As the 2007 season starts to build up some momentum in the US, we take a look at what is going on with some of the clubs in the western half of the Nation - with the Denver Bulldogs playing exhibition games, the Arizona Hawks kicking off their inter-regional season as well as getting women's footy going, and movements in US Military footy in the Middle East and California.
The Hanoi Swans are Vietnam's oldest continuous footy club, regularly playing around the Asian region, with an on-again-off-again presence in the southern city of Saigon. While primarily an Australian-expat based club, the Hanoi Swans are forging links with the Elgar Park Dragons, Melbourne's first Vietnamese community-based footy side, and starting AusKick at the United Nations International School in Hanoi.
In addition to developments in Vietnam, a new club is under formation in neighbouring Laos, to be nicknamed "the Elephants".
Followers of the local Australian Football clubs in the United Kingdom will be well aware of recent turmoil in the game with a second organisation, Aussie Rules UK, starting up senior nine-a-side competitions in 2007. The main controversy has been ARUK not working within the BARFL system (whether it should have is a debate within itself) and deciding to run matches in areas with active BARFL clubs. The result has been small but significant ARUK affiliated leagues starting in Wales, Northern England and Southern England and the loss of several BARFL clubs and effectively the demise of their Regional League. None of this is black and white such as in the case of Sussex which has continued in the BARFL as The Swans but also expanded to support ARUK's southern zone, so there is some cross-over. It's fair to say that if everything was running perfectly in England then ARUK would not have managed to get a foot in the door. Of course it's easy to be critical of the BARFL without truly understanding the hard work done to keep a league running week in week out as a volunteer. In many respects the BARFL has a proven track record of being one of the most stable and successful Australian Rules leagues around the world, but with a few simmering problems within and pressure from outside through ARUK and the carrot of junior development it seems change could be in the wind. After the tumultuous off season and plenty of frustration by those involved it seems that there might be a mood for a major paradigm shift in the way footy is organised in the United Kingdom.
Australian football’s involvement in the global scene (at least seriously), has only occurred in the past two decades. We are gradually seeing more exhibition matches played on foreign soil and higher participation levels outside of Australia – the figure of around two thousand players for the United Sates is not huge, but when you consider this was only a few dozen ten years ago, it is impressive growth. Other nations like South Africa have similar levels to the US, but they are expected to skyrocket into the tens of thousands in a few years time.
We're familiar with expat-Aussies trying to convert the locals, but with all these new markets comes an interesting possibility – players learning our great game outside of Australia and outside of their own homeland. WFN sought out all the clubs in the USAFL (and managed to get responses from most of them) about whether on not they had any non-Australians and non-Americans on their list, who they were, and how they had stumbled across our great game.
The popular reality television show "The Lost Tribes" on Australia's Nine Network features a group of Australian families from Sydney and Melbourne thrown across the world to remote places to experience a culture shock in tribal settings. This weekend the screened episode showed the families sharing some of their customs with their host tribes for the first time, with the Melbourne family introducing their hosts, a Zulu tribe in South Africa to Australian Football.
The AFL/VFL Italian team of the century was named last Thursday night, with 22 of the best Italian-Australian footballers named in a side captained by the Adelaide Crows' Mark Ricciuto and featuring four brownlow medallists and two hall of famers. Selection was open to a field of 148 footballers with either a parent or grandparent born in Italy, from which a shortlist of 50 was announced recently. While not eligible for an on-field spot for the team (his great-grandparents were his most recent Italian-born ancestors), footballing legend and high profile supporter of international footy Ron Barassi Jnr was named as coach of the side.
The UAE Heat, representing the clubs playing in Dubai and other cities, and Vietnam, combining the Saigon and Hanoi clubs, will be making their debuts in the tournament this year, with Dubai tipped to give regional powerhouses Bali, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Singapore a real push in the tournament.
The 2007 Central European AFL Championship will be held in Vienna, Austria next Saturday, 9 June 2007. Teams representing Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Finland will take the park, with the event starting at 10am and the grand final to be played at 5pm.
In more great news for international Aussie Rules the Australian Football League's General Manager of National & International Development has revealed to WFN that the AFL is looking to stage a World Club Challenge in 2009, with a new stadium in Florida the leading candidate to host the event. What could make the tournament stand out from previous international tournaments is AFL backing and the prospect of major prize money.
This week, the Reading Kangaroos were looking to bounce back from their first defeat of the season by the Regents Park Lions last week. Welcoming the Balham Hawks to Fortress King's Meadow, the Roos gave an awesome performance of accurate kicking, great support and hard running to get the right side of the footy for the whole match, winning 180-21. The full report can be found here.
A very encouraging element to the game was the presence on the sidelines of Ollie Williams from local station, BBC Radio Berkshire. Getting his introduction to the fantastic sport of Aussie Rules Football, Ollie gave live commentary on the match, interviewed some players and coaching staff and took some great photos - the audio and photos can be found on the BBC Radio Berkshire site.
The first (and so far only) footy team in Holland, the Flying Dutchmen played their first match in almost two years on May 19th, teaming up with the Strasbourg Kangaroos for a friendly against German club the Rheinland Lions in Cologne. Seven players from the Netherlands and eight from Strasbourg made the trip across, going down to the Lions 52-34 in a curtain-raiser to the AFLG match between Rheinland and Hamburg.
Two loosely related kicking articles in the past few days have us thinking about further inroads for our game overseas. The first on AOL Sports site wonders aloud if Aussie rules punters in the NFL could be a great promotional tool for NFL overseas. The obvious answer is that it will raise the profile of NFL but the opposite may also be true, that Aussie Rules will gain greater exposure by pure weight of numbers in the US.
The second article in the Times Online covers the comments of Welsh Rugby’s kicking coach Neil Jenkins bemoaning the head start that Aussie kids have in Rugby’s kicking game “ Our boys kick at that age, but are messing about. The Aussies do it properly because of Aussie Rules.” This may be the perfect argument in Rugby playing countries for parents to encourage their kids to take part in Aussie Rules development programs.