams there.
Roger and his teammates use every opportunity to involve as many people in the game as possible. A week after another training session in Moscow's Sokolniki park, there was a festival of Australian culture. In addition to master classes in boomerang throwing and country dancing, there were several lessons in Australian football there.
After an hour-long training session culminating in a brief but quite energetic game, Roger invites all those attending to leave their phone number.
“Do come to our training sessions”, he tells a guy in spectacles.
“It's too far for me, I am from Sergiyev Posad.”
“Are you? Well, why don't you set up a league there then?”
At moments like these Roger very much looks like a trailblazer. This is what English sailors must have been like when over 100 years ago they infected the whole of the world with the virus called football.
First published in Russian by Moskovskie Novosti.
August 27, 2013 Yaroslav Kulemin, Moscow News. Reproduced with the permission of Yaroslav Kulemin, Moscow News.