I have two confessions to make: I am a Pom, and I love the game of Aussie rules and the AFL.
The game has become more accessible worldwide, with five live games each week in the UK and the Watch AFL app allowing fans to get their fix anytime, anyplace.
As an outsider, what appeals is the physicality of the game, the skill and athleticism of the players, the relentless end-to-end scoring (which is a breath of fresh air from the low scoring soccer matches I’m used to in the UK) and, most of all, the theatre and drama of the finals series.
From that first match, I was hooked.
Thanks to the increased coverage, the AFL should capitalise on this opportunity to grow the game in the northern hemisphere. AFL players from Europe almost exclusively come from Ireland, thanks to the similarity of their national game of Gaelic football.
Obviously the skills cross-over speeds up the transition from Gaelic to Aussie rules, but the pool of players to pick from is extremely small and this limits the exposure of Aussie rules to the minority of people involved with Gaelic football.
Could the AFL not cast the net wider and look to recruit from soccer academies in Europe, starting with the UK? I’m talking specifically about those academy players who are released at 18 and do not earn a professional soccer contract.
Granted, the majority of these players will continue to pursue their dream of becoming a professional soccer player or continuing to play the sport recreationally, but offering these players the chance to attend an AFL recruiting combine, to showcase the sport of Aussie rules and the AFL, could help expose the sport to a new market.
These academy players may lack the basics but thanks to their training should possess the fitness and spatial awareness essential in Aussie rules, and you never know, one or two may have what it takes to become an AFL player.
A successful soccer-to-AFL story could open the floodgates to generating interest in the sport. Targeting academies will, at the very least, give these players knowledge of a sport they previously may never have heard of, hopefully leading some to seek out opportunities to participate.
Speaking of participation, in the UK it is predominantly nine-a-side games played on rugby pitches, with the 18-a-side game used for national teams (Great Britain Bulldogs for example) and the AFL London league, which offers three grades of the 18-a-side game.
The building blocks are there in terms of infrastructure, generating interest in the game and making it an attractive alternative to the other major sports that dominate in Europe are the next steps.
It’s fair to say these are the ramblings of an Aussie rules mad Pmo but it is a sport that I would love to see have greater global recognition and participation.
Some radical thinking could go a long way to unlocking the potential of growing the game globally. Roll on June 11!