Jason Lassey is running a series of podcasts for Big Footy and the Roar website on international footy. Last week, Jason interviewed Phil Johns, President of AFL Asia and the Vietnam Swans, about footy in Asia and Vietnam.
Click on the You Tube link above for the original 42 minute interview. Below, read Jason’s article which was published on the Roar’s website on 12 November 2013.
For this instalment 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 involved and several years later Vietnam became part of the Asian Championships.
Phil says that people forget that expats in Asia aren’t 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.
Laos 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 aren’t 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 football 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 season’s 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.
It’s a lightning premiership conducted on a single day. The competition is run on two 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 Philippines.
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 Kanchanaburi war cemetery, before playing the match itself with three 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.
The event is a politically sensitive issue and as a result, it’s an ANZAC friendship match. Held not far from Long Tan, 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 being at the MCG on ANZAC Day is great, you can’t really beat actually standing at the side of these 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 http://www.AFL-asia.com.