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.
Gab Donnelly has spent a fair bit of time recently lurking around her local post office with large parcels. In her role as treasurer with the Baulkham Hills Hawks juniors in the north west suburbs of Sydney, Gab has been answering the call of their Cairns based “brothers” and sending footy boots and jumpers to all parts of the world to help kids and youth to keep playing our game.
The most recent example is the sending of some club jumpers to the Bodibe club, a city 250 kilometres west of Johannesburg in South Africa. This follows on from their extraordinary gesture of donating a set of 20 jumpers to the Salamanda Port Powers team in Lae, Papua New Guinea, and another donation of a jumper to the North Delta junior club in Vancouver, Canada. They also sent a small set of jumpers to the Pyramid Power club in Cairns to help promote the Brother Clubs Project.
At this rate the club may run out of jumpers before long. But not heart.
The following article, written by Conor Walsh on the AFL website, looks at an upcoming Australian Rules football match between two African countries not usually seen mentioned Australian Rules football circles…until now. The work of Australian teacher, Tom Purcell, and his colleagues is changing that African landscape by degrees. Picture:Zimele.
"BARE feet and tattered boots speed across the dirt, dust is wiped from sweaty brows and boys hop over barbed-wire fences to retrieve the inflated leather that is an Australian football.
This is not in the Outback or on the hardy country football ground you may be imagining - this is in Embulbul, an outer suburb of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Why would young Kenyan boys be playing our gameω Because of Tom Purcell.
The following article was written by Libby Toovey for AFL South Africa detailing her recent trip to the nation to assist in the development of Australian Rules football umpiring. This represents another bold and positive initiative for the game in South Africa and will go a long way towards ensuring that the greatest platform needed for a football match – umpires – become more and more available to ensure the future growth of the game.
In December last year I spent two awesome weeks with thelovely guys at AFL South Africa. This was in fact the second time that I’d had the pleasure of working with Phindi, July and all the others, where in October 2012 I spent a week helping the umpires during their National Championships. As an umpire in Melbourne, I’ve been exposed to a lot of umpiring coaching, training and AFL football, so I believe I have a lot to offer all the umpires and players in South Africa. That’s why I decided to come back and further impart my knowledge onto these AFL lovers that are hungry to know more and gain more experience of the game.