Contributed by: Wesley Hull
With so many Australians visiting Bali for so many years it is hardly surprising that an Australian Rules football presence was likely to grow there. The journey of the Bali Geckos is the story of just how that presence took hold and grew to where it is today with the Bali Geckos a key part of the AFL Asia competition. Club founder, Greg Hinchcliffe, kicked off the club in 1997 and was keen to tell their story.
The starting point was their creation. According to Greg, “basically we started as a challenge from a mate of mine who played in Jakarta. No team ever existed here and so I formed one to take them on and then discovered there were already a number of teams throughout Asia.”
Initially, ex-pat Australians formed the core but before long locals from Bali got involved. “We started inviting locals down from day one and have had various ones come and have a kick. Firstly, it was guys that had visited Australia before and knew what the game was but since then, we just open our doors to anyone that wants to try a new sport.”
A sporting club and social club go hand in hand, as with most clubs. The Bali Gecko’s were no different and according to Greg, “it all starts as football based but being a team sport, great friendships are made from it. These are enhanced when we travel and we fully fund the trips for the local players to give them game exposure and let them experience more of the world.”
The club has already been a part of AFL Asian championships in a number of forms, and Greg notes that “the Asian Champs and footy in Asia in general has been growing strongly. Most clubs have a charter to spread the game to the local population and some have recently started women’s teams. The Geckos are looking at ways to get more women involved (we have had one or two come down in the past but need to get more involved to form a team). AFL Asia is looking at expanding and finding major sponsorships to help grow the games in all corners of Asia.”
The Geckos face many challenges, none more so that a small sport in one of the most densely populated parts of the world. “The fact that we are not a global game is the biggest impediment. Soccer and Rugby Union have followings due to their international appeal which provides more coaches and visiting players than AFL.”
Brett Kennerley, coach at the Northern Saints football club in the Essendon District Football League, has spent time working with the club recently. He notes that “They have poms, locals, ex pats, the occasional errant Dustin Martin [or similar] float past, plus guys like Rick Olarenshaw as coach, and Troy Luff as their normal full forward. They get a few scratch matches against visiting community clubs from Australia, like Darley last year, and a heap of others.”
Greg Hinchcliffe continued by stating that “we have no direct assistance from the AFL but they are working closely with AFL Asia to expand their reach into the region and will look to support more as they assess what is being achieved throughout schools in Bali. We will introduce the game into their PE classes and will invite players down to Geckos training. As the numbers grow we will look to establish more clubs throughout Bali so that a local league can be established.”
“Our major tournament each year is held over three days and looks like having up to 48 teams involved primarily from Australia. It is held over the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend and is called the Bali 9's Masters AFL Tournament. Participants will play in three age divisions this year - Over 35's Over 47's and Over 55's. Most teams come from Australia but we also have teams from the rest of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. June 7-9 are the dates for this year's tournament.”
It may be a very long time before the Bali Geckos produce a player of AFL standard. But at the moment, just impacting on the lives of young people in a positive way is validation. Greg Hinchcliffe added that “young Jack Ahearn was a promising young footballer before becoming addicted to Ice in Australia. He ended up in rehab here at age 18 and once he was recovered enough he took up football again. He was extremely rusty and unfit at first but now two years on being clean he is starting to fulfil his potential.”
“The Geckos have been a major part of his recent development into the impressive young man he is becoming. He has obtained support and friendship outside of the normal rehab support networks. Local players will always be encouraged to participate and we will nurture any that want to take the game further. They eventually could be considered for the national team which plays in the AFL International Cup played every three years.”
The Bali Geckos story shows the benefits of inspiration, drive, resilience and unity. It will be fascinating to see how far the Geckos can go in their quest to take over Bali and beyond.
Photos (below): Local Bali Geckos talent Andre Susanto (left) flanked by Brett Kennerley, Rivan Kelci (middle) Jakob Kennerly and Putu Darmawan (far right) as well as some fellow Geckos in a team photo.
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