It’s been another history-making week of AFL football. Here are my talking points from the round.
In the first 2015 edition of the Bigfooty International Podcast series, I talked to Brent Fischer, president (and a player) of the Minnesota Freeze Australian Football Club in the United States.
Brent’s road to Australian footy is interesting. He was born in Melbourne, but wasn’t allowed to play heavy contact sport by his mother. He moved to a school in Sydney where playing sport was mandatory, but Australian football wasn’t an option offered by the school and he says he was forced to pay rugby.
He played a season or two of footy for a local club in Sydney before migrating to the United States.
After moving to the United States, he never realised that his local area had an Australian football side. Some time after moving to the States a friend told him of a local ‘rugby club’ in the area, that actually turned out to be an Australian Rules club, much to his delight.
Today not only does Brent play for the Freeze, his father also is on the roster at the club.
Brent believes that the Freeze is one of the USAFLs bigger clubs, boasting about 100 registered players, roughly split evenly between men and women, with about 25 per cent being Australians. Brent also believes that the Freeze may be something of a unique club. Not only are the Australians outnumbed by Americans – he says Minnesota isn’t exactly a hub for Australians in the States – but also by people from other countries including Ireland and even Laos.
Games are played as 18 a side, with the women also having a rec footy reduced contact competition. Metro footy hasnt really taken off yet in Minneapolis with no formal league. The club will play about eight games a year – determined both by availability and proximity to home.
The Freeze Women will play their first ever home game in August against Denver. The USAFL has recently added regionals to its programme, and the Freeze will play in the Central Division regionals from July 11 at Racine in Wisconsin. The regionals provide n opportunity for local teams to play against some of the better teams as they prepare for Nationals.
As is common in the United States, Oval grounds are at a premium, and the Freeze currently play on a number of softball outfields that share a large grassy area suitable for playing, although Brent is hopeful of working with local cricketers to change that in the future.
The Freezes mens side finished sixth overall at the 2014 USAFL Nationals, surprising some by competing in Division 1 for the first time and playing three games against the highly rated Orange County Bombers, Denver Bulldogs and Austin Crows, coming home with one win and being competitive in two losses across the weekend – in a tough fixture which pitted the Freeze against some of the top teams in the country.
As Brent says though, in order to be the best you have to beat the best.
The Minnesota Freeze sent almost two full teams – Blue and White – to the 2014 Nationals, with Blue beating a combined New York and Toronto side in their first game and Sacramento in their second game.
However they were unable to win their final two games, and ended up missing out narrowly on making the championship game against the women from Denver. Brent says that the regular games against the Bulldogs – including the first ever home game for the women – will serve the Minnesota women well in preparations for future nationals.
Coming up after regionals is the 49th Parallel Cup against Canada on July 31st, with nine women named in the side to take on the Lightning and Midnight Suns. Many of those named from the Freeze are experienced footballers, having competed in the 2014 International Cup.
Brent was part of the touring party for the International Cup in Melbourne last year along with another five Freeze men (including a coach) and even more women to play a number of games against teams including Canada.
Brent says that the community has embraced the club to an extent, due in part to the number of Americans, even though they find the game confusing or mistake it for rugby, which is played at some colleges in the area. Brent says rugby is more popular than Australian football – they have actual leagues in the city – but he doesn’t see why Australian footy can’t overtake that in coming years. The Freeze features a number of rugby converts, including the mens captain.
If you would like to be involved in the Minnesota Freeze, or would like more information, please visit their site.