With the 2018 season fast approaching, we’ll be taking a look at each of the countries in our AFL Europe community to get a snapshot of how Aussie Rules kicked off in their country, some of their highlights, and their goals for 2018. Next up is Wales, who competed at 2017’s Euro Cup in Bordeaux, and have plans to expand their women’s competition in 2018. Check out what AFL Wales President, James Gibson, had to say about AFL in Wales:
What’s the history of AFL in Wales?
The Welsh league formed as the brain child of an Australian from Adelaide, who came to live in Wales, following his Welsh heritage. As time went on, it become quite clear that the love of the game, and not being around it, left a void that other popular sports in the UK just could not satisfy and so Australian Rules Football began!
Many people who knew Bryce are thankful to him for his passion for the game which has enabled those who have played in Wales to enjoy this wonderful game. For the majority of participants it has had a profound positive impact on them to some degree or another, whether it is a person who has never had the courage to play a team game, someone who wants to try something completely different or as far as representing their country at Euro Cup or International Cup.
In 2006 the concept of starting a league got underway and the following year saw the introduction of three clubs. The Welsh league was modelled around the South Australian Football League with the three founding clubs, Cardiff Double Blues, the South Cardiff Panthers and the Swansea Magpies, who’s names were taken from clubs in the SAFL.
However this was not the first time that the game was played on Welsh soil. Australian Rules Football was first played in Wales in 1944 when the 462 Squadron played against the second Sunderland Squadron who formed teams based on the State of Origin (Victoria vs Western Australia) to play a match at Pembroke Dock.
Give us a snapshot of AFL in Wales:
Since the league began more and more interest has been gained through word of mouth, open taster sessions and exposure in local newspapers. This has resulted in peak numbers hitting the 150 region.
Aussie rules Wales was the original name for the league with a guest English team the Swindon Devils taking the first ever Welsh Premiership flag.
The following year the league name was replaced by the Welsh Australian Rules Football League (WARFL) and was established as the governing body of the game in Wales.
We have such a welcoming league with great teams, past and present, that have been involved over the seasons. These include and have included Bath and Wiltshire Redbacks, Swansea Magpies, Bridgend Eagles, Bristol Dockers, South Cardiff Panthers and Cardiff Double Blues.
South Cardiff Panthers have had the most success winning the first ever consecutive premiership and have won the league 7 years out of the 11 it has been running. An extremely hard working and well drilled Bristol Dockers have brought the streak to an end. A good mix of international players from France and Wales and quite a few well-seasoned Aussies have made their mark and shown that they mean business.
What were some of the highlights of AFL in Wales in 2017?
The most significant turning point of the 2017 season is the formation of a Welsh ladies team. For quite some time now the idea of the first ever ladies squad has been a bit of dream but for the Welsh President James Gibson this was going to happen due to his unwavering drive and was therefore just a matter of time.
James wanted to expand the game in Wales by introducing it to women, which would tap into the vast wealth of potential talent who are unaware of the game and the fact it is played here.
A combined Welsh and Danish representative squad was formed and history was made at the recent 2017 Euro Cup in Bordeaux. Not only did they show what skills they had picked up over the months of training, they had their first taste of success as they defeated an already well established Croatian Queens 36-0.
The Welsh League also played its first ever 18 a side game this year in the London Pre Season Tournament, which swiftly led to more games against Canada and Oxford in 2017. Following this success, a link has been set up with Wimbledon Hawks this coming season to enable the Welsh League to gain more 18 a side experience and push more players towards GB.
What are your top three goals for 2018?
The three main objectives for the coming year is to go one better and make the top 4 in the next Euro Cup for the men’s squad, having come 5th in the most recent competition in Bordeaux.
Secondly to continue the success of the ladies team by driving participation and to send a predominantly home grown full 16 players to Euro Cup this time around.
Thirdly we want to encourage our league to grow and provide as many opportunities for the teams and individuals to participate in this sport. This will hopefully lead to more talent being considered for a GB opportunity.
Who’s a player to watch?
A player to watch this year is Calumn Newman of the South Cardiff Panthers. Calumn has had five very good seasons behind him and has made himself known on the GB radar, hopefully this year he can demonstrate his full potential on bigger stages.