Geelong footballer Cameron Guthrie travelled to Scandanavia in his off-season and took up the opportunity, through AFL Europe, to train with some Australian rules clubs based in the Nordic countries. Here is a first-person recount of his travels and experiences with passionate football supporters living overseas.
This off-season, I was lucky enough to travel to London and Northern Europe to recharge the batteries and experience Scandinavia for the first time.
In the lead up to my trip, an article on aflplayers.com.au during the year had stuck in my mind. It had mentioned to players the possibility of visiting with some AFL Europe teams to experience the game in a different setting, away from the competitiveness and pressures of the AFL. I decided I was interested.
In the weeks leading up to my trip, I had organised to meet General Manager of AFL Europe, Ryan Davey. Over a coffee around the corner from Australia House in Central London, he explained to me the strong participation levels in both men’s and women’s competitions in Europe, thousands of kilometres from the MCG.
I knew that Australian rules football was played in some capacity overseas, but was surprised to hear about the number of countries in Europe that have both a domestic competition and a national team that comes together to participate in the European Cup and International Cup.
I gathered that most of the teams would be filled with Aussie expats, but was reassured by Ryan that although you will find Australians ‘having a kick’ in their new homes the teams are commonly dominated by European locals who have enthusiastically picked up the game. He let me know that there were teams in and around Stockholm (Sweden) and Copenhagen (Denmark) who had invited me to meet up socially or join them at a training session later in my trip.
After spending a couple of days in London, I went to Norway and experienced its breathtaking scenery. Highlights included the amazing Northern Lights and a boat cruise through one of its famous Fjords
Stockholm was next. At an Australian Pub in the Swedish capital, I met up with an Aussie named Che and some Swedish people, including Buster, who made headlines in Australia for his DIY goalposts he prepared for the European Cup mid-year and his girlfriend Jessica, who all played footy in Stockholm.
Swedish player and part-time lumberjack, Buster, carved goalposts out of trees he cut down in the forest for an AFL Europe event (Picture: AFL.com.au)
I chatted to them about how the game has been received in Sweden and the amount of work involved to allow the game to continue to flourish into the future. Even though I was only supposed to meet up for a chat here, I was taken by Buster’s enthusiasm for the game and we arranged to have a small training session about an hour north of Stockholm.
Along with a couple of his teammates, we came together in a gym in Norrtälje to work on some of their skills and understanding of the game.
It was really enjoyable and their energy and eagerness to improve was amazing to see. I was presented with a Norrtälje Dockers jumper at the end of the session which was really cool.
My last stop was Copenhagen, where I had been in contact with an Australian involved in the Danish footy scene living in Denmark named Atiba.
We organised to have a training session on my last night before I flew back to Melbourne.
I arrived at the hockey field, the site of our training session, where I was greeted by the early arrivals including a Dane named Kristian, who had partially torn his ACL in the European Cup earlier this year. He was also the President of the Danish Australian Football League, and filled me in on the workings of their competition, their past successes and his own experiences while travelling through Australia.
On a night of around five degrees Celsius, where I was really feeling the cold (I was reassured it was actually a great night to be training in Denmark), we ran through a number of drills for nearly two hours. I was really impressed by the skill levels of both the men and the women present and their enthusiasm for the game.
After the session I received a big thank you from the group, but I was just as thankful for the way they allowed me to join in and the warm welcome they gave me. It also did me some good physically.
Being able to run around and have a kick for the first time in a month, and satisfy our fitness staff who demand we don’t go the whole break without kicking a footy (I hope they are reading this)!
There were many people who took the time to make me feel welcome and tell me about their experiences with football in Europe. A lot of them do an amazing amount of work behind the scenes to grow the game, similar to the efforts of all the volunteers involved in footy back home. Although it is different to the way I have grown up with the game in Australia, their passion for footy is undeniable.
In Australia, the diversity in the the game both locally and in the AFL is growing which is great! Who knows how many Europeans and men and women from all over the world may grace our fields if footy continues to grow in popularity. I can say firsthand, our game overseas is in safe hands.
AFL and AFLW players interested in training or getting in touch with a European side during their off-season breaks can contact AFL Europe General Manager Ryan Davey at firstname.lastname@example.org, who will then put them in touch with the relevant people in the countries they are visiting.