Australian Rules football in South Africa took another monumental step towards nation-wide development with the recent involvement of a team from Soweto being included in a recent competition in nearby Potchefstroom to the south-west.
The urban area of Soweto (abbreviated from South West Townships) has a population of around 1.3 million and makes up one third of greater Johannesburg’s population. Soweto, part of the already football mad Gauteng Province has included residents such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
Now there is the opportunity for Australian Rules football to slowly take root in one of the most populous areas of South Africa, highlighted by the recent Australian Rules football carnival. It is hoped that this event is the starting point of a long journey of footy in Soweto.
The following story is a fascinating, in depth account by Sam Landsberger at the Herald Sun newspaper exploring the paths of four young African footballers. Sam starts with the story of Gach Nyuon (Sudan) before moving on to the stories of Maibor Chol (Sudan/Egypt), Patrick Taban (Uganda) and Rueben William (Kenya). They are amazing stories of courage, freedom and ultimately their journey to football.
This story adds further to the recent look at the journey of Sydney Swans player Aliir Aliir, drafted last year Sudan To Sydney Swans: Aliir Aliir’s Journey Continues and the success of North Melbourne footballer Majak Daw, selected again for a senior game last weekend.
Gach Nyuon’s long journey from Africa to potential AFL draftee
(Picture: Jay Town, Herald Sun)
Four boys from Sudanese families have trekked through war-torn countries and survived refugee camps before arriving in Australia and falling in love with footy.
One saw an attempted kidnapping of his baby brother and another has more than 70 siblings, owing to his assassinated father’s 12 wives.
Last year an historic football match took place in Kenya, with a team representing the host nation to play a visiting team from neighbouring Tanzania. The story from that initial match was published on World Footy News as Buffalo soldiers: Kenyans beat Tanzanians in historic match and followed the incredible work of Tom Purcell who after a huge effort brought together two East African nations to play an international Australian Rules football match in suburban Nairobi.
Now it is the turn of the Tanzanian team to host their own piece of history with an Australian Rules football match on the home soil. In a first for the game, Tanzania will become an Australian Rules football nation as our game spreads its tentacles farther and wider.
The following story by Conor Walsh for the AFL’s own website (www.afl.com ) looks at the upcoming match and further details the work of Tom Purcell and the work of the Zimele program.
I just cannot shake the dream that lives somewhere in the back of my mind. It is an African city – maybe Johannesburg, maybe Nairobi, there is nothing specific. All I can visualise is grand stands full of cheering people – all African fans from whichever country the dream is set in, cheering wildly at a football match. We have all seen the image many times before, with the soccer teams pin-balling the play from one end to the other.
But the combatants here are not playing soccer. In this dream, hazy at times but very exciting, the half back flanker has just rebounded the ball out of the defensive fifty, hit the wingman lace-out on the chest with a daisy-cutter. The wingman has wheeled around and booted the ball to the goal square where the powerhouse, muscle-ridden full forward has taken a hangar over the pack and duly gone back and slotted the goal.
(Photo: Courtesy AFL Footywild)
In this dream the African fans are cheering the African players – at an Australian Rules match somewhere in Africa.
It's pleasing to be able to report that former AFL Commissioner and football visionary Colin Carter continues to push the international cause despite moving back to "clubland" as Geelong Cats President.
Carter was instrumental in the emergence of the Australian Football League, with his 1985 Blue Book laying the path to a national competition, which along with the 2001 Carter Report into game development provide most of the pillars on which the League is based. Unfortunately his push for international development and in particular a bigger South African investment has not swayed the AFL Commission sufficiently to invest large enough sums to make the dreams a reality. AFL South Africa does continue to grow, as does international footy, but the trajectory right now suggests none of us will live to see semi-pro leagues outside of Australia or an international side ever competitive against an All-Australian side.
So it's good that Carter, a very accomplished individual outside football as well, is still advocating for an acceleration in investment. Most involved in international football know the AFL commitment has grown overall over the last decade, but it ebbs and flows, it changes direction, it focuses on talent identification and development and on sustainability (a worthy goal) but it never really quite invests enough in any one spot for critical mass to see a true explosion.
According to Don Cruttenden, Kenya is a country that is just waiting to embrace Australian Rules football. As he says “With its hospitable weather, largely active and energetic population and standing in the world as the producer of the greatest supply of middle and long-distance runners in the world, I believe the potential for the game to advance in Kenya is immense.”
Rumblings of the game being played in the African nation have been around for a little while, notably the recent work of Tom Purcell in Nairobi who has pioneered local games including the recent challenge match between Kenya and Tanzania. See our article Buffalo soldiers: Kenyans beat Tanzanians in historic match.
Don, however, is moving to take things much further. His role as a teacher at the Greensteds International School in Nakuru (Kenya’s fourth largest city, 160 kilometres north-west of the capital Nairobi). His role as Director of Physical Education at the school has allowed him to introduce Australian Rules football into the school program.
The following article appeared on the AFL Footywild (South Africa) website, contributed by Tom King at K-ROCK Football. It tells the fascinating story of the experiences of the Geelong based St Mary’s football team, a member of the Geelong Football League, and their recent experiences on a trip to South Africa to play footy.
The article clearly shows that whilst football is the vehicle by which these young players take their opportunity, it is the life experiences on their journeys which are most profound and often life-changing.
“(It’s) about getting the kids to a different environment and culture, and understanding how lucky they are to live in Australia.”
AFL Footywild have recently reviewed their 2014 season, and this article from their own website lists their achievements for the year. In a season which saw improvement on a number of fronts, there were two areas in particular which illustrated the success well. The South African team performed admirably at the International Cup in August, reaching the semi-final stage and finishing in fourth place overall.
Additionally a number of new teams were created and formed a National Premier league, a step towards higher performance and greater opportunities. The teams featured are the four key Australian Rules football playing provinces – Super Owls and Warriors (Gauteng), Nyanga Bluebirds and Khayelitsha Divines (Western Cape), Wild Cats and Platinum Buffaloes (North West) and Giant Bees and Hurricanes (KwaZulu Natal).
YOUNG boys leapt for joy while others leant on their knees in the worn paddock in the middle of the Nairobi township of Embulbul.
The final whistle had blown and the first international game of Australian football between African nations was over. Were there really any losers?
The historic match between players representing Kenya and Tanzania took place in late June in Nairobi, thanks to outreach organisation Zimele and its founder Tom Purcell, a senior teacher at Melbourne's St Kevin's College.
Since Purcell first visited Africa seven years ago, he has dreamt of establishing a sporting exchange between the neighbouring countries, but a lack of financial support and tricky logistics forced him to be extremely patient. However patience comes naturally to a busy, full-time working father of 10, as does persistence, and this year it all paid off.