In 1999 I joined the Milwaukee Bombers and became one of a small group of people pioneering footy in Wisconsin. In those early days, I would drive an hour and half up to Milwaukee to run around with 5 or 6 (not so fit) Australians and the odd American (often quite odd). I think it was after my first practice, that I was given the email address of a bloke in Madison and told to start something in my home town. Gary Hill, a physicist, and I would run regular training sessions in Madison and we even hosted a couple of games. The numbers were always light and Milwaukee always got stomped on by Chicago. The two clubs got so sick of the one-sided games that it eventually led to an on-field fight. You've gotta believe that things are pretty bad if the on-field scuffles are over footy administration. Things have changed a lot since I left. Last year the Bombers hosted the USFooty Nationals and they have become one of the dominant sides of USFooty.
The Ontario AFL has had a bit of a setback in 2006 with the loss of the Windsor Mariners and London Magpies, two struggling regional clubs, but this has been partially offset by the arrival of a new club based in Toronto, the Central Blues. We talk to club-founder Bruce Parker.
The USAFL today announced the cancellation of the annual East-West tournament that was scheduled for July 1st in Sarasota, Florida. The USAFL board earlier this year resolved to not have a repeat of 2005 where the league incurred expenses of $2700 and no return income for the event. Fifty player registrations were received for the event but when the league called for a $100 deposit (refundable at the event) only twenty-five responses were received. Given the response the league had no choice but to cancel the event with the likelihood that insufficient numbers would be available for a quality match, and that the league may make a loss on it.
Is the AFL the future of AFL in the US? In US professional sports the acronym AFL stands for Arena Football League. The work of Tommy Ellis, the Denver Bulldogs and the Colorado Crush suggest that the future success of professional footy in the US may lie with the Arena Football League rather than with that other AFL.
The Dallas Magpies have been the only club in Texas to last more than a few seasons to date, with repeated efforts to start regular footy in Houston, San Antonio and Austin failing to build lasting clubs. 2006 may be the turning point - with a Houston side playing matches and interested parties trying to get the Austin and San Antonio sides back from hibernation. However, a lot of hard work remains to be done - WFN takes a look at where Texas footy could be headed.
Australian Football in Canada continues to spread, with the Calgary Roos looking to create a spin-off side, the Bears, in much the same vein as the Vancouver Cougars have produced the Burnaby Eagles. These bears look a bit more intimidating than the cuddley koala "bears" that struggled on the Gold Coast in Australia a decade ago (before becoming the Brisbane Lions). And this weekend BC and Alberta sides will converge on Kelowna for a 10-a-side tournament, with a further event planned for Vancouver in July.
Playing half time demonstration games at other sporting events is just one of the innovations by Aussie Rules clubs in the US trying to gain exposure, recruits and sponsorship. The Denver Bulldogs are arguably the most successful club in the US and are reigning national champions. On March 25th the Denver Bulldogs hosted an indoor Australian Rules Football demonstration game on an Arena Football field when they played at halftime between the Colorado Crush and the Columbus Destroyers. The Pepsi Center is also the home to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.
The current AZAFL season has been another successful one already and we are only in May. Some US teams are just running out for their first kick. The six team AZAFL have completed their ten round home and away season, finals and grand final and managed to throw their AZAFL World Invitational Metro Footy Championship Tournament in the mix back in February.
Aussie Rules footy got its first start in Canada in the Ontario province. The number of clubs there has regularly grown and it is home to one of the most stable Australian Football leagues outside of Australia. However changes are underway for the 2006 season, with new club the Central Blues a positive sign but concerns whether a new metro-style league will be a success.
In 1998, I had been living in the US for four years and I started to hear rumblings of footy being played around my new home of Madison, WI. I thought: “Great, I can go down and watch some footy.” I love watching footy and I don’t much care if it is an AFL Grand Final or a game between two of the Melbourne Uni residential colleges. The reality of course was that in 1998 there was barely enough people to play a game let alone have some left over to watch. With only East Ringwood U9 Thirds on my footy resume, I became a player for the Milwaukee Bombers and the Baltimore-Washington Eagles, an assistant coach, and a club and league administrator. However, yesterday, some eight years later, my dream came true.