Aussie Rules overseas: the United Kingdom and Ireland (2010)

Published: december 20, 2010 –

Following on from the piece about Australian Football developments in the American regions, I thought I’d expound a little on the developments of the sport in Europe, particularly the UK. For the purpose of this article, the UK countries will be covered individually.

As I wrote this I became aware that developments in Europe and the UK and Ireland would need to be separate articles due to the sheer quantity of information that is known about the sport in the UK and Ireland.


In 1883, Richard Twopeny, an English journalist (and rugby player) wrote “A good football match in Melbourne is one of the sights of the world… The quality of the play… is much superior to anything the best English clubs can produce… there is much more ‘style’ about the play”.

A British rugby team toured Australia in 1888, playing 19 matches, including against VFL amd SANFL clubs. The team won 6 matches, but to be fair in this time they also played 35 games of rugby, and consequently the team played 54 matches in 21 weeks.

In 1870, the Edinburgh Australians played the University of London. A planned match between Edinburgh and Australia never eventuated. In 1916, the Australian Army staged a match between two units which featured many top Australian Football players who were actually serving at the time.

However, competitions did not survive the war. They did return again in 1943 when the RAAF played the RAF, as well as a number of RAAF teams playing each other.

The longest running fixture outside of Australia is the annual Oxford-Cambridge University match, which has been played regularly since 1921.

The first recorded local league in England was formed in 1970, featuring six teams, including two rugby sides who used the sports as a means of offseason fitness. This league survived until around 1973 when it disappeared.

In 1989, the British Australian Rules Football League was formed as a regular 18-a-side competition, which appealed to many expatriate Australians as players. A crowd of around 1500 people watched the BARFL grand final in 1999.

Exhibition matches from the VFL were played from 1972, and was played fairly regularly until recently. The record crowd for an Australian rules match in England currently stands at 18,884 – the first Western Derby outside of Australia, a pre-season match between West Coast and Fremantle.

Other big matches have included 14,000 for a match between West Coast and Collingwood in 1997. A match between Richmond and Essendon in 2002 drew 13,000 spectators.

In 2005, Aussie Rules Schools was introduced by Aussie Rules UK, which is part of Aussie Rules International. The school program was originally funded by a UK government grant from the UK Minister for Sport, and its offices are indeed located within the UK Sports Department. Thirteen schools were trialled with over 1000 children reportedly involved at the time. Four schools sent teams to the London Youth Games.

Aussie Rules was also responsible for the introduction of formal 9-a-side footy to England. A national league was formed in 2007, which lead to some disagreement with the pre-existing BARFL, with the new leagues administrators believing that the BARFL was too focussed on the expatriate market, to the detriment of regional areas outside of London. Like Metro Footy in the USA, the game can be played on rectangular pitches used by Soccer and Rugby.

In 2008, the BARFL was dissolved into AFL London while other leagues affiliated with the new body, AFL Britain which oversees all of the UK. It is formally affiliated with the AFL.

2004 figures showed 435 senior players in 18 clubs across England. While many players have been expatriates, the leagues have recently begun placing caps on the number of Australians allowed to compete. The 2007 AFL census shows 600 senior players in 20 clubs playing regularly scheduled matches, with around a further 3000 participating in Junior programs.

The UK submits a combined team known as the Great Britain Bulldogs, which has competed at every International Cup, placing 6 (from 11), 6 (from 10) and 9 (from 16). Great Britain is ranked 6th in the world (not including Australia).

The Bulldogs have also competed in the now defunct Atlantic Alliance Cup (with the US and Canada, replaced by the 49th parallel cup), and the EU Cup. Aussie Rules UK has organised a team pulled primarily from the 9-a-side competitions, known as the Dragonslayers, which play annual matches versus Scotland and Wales.

England are represented on the European Australian Football Commission.

Current AFL players from England include, Will Thursfield (Richmond), and Brad Moran (Adelaide). There are about 17 former English players no longer playing in the AFL, the best known of which are probably Clive Waterhouse (Port/Fremantle) and Fergus Watts (St Kilda).


Despite regular matches between the AFL and the Gaelic Football Association in the International Rules format, Australian Football itself was not officially played in Ireland until the first clubs were formed in Dublin and Belfast in 1999.

The Australian Rules Football League of Ireland is not affiliated with the Gaelic Football Association, or the International Rules series.

ARFLI run two competitions, a 14 a side regular competition, and its Super 9′s competition, played on the rectangular Gaelic pitches, much the same as Metro Footy in the US, and the Aussie Rules UK competition in England. Teams have played in the previous BARFL pre-season competitions.

There are currently eight Australian Rules Clubs in Ireland. Ireland also features a junior Auskick type program.

The AFL International census of 2007 shows five senior teams, with 110 senior players.

The ARFLI currently has a partnership with the Collingwood Football Club, where Collingwood supply coaching, marketing and public relations support from 2009 – 2012.

An Irish side has competed at every International Cup, finishing 1st (from 11), 4th (from 10), and 4th (from 16), having won 12 and lost 5 matches at the Cup. They are currently ranked 3rd in the world.

The Irish side also competes in the European Championships as well as other international tournaments.

Ireland are members of the European Australian Football Commision.

The best known Irish AFL players to date have included the now retired Jim Stynes, and the currently playing Tadgh Kenneally and Setanta O’hAilpan. Other former players include Colm Begley, and Marty Clarke. Aside from O’hAilpan these have all come from Gaelic backgrounds (he was a hurler).

There have been 44 Irish players signed to the VFL/AFL at some point in history.


Rumours exist of an Australian Football competition in the early 20th century, but even if this could be verified, it had certainly disappeared by World War 1. An Edinburgh Australians side – mainly expatriates – played the University of London in 1888.

Scots played a big role in the formation of the code in the mid 19th century, the first Australian Football competition in Australia was known as the Caledonian Challenge Cup in 1861. The Essendon Bombers were founded by Scottish groups in Melbourne.

In Scotland, there are presently 3 clubs, formed as recently as 2003, and occasional particpants in the former BARFL leagues. Scottish teams now play in the Scottish Australian Rules Football League.

They are represented in the European Australian Football Commission, and are also affiliated with AFL Britain. Officially, they are represented at the International Cup as part of the Great Britain Bulldogs squad. Like Ireland, Scotland plays a 14-a-side competition.

The 2007 AFL International census, claims 4 clubs with 100 players.

Scotland’s national team is known as the Clansmen, and plays annual matches against England and Wales.

The best known Scottish AFL player would be the retired Sean Wight (Melbourne).


Australian Football was first played in Wales during World War 2, when the RAAF staged a State of Origin match at Pembroke Dock. However Australian Football has been played on a consistent level since 2007 and is run by the Welsh Australian Football league. All teams in the WARFL bear the same nicknames as teams in the SANFL. In 2011 this will feature a 6 team competition featuring a 12-a-side competition.

The Welsh National Team is the Cymru Red Dragons. The All star side is the Red Devils which competes against England and Scotland. They are represented at the International Cup by the Great Britain Bulldogs.

The 2007 AFL International Census shows 4 clubs with 100 players, but it should be noted that the League had barely begun at this point. Wales is not represented in the European Football Commission but is expected to be in the short term. The WARFL is affiliated with AFL Britain.

International Tournaments featuring UK and Ireland Sides:

Scotland v Wales “Haggis Cup”
Scotland v Wales v Ireland “Celtic Challenge Trophy”
Scotland v Wales v England “AFL Britain National Championship”