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Saturday, February 29 2020 @ 07:59 am ACDT

Farum Juniors Drive Danish Dynasty

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The Farum Cats have played off in ten of the past eleven Grand Finals in the Danish Australian Football League, for seven premierships, including the last four in a row – the last three of which have not included a single Australian player in the team. One of the club's founders, Ian Hill, takes a look at the history of the club and how their domination of the league has come about.

The Farum Australian Football club was first formed in the 1994-1995 DAFL off-season. Jim Campion and I had been playing for a few years with Copenhagen-based clubs in the league which was at the time mostly all about the three big-city teams based in the Danish capital. Farum is a regional town of 20,000 people located 20 kilometres north-west of central Copenhagen. Jim was living there (still does) and I was working there and living 12 kms further west in a small village called Slagslunde (still do). The commute to Copenhagen for training and games was not unreasonable, but in that off-season, Jim and I thought we would have a go at starting a new club in Farum (the actual reason behind it all is another story in itself).

The team was originally called the Farum Lions. There was a soccer team in Farum wearing red, yellow and blue at the time. That, and the FFC logo amounted to a synergy which led us to select the Fitzroy jumper and emblem, ignoring the fact that the AFL Lions were in their death throes at the time.

Initially Jim and I were the only Australian players on the list. We had been successful in recruiting more than enough Danes, but with few Australians, it was going to be a struggle against the other clubs whose locals had four years of experience behind them.

We managed to tap into a group of four Australians who were living in southern Jutland at a time when there was no club based over there. It was a three-hour train journey for them but at least it meant they could play footy. And they were better than average – one had even played VFL reserves and represented Western Australia in a senior interstate game.

This enhanced the list and kick-started the club to the point where we made the Grand Final in each of our first four seasons and even managed to pinch a premiership in 1996 when we were clearly not the best performed side throughout the season.

By the late 1990s, a club had been formed in Århus and so there was no more bringing in experienced players from outside. The club would have to get by with what we could muster from Farum. We quickly learned that almost any Australian living in Copenhagen or even its suburbs would prefer to commute into the city to play for one of the three founder clubs, than commute out and play for Farum.

Jim saw the writing on the wall and realized that something would need to be done for the club to be successful and thrive. For him, it was not just about having a competitive team in the DAFL, he wanted a real club like the ones he was used to being a member of in Australia. A club where not only the players but family and friends would be welcome and enjoy socializing. And he wanted a club that would continue to thrive beyond his own involvement. Having said that, he was also known to have mentioned that he had a stated ambition of winning a DAFL premiership with no Australians in the team. More of that later.

So in 1999, he decided to get seriously into coaching kids in the local area. He had two sons of his own who at the time were seven and ten years old. With the two of them and their friends and classmates, he had a ready-made starting point.

Australian Football, even outside Australia, is for the most part, not a difficult sell. As we know, the sport truly is a fast and exciting game to play, and even Australia itself, the country, has always had somewhat of a novelty and appeal about it that foreigners are easily drawn to. It has never been difficult to get young children and even their parents and teachers interested in the idea of at least giving footy a go. The hard part was keeping them interested and to do that it had to be presented in an environment that was well-organized and looked professionally run, even if it wasn't technically professional.

The program was an unqualified success from the outset. The club ran regular trainings, matches, lightning premierships. Jim, a die-hard Geelong supporter, also got Geelong College on board for a three-yearly exchange of visits, which included visits to Denmark by a team from the College, and also visits to Geelong by a team of Farum juniors. This was nothing new as prior to all of this, in 1998, Jim had even managed to get the senior team to go on a three-week tour of Australia, which included among others, a game at Victoria Park against Scotch College.

Although the primary focus of the program was in getting kids involved from a very young age, the club has also run an annual tournament for 10th, 11th and 12th graders from some of the local schools in the area. This was an attempt to involve older juniors, in the hope that it would be an instant source of players for the senior DAFL competition.

The parents of the kids playing were always willing to get involved off field. They have readily taken on roles such as club administrators, running food stalls at matches, and coaching the kids themselves. One father even played a few games for the senior team after his son had already started playing in the juniors – a unique recruitment path indeed.

It may sound like it was a bed of roses from day one, but it must be said that it was not always easy. When trying to promote a foreign sport, it is important to maintain the utmost enthusiastic and positive outlook at all times, regardless of how one really feels about how things are progressing. There were times when the work-load would become excessive to the point where the folks who were coaching kids would have to take vacation days from their full-time jobs to fulfil some of the requirements.

One of Jim's greatest achievements was not only in the coaching of the kids himself, but he managed to get many of the senior Danish players sold on the idea of doing it as well. AFL clubs talk about ”buy-in” from the players, and this is what was achieved here. There has always been a tremendous amount of buy-in from the club's Danish players. Even now, you see senior players who started as juniors themselves coaching the new generation. They understand that there were people who went before them and made sacrifices to allow them to get so much enjoyment out of the club and the sport, and if that is to continue it has to be passed on.

In the early 2000's, the senior club endured some lean years while the first bunch of juniors were learning. By the mid 2000's, the first batch of juniors had graduated to the age where they could play seniors. And by 2004, we were back in the Grand Final, losing by only four points to North Copenhagen despite a six goal last quarter comeback.

By this time the club had also recognized the strategic link with Geelong and changed its moniker from Lions to Cats. The AFL had also come on board. In the early years of the league, they had always been granting a modest amount of financial support. As the junior program got going, development managers at the AFL became convinced of its authenticity and allocated a much more significant amount, with the strict proviso that it all be used for junior development.

One of the problems we had was that there was no real opposition to play and the Farum kids always had to be divided up and play matches against their friends. There were sporadic attempts by the other DAFL clubs to do something similar but nothing that ever took hold. In desperation, I managed to get my son and some of his friends interested and for a number of years we even had our own team, the Tigers (guess who I barrack for), training and playing home games in Slagslunde, Not a bad achievement in a village with a population of 1,000.

This was also alot of work but I can safely say the years spent coaching a small team of kids in this little town amounted to the most rewarding part of all of the involvement I have had in footy in Denmark. From a personal perspective, it also helped me get to know alot of the other parents better.

From 2005, Farum benefited from a ”scholarship” program where two senior Australian players would move to Denmark for the season to help out with coaching the juniors and they would also play for the senior team. This was the icing on the cake with the juniors now coming through, and the club's (and the league's) first three-peat was achieved with premierships in 2005-06-07.

Then a combination of factors saw fortunes dip somewhat. The scholarship visits from Australian players lapsed, the influx of juniors slowed after the first generation had come through, and a period of excellence from North Copenhagen and Port Malmö had to be endured.

But by 2011, a second wave of juniors was coming through and the first wave had filled out and become seasoned open-age players. The team had now reached the point where the majority of the players had started playing football as kids. And it began to show on the field. The other clubs of course had older and physically stronger players, some of whom were better. But footy outside Australia is a vastly different look as kicking and handball styles give away the fact that a player is not Australian, no matter how good he is. The Cats started to look like a team full of Australians. This was starting to become extremely difficult for the other clubs to combat, particularly when the Cats had a full team to choose from, as regularly happens on Grand Final day.

The 2011 Grand Final saw Farum claim its fifth premiership. It was Jim's last game as a player and also the last time the club benefited from the scholarship program. From then on it has been pretty much Danes-only for the senior Cats team.

The 2012 Grand Final, at the time, was viewed internally as the club's crowning achievement. It finished on top, and won the second semi final in order to host the Grand Final. The club's Grand Final team had no Australians in it, and they would take on a North Copenhagen with no fewer than eight (limited to seven on the field at a time). That they won was at the time unprecedented in the league's history, and Jim had achieved one his major ambitions.

In the 2012-13 off-season, there was a political shake-up within the league. It's a long story, but the main points for the purposes of this discussion are that the league decided to go to a 9-to-12 aside model. It was felt that the smaller team size and a more flexible fixturing system would make it easier for new teams to start up and for all teams to find grounds. A result of this was that the established Danish clubs fielded two teams. The two Swedish clubs continued to field one team each. Many people involved in the league were thus considering it a fait-accompli that the Grand Final would be between the two Swedish clubs, Helsingborg and Port Malmö.

Farum, for their part, had spawned a new team called FC Demons. The basis for the split was primarily along the lines of those older Farum players who had since left home and moved into Copenhagen would be Demons, while the younger ones still based in Farum would remain as Cats. The Demons would train in Copenhagen but play their home games in Farum – providing a basis for double-headers in Farum.

Both of the 2013 and 2014 Grand Finals ended up being Port Malmö v Farum Cats in Malmö, both with Port Malmö as red hot favourites, both being won by the Cats - 2013 in a thrilling match which went down to the wire and 2014 in a surprising cake-walk. There were several times during the seasons where availability would be a problem for the Cats, but on Grand Final day, everyone was available and it shows in the results.

DAFL's clubs are spread across a wide spectrum of cultures, some based in a large capital, some in large regional cities, some in small towns. This has meant that the natural access to experienced Australian players has varied greatly. To keep the competition even, the league has always imposed some sort of restriction on how many Australians each team could use. But with one club now starting to field almost a full team of local players with the ability similar to your average experienced Australian, there is a growing inequality against which it may be difficult to legislate.

The other concern for DAFL at this point is that the FC Demons also contains about five or six very useful players who started as Farum juniors and no longer play for the Cats. So it is conceivable that their domination of the league could have been even more profound without the events of 2012-13. The FC Demons struggled for numbers at times this year and forfeited several games, but the club sees that the split has to be maintained and so a re-alignment of players may be taking place which will hopefully shore up the Demons and bring the Cats back to the pack somewhat.

The journey of the Farum Football Club has at times been a frustrating one for me, Jim and the other coaches (he has been known recently to say that if he had his time over, he's not sure he'd go through it all again), but it has borne fruit in a big way. It would be fair to say that while we may have achieved most of our aims, no-one would have dreamed that the club would come to dominate the league to the extent that it has.

Jim and I have both stepped away from close roles within the club. The junior development is not as intense as it once was, but the club recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, and even now there is still another generation of young Danish players coaching those who will hopefully take their place one day.

For those who have seen the developments first hand, it has been an eye-opener to witness the difference that exposing players to the sport at a young age makes.

 

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