My footy journey
Sunday, May 12 2019 @ 08:57 pm ACST
Contributed by: Frederick Shaibani
I first picked up a Sherrin in October 2015.
I had watched some AFL highlights on YouTube at that point and was instantly intrigued by Aussie rules: the pace of the game, the unique skills, and the all-around athleticism required to play it were all extremely appealing to me. I didn’t know much at the time, but I knew I wanted to get involved.
At the time, I was living in Phoenix, Arizona and found a local team. I quickly made some new friends who helped me figure out this incredible game. It was also really awesome to see a bunch of fellow Americans giving it a crack. Unfortunately at the time, the Arizona men’s team was kind of restarting from scratch after several guys retired or moved away; therefore, I didn’t play many actual games during my time there. Still, it was an awesome intro to the game that I grew to love. I played quite a few sports growing up, including basketball, martial arts and rugby, but Aussie rules was unlike anything I had ever seen. I loved every bit of it!
In August 2016, I moved to Los Angeles and immediately sent an email to Justin Hall, the president of the LA Dragons. Given the high concentration of Aussies in the LA metro area, I had a hunch that I’d be able to have a kick, make new friends and learn more about the game. It turned out to be a fantastic decision.
I’ve always said that one of the reasons I enjoy playing for the Dragons so much is the club culture. Everyone is friends outside of the club, the guys’ girlfriends go on weekend trips together, and most importantly, we all enjoy playing games on Saturdays. Unlike some USAFL clubs, we also have a really strong core of experienced American guys who are really athletic and passionate, in addition to the requisite talented Aussies. I’ve been very lucky to have a ton of fantastic mentors who’ve helped me develop my skills -- too many to list, in fact!
In 2018, two of my American teammates at the Dragons -- Sam Murphy and Gabriel Martin del Campo -- elected to spend the season playing in Australia. I knew several American footballers who had taken advantage of this exchange program in the past, so I was really excited to see both Gabe and Sam improve their skills and play at a high level in Melbourne and Perth, respectively. It was honestly inspiring -- so much so that I decided to do the same.
To be fair, it wasn’t a rash decision. Overall, I had done pretty well in LA both personally and professionally, and I had an awesome group of friends. But I felt like I needed a change of pace and a change of scenery. I also felt like I had really progressed as a footballer during the 2018 season. My feelings were validated when I received the Dragons’ Most Improved Award at the end of the year.
I got approved for a working holiday visa and arrived in Melbourne on January 5th, 2019. I chose Melbourne not just because of its location in the heartland of Aussie rules, but also because of its reputation as an artsy city. Given my career (film & TV), it seemed like a logical choice.
The specific club that I chose was the Caroline Springs Lakers in the Western Region Football League. The Dragons and the Lakers had a prior connection; one of my LA teammates, Dre Jansen, played most of his formative footballing years at Caroline Springs and had been hoping to get a sister club partnership going for some time. This became a reality during the 2017 International Cup, when two of our Dragons players were in town. I figured that the Lakers would be super welcoming once I arrived, but even I was overwhelmed with the support and love. This is a great club with a bright future, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of it.
Right now, I’m just enjoying the journey as much as I can. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to play this wonderful sport in Australia, and I hope I can inspire other Americans to make the leap and do the same.