For this installment of the international footy series, I talk to Phil Johns the President of the newly formed AFL Asia, and the Vietnam Swans.
Phil became involved in the game in 2003 when a guy he knew told him about the Asian Championships being held at the time. When the Swans started in Vietnam he became a part and several years later Vietnam became part of the Asian Championships.
Phil says that people forget that expats in Asia arent actually in Asia to play footy, most expats in the region are fairly senior staff at major multinational companies.
The Vietnam Swans is predominantly an expat team with guys from Australia, Europe and the rest of the world. Phil says that some other sides in the Asian region feature a majority of local players. This includes a new league in Guangdo in China that had 80 players reportedly turn up for its first round – all locals.
Loas had about 40% locals in its side at the Asian Championships. Indonesia are sending a team to the International Cup – which means they have a full side of Indonesian natives. Indonesia benefit from having a full time development officer.
AFL Asia was formed in July this year at a meeting of Asian club presidents, and formally aligned with the AFL at the same time. Phil says that this gives the game in Asia greater credibility and helps with management and communication across Asia. He also says that the association has enabled the clubs to be more self reliant and not needing as much cover from the Australian Government and the AFL.
Phil says the increase in organisation in recent years means that the games are more organised and less ad hoc than they used to be with regularly held tournaments like the Indochina Cup and Asian Championships.
There are 21 clubs involved in AFL Asia, but the numbers can fluctuate somewhat. The association encompasses teams from East Timor and Bali, right up to Beijing, and from Tokyo to Islamabad. As Phil says its a huge area to cover. Phil says Pakistan and India arent really fully involved yet, but have expressed interest.
Most clubs will play 14 or 16 a side locally but games like the Indochina cup and Asian Championships will be 18 a side.
Phil says that a big problem in Asia is finding vacant green areas on which to play football on, and as such games are typically played on rectangles such as those used for soccer and rugby as there are limited ovals available.
Several of the Asian clubs meet in the Indochina Cup which features games between the Vietnam Swans, Laos Elephants, Cambodian Eagles and Thailand Tigers. This seasons cup will mark the seventh such series having begun in 2007.
The Asian Championships dates back to 2000, and this year 12 clubs played in the 18 a side competition. Its a lightning premiership conducted on a single day. The competition is run on 2 ovals held simultaneously side by side. These games can only be held in a limited number of places due to limited space. Phil says you can hire an oval in Singapore for $50,000 if you want, but it gets expensive.
Thailand have hosted the last three championships, with the next one likely to be held in the Phillipines.
Perhaps the biggest single games in the area are the Anzac Day cup which is currently held in Thailand and hosted by the Tigers. Phil says the Swans played there in 2009. Teams went to the Dawn Service at Hellfire pass, the morning service at the Kunchinibori war cemetery, before playing the match itself with 3 former prisoners of war in the crowd. In the evening, there was a dinner held on a boat that sailed on the River Kwai.
Phil says that Vietnam is seeking to do its own war memorial match, but that its a politically sensitive issue and as a result, its an ANZAC friendship match held not far from Long Tan where all players on both sides wear two armbands to recognise all the dead on both sides of the war.
The Borneo Bears (all Borneo nationals) have hosted a game at the same time at Balikpapan, which this year featured the Jakarta Garudas (all indonesian nationals).
Phil says that these matches are being held at places of great historical significance. He states that while standing at the MCG on Anzac Day is great, you cant really beat actually standing at the site of the events.
We’ll be covering more countries in more depth as this series progresses. Including the new league in Guang Do, and other countries in the Asian region.
You can learn more about AFL Asia and its clubs at their website at www.afl-asia.com.