The New Wave Of Footy Followers Is Coming
Thursday, January 08 2015 @ 03:45 pm ACDT
Contributed by: Wesley Hull
Maybe, just maybe, Tijs Lejeune represents a new era of Australian Rules football followers. Since the beginning of the game in the mid-nineteenth century Australian Rules football has been adored and accepted as our own “Australian game”. Even in more recent times with the onset of international matches, recruiting, multicultural acceptance and general interest there was still a strong belief by many that the game might occasionally spark outside of home, but will forever remain an Australian product for Australian people.
But Tijs offers one tiny shred of evidence that a new generation is being born into the existing international push over the past couple of decades and are seeing the game in a more global way.
When talking about the game, Tijs admits “I've always loved viewing the international expansion articles of AFL in Europe, NZ, USA and love following the progress of the combines and the introduction of AFL footy players in America.”
Tijs begins Year 12 in his home city of Canberra this year. His father is Belgian, which Tijs admits explains his name. He is also a young man who has played the game in Canberra for the Tuggeranong Lions and Hawks, playing a grand-final on Manuka Oval. He has also done work experience for AFL NSW/ACT with school clinics around Canberra and Queanbeyan.
When he contacted World Footy News he stated that part of his Year 12 curriculum requirement was to produce a year-long project. “Next year in Year 12 I need to do a year-long project on a topic I love and I want to do something that has to do with international or multicultural participation within Australia - something like what the Multicultural ambassadors do within the AFL.”
Further to that stated direction, Tijs added “My current dream is to be employed by the AFL in a recruiting and expansion [role] in Africa. I watch many political documentaries about African countries and I love reading the African articles that [World Footy News] post, whether it's to do with AFL South Africa or ones like the recent Kenyan article.”
“I want create academies and pathways in Africa so that the AFL can recruit them and we know how exciting they are in the AFL. I know a lot of people complain about international expansion saying [if they are] recruited then [they are] taking the spot of a home-grown players, but for me international participation is inevitable. Australia is made up of hugely diverse cultures and with the amount of interest internationally it can't be ignored.”
With these words Tijs has echoed the thoughts of many AFL expansionists, touching on international expansion, multicultural markets, promotion and creation of markets and a desire to go abroad and assist in that growth.
What makes this refreshing outlook unique is that Tijs is still in secondary school. He is a part of the Generation Z, and if his knowledge of the game as expressed in this article is anything to go by he is part of an age group which does not necessarily see the game of Australian Rules as “Australian only”.
It is a big stretch to suggest that Tijs is representative of the beliefs of a generation. But it is also a big stretch to think that all generations from Generation Z onwards will hold the traditional views of where the game is currently and where it might go. Who is to say that when Tijs enters his mid 30’s (say, roughly 2030) that a New Zealand team doesn’t exist? Maybe matches will be played for premiership points in London, Beijing, New York. Maybe the reigning Brownlow Medallist is a player who migrated from Sudan or Uganda to play. Maybe an enormous Asian/Oceania Conference League will exist where national teams play on a regular basis across the hemisphere for points, with a grand final second only in popularity to the AFL Grand Final.
Tijs even has a vision of an AFL which is “to see a hugely diverse AFL where the game is still kept local (like the NFL model) but with players fighting from all over the world to make a club’s list.”
If any of these scenarios plays out, it is likely to be men and women of Tijs’ generation that are by then driving the game, with a far more “international” outlook on the game than exists now.
As time marches inexorably onwards, the people who doubt that growth are likely to be well retired, or closer to it, by 2030 and these ideas might yet flourish. Not because our generations lacked any vision, just that future generations have the opportunity to take the visions further.
For now, however, Tijs just needs to finish Year 12 and hopefully get an “A” for his footy project. But I suspect that soon afterwards he will be snaffled up by an AFL body in Australia or overseas as an investment in the future of the game. Of course, I am certain Tijs would already welcome any assistance a club or football body can give. They would almost certainly be paid back handsomely as Tijs and his generation take the game onward and upward – across the world.