Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Swedish Rules Footy

We have finally got our broadband internet connected at home. For the past two months I've been using internet cafes and libraries to update this blog. But with our own connection at home, I can update more often.

But first things first. I believe I still owe you match reports and an update on my football career with the Berserkers. We played our first game of the season four weeks ago, at home against Karlstad. The match was 12 a side, and played on a Rugby pitch with small posts set up on either side of the rugby posts. Along the boundary, we set up a sign explaining the rules for any curious onlookers. Goal umpiring and time keeping were done by interchange players, and four Australians (including myself) rotated umpiring duties each quarter.

It was Karlstad’s first ever match, having only been established earlier this year. A news crew from the local Karlstad TV station turned up to cover the event, obviously curious at the novelty of such a small town producing a team in such an obscure sport. (In fact Karlsatd have been getting a far bit of media coverage. You can read about them in a local Swedish newspaper here.) The team was nearly as multicultural as East Brunswick, consisting of Australians, Swedes, Germans, and even one Jamaican. But in the end it was the experience of Goteborg (who have played three games in its entire history) that prevailed, 134 to 61. You can read a match report here, and if you're really interested you can read the match stats and another report here. I scored one behind.

Statistically I did better than my East Brunswick days, even losing count of my disposals. (I'm pictured right, number 13) Yet I still feel dissatisfied. As an Australian there is an expectation that I play particularly well. After all, I’ve grown up playing this game, while my team-mates (some as young as 17) are still learning to handball properly. In theory I should dominate, but in reality I was at best an average player. To be honest, the game was far more physical than I expected. Maybe its because I hadn’t played for 10 years, and the last match I played was against 16 year-olds, but I just wasn’t used to the tackling and hip-and-shoulders.

I have a theory to explain it. When you talk about Aussie rules in Sweden, the most obvious question is why would a Swede want to play? What does Aussie rules offer over other mainstream sports like soccer or handball? The answer is physical violence. Time and time again, when I ask Swedes how they got involved in football, the answer is they were looking for a more physical sport. Not the marking and kicking, nor the pace or athleticism of the game: just the tackling. Many of the Karlstad players had previously played Rugby and Gridiron, and were recruiting on the premise that Aussie Rules allowed full-on body tackling. Thus many Swedes see Aussie Rules as an opportunity to run round flattening people, and do so with relish. I felt vindicated by the fact that a number of other Aussies also complained about not getting many kicks, and I did notice that towards the end, a few were conveniently sidelined by cramp and dodgy ankles.

Our second match was against Skåne, the region covering Sweden’s southern tip. In contrast to Karlstad, Skåne are a much more experienced side. The area is very much the birth place and centre of Aussie Rules in Sweden. In was here in 1993 that the very first team was established: the Helsingborg Saints. Today, they have there own league with teams in Helsingborg, Landskrona and Malmo. The team we were playing was supposed to be a combined side from the whole Skåne league.

Football in Skåne is strong partly because of its very close proximity to Denmark. Malmo is only a short drive over a bridge, and is practically an outer suburb of Copenhagen. Helsingborg is a 15-minute ferry trip. The Danish Aussie Rules Football League is the biggest and strongest league in the non-English speaking world. They’ve even set up a Premier League. Skåne’s close location means that teams can play often and regularly against much superior Danish sides. The Helsingborg Saints have since become the South Sweden Saints and along with Port Malmo, compete in the Danish Premier League. The Skåne clubs act as feeder clubs for these two, and so some players have played football for as long as 14 years, raking up over 200 games. The Goteborg Berserkers on the other hand, are lucky if they can find time for three games a year.

Thus, we made the trip down south expecting a hiding. The match was played in Landskrona, a small town between Malmo and Helsingborg, and about three hours drive from Goteborg. The town doesn’t have much, but it does have one of only two Aussie rules football grounds in Sweden, with the right goal posts and proper boundary lines. We also managed to bring down 20 players, the biggest turn out in the club’s short history, so we played a proper 18 per-side game.
When we arrived, we discovered that the South Sweden Saints were scheduled to play against a Danish side on the same day. Consequently many of Skåne’s more experienced players were rested, and a second-string side was fielded against us instead. Only one Aussie, and lots of Irish. In the end, despite all our anxiety, we managed to beat them by an ever bigger margin than the Karlstad match: 123 to 55.
Again, a complete match report can be found here, and stats here. I’m in the first photo (number 13). I’ve now got my own profile on footyrecord.net, which can be seen here. I’ve also discovered that Swedish footballers have a role model in the Adelaide Crows defender Kris Massie (pictured right). He is the first and only Swedish born player in VFL/AFL history.

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