It’s a mixture of soccer, rugby, basketball and NFL football all in one,” describes Troy Rose, head coach of the local Aussie rules football club, the Calgary Kangaroos.
Though that might not clear the confusion about Australian rules football–a sport derived from Gaelic football–it might give a slight impression of how the sport works. It’s somehow a mix of the kicking skills of soccer, the tackling and running of football, the free-flowing and physical nature of rugby, and the catching and jumping of basketball.
“I started playing when I was 10, played junior football on the Gold Coast,” says Rose. “When I came over to Canada, they didn’t have the game. It was a passion I wanted to be involved with, so I helped found the [Calgary Kangaroos] club with a few other guys. The Canadians picked it up really fast; we’ve been going on for four years, five years coming up.”
The game is typically played with an oval-shaped ball on an oval-shaped field with four vertical posts on either side. There are two teams, 18 to a side, and the goal is to outscore the opposition by kicking the ball through the posts. The two centre posts are called goal posts, and a kick through the two centre posts counts for six points. The side posts are called behinds, and a kick through the behinds counts for a single point.
The sport has a small following in Canada, with three clubs in Alberta, three in B.C. and 11 in Ontario. In Alberta the ‘Roos are joined by the Calgary Bears, a start-up club this year, and the Red Deer Magpies. With so few teams, the teams sometimes have to make some compromises to get a full game going.
“We play against the Gaelic football team, the Calgary Chieftains,” says Rose. “We play Gaelic for half a game, and then Aussie rules for half a game. So we’ll have a go, then they’ll have a go and they enjoy it.”
Though the sport was obviously rooted on Aussie soil and grew from the seeds of enthusiastic Australians trying to bring some of their home country to Canada, Canadians have been picking up the game, and make up about two-thirds of the ‘Roos current roster.
Even with the small number of Canadian club teams, there’s a Canadian national team that has seen international competition.
“I’m the assistant coach of the national team,” says Rose. “We’ve got a couple of guys representing Canada, Gareth Williams and Josh Symonds, who are going down to Houston to take on the U.S. Revolution Jan. 20. Obviously you qualify through your skills, you have to be able to perform [and have] a good knowledge of the game. You have to be a Canadian citizen and you [can’t have lived in] Australia between the ages of one and 16. If you were Canadian, born in Canada, but you grew up in Australia, you don’t qualify. We want more Canadians to come out so we can teach them, make the league better, and obviously to promote the game and to get more competition.”
Team Canada has twice been to the International Cup in Melbourne, Australia. The first year they placed eighth out of 12 teams and the second year they placed seventh out of 11 teams.
Canadian club teams benefit by having Australian transplants around to teach them the sport. Brad Flowar, an Australian playing for the ‘Roos, played preseason games in the AFL, the top Aussie rules league.
“I played a season with the reserves,” says Flowar. “I’ve been here since April. I intend to help out the Canadian side and stay for a few more years. I’m enjoying it so much, I’d rather stay here, have fun. I like the people.”
As for the Australians, they benefit from the opportunity to exchange sporting knowledge with the Canadians.
“We go out there and they get frustrated when we kick the football,” says Flowar. “When they get on the rink and they can just go around us any second, we get frustrated. It’s all in good fun.”
Even if your only sporting skill is skating around Australians, there’s no worries if you want to join in on some of the action. Everyone’s willing to teach, and it’s also a good opportunity to meet a few blokes to have a few beers with.
“We teach you, even if you have no skill level and all you’ve played is hockey,” says Rose. “It’s a fun sport, very cheap. All you need is a pair of football boots and a mouth guard, and you’re laughing.”