AFL in London: Get set for ‘real’ footy’s big comeback
With AFL making its triumphant return to London on 3 November, when the Bulldogs take on Port Adelaide at the Kia Oval in front of what is sure to be a ravenous crowd, we review the big match up and remember the most infamous footy match ever played in the Capital.
ASK any Australian living in London what they miss most about home and they will inevitably reply: my mum, dim sims and footy.
A trip to the Australia Shop in Covent Garden will usually quell the dim sim craving and quench your appetite for all other manner of homeland snacks for that matter. Similarly, your weekly Skype engagement with mum will enlighten you (again) of the perpetual escalation of petrol prices, and leave you satisfied and safe in the knowledge that you aren’t missing out on that much back home.
But let’s face it, there is one void that cannot be filled – regardless of the Sunday afternoon replays of your favourite team at pubs across the Capital – and that is the feeling of being part of the crowd at a big AFL match.
For the first time since 2006, The Kia Oval plays host to elite footy again as the Western Bulldogs go toe-to-toe with Port Adelaide Power in the AFL European Challenge. It’s time to dust off your old scarf and beanie (we know you packed these when you moved here) and get your ticket before they sell out, to the hottest sporting event since the London Olympics (not the recent one, the one back in 1912). An insatiable crowd is expected to welcome back the fixture that first graced these shores a quarter of a century ago.
Exhibition matches were commonplace in London during the 1980s, a time when Aussie Rules was viewed with wide-eyed bemusement and wonder by the British public. The league was eager to promote footy abroad and participating clubs were always keen to showcase the game at its explosive and bruising best.
Certainly, the most talked about match ever contested away from Australian shores was the infamous 1987 fixture at The Oval between Carlton and North Melbourne. On that afternoon a wildly boisterous crowd were treated to a ferocious encounter dubbed ‘The Battle of Britain’ after a series of fights and spiteful clashes left the punters thinking “Aussie Rules? What rules?”. There were several reports and hefty suspensions dished out by the league who could have been excused for thinking that such a match would taint the image of the game and scare the British people away.
Despite these fears however, the notoriety gained from such a highly publicised match put Aussie Rules in the spotlight and its continued growth and popularity since highlights the broad appeal that our great game generates.
Today, Aussie Rules in Britain is embraced not only by passionate expatriates, but also by an appreciative British sporting public. Those halcyon days of yesteryear are now long gone, the AFL evolving into an inclusive and family-friendly Australian national treasure.
AFL International Development Manager Tony Woods anticipates the upcoming instalment will be a fierce contest, with several young players looking to establish their place in the teams.
“We have the most spectacular game in the world which is best experienced live,” he told Australian Times.
“It will be fantastic to be back at the Kia Oval and we are expecting a big crowd with a great atmosphere,” he added.
Many expect the 2012 clash between the Bulldogs and Port Adelaide to draw a record attendance and both clubs will be out to impress. On paper, there seems little to separate the two teams, who each won the same tally of games in 2012. Both clubs boast a young and highly exciting list of players who are hungry to launch their 2013 pre-season campaign in winning fashion.
Port Adelaide players will hope to make an impact under the watchful eye of new coach Ken Hinkley. Best and Fairest winner Kane Cornes and star forward Jay Shultz will be hard to stop now that the Bulldogs have traded fullback Brian Lake to Hawthorn. The Power also boast ball magnet Brett Ebert who was scintillating in 2012, while Jackson Jackson Trengove and Travis Boak will be decisive in the result of this match.
The Bulldogs, who this week appointed Peter Gordon as Club President, will have the advantage in the midfield, where Shaun Higgins will be handed the responsibility of igniting an engine room full of dashing teammates. Brownlow Medallist Adam Cooney will benefit from a post-season break where his rested knee should enable him to regain his trademark pace, while the fleet-footed Luke Dahlhaus will no doubt electrify the stadium with the blistering speed and daring plays that have seen him receive cult-status down in Footscray. It is sure to be a close one, with the ‘Dogs the slim favourites.
So, to all the sons and daughters missing the great brown land, enjoy your little slice of home when you are at the game. Wear your old team colours with pride, cheer like you are back at the MCG and close your eyes and imagine your Cornish pasty is a dim sim. Oh, and don’t forget to call mum at half time with a score update. Remember though, it will be about 3am in Oz so if she isn’t interested, you could always just tell her about the British petrol prices.
Image: BRITISH BULLDOGS: ‘Fleet footed’ Luke Dahlhaus and Daniel Giansiracusa get set to rule Britannia for the AFL at the Kia Oval in London on 3 November 2012. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)