A cross between handball and football: that’s all you needed to say

Aussie rules football combines Denmark’s two most beloved sports, and don’t forget the really short shorts – no wonder it’s been such a success

Denmark had its first real taste of Australian rules football in 1989 when a bloke called Mick Sitch posted an ad in a local Copenhagen newspaper. 

He was calling for any sportsmen who wanted to try kicking around an oval-shaped ball.

Three or four guys showed up at Fælledparken and the following year, there were enough players to split into three teams and start up a league – now known as the Danish Australian Football League (DAFL). It has become the largest Australian rules football league in the non-English speaking world.

Troels Ottesen, the vice-president of the DAFL, grew up playing football like many other young Danes.

However, after reaching a fairly serious level in the ‘90s, Ottesen became fed up with the simulation of injury and all-round acting that had started to embed itself into the game.

“It only took one training session to get me hooked on Australian rules, and from then on I watched footy whenever I could and played as much as possible,” revealed Ottesen. “Combining skill, pace and physicality, I really do believe it’s the greatest team ball game out there.”

Ottesen plays for the Farum Cats, one of the teams represented in the DAFL Premier League alongside seven others from Zealand, Jutland and Sweden. 

The Cats have been one of the league’s stronger sides over the past decade. They won the grand final this year and have a junior development programme in place to attract fresh talent. 

They are well connected to their counterpart Australian Football League (AFL) club, the Geelong Cats, which signed a friendship agreement with Farum in 2002.

Several players and representatives from the AFL have visited Denmark over the years, including the Geelong Cats’ Jimmy Bartel who even had a Danish girlfriend for a while.

“There is also the quite newly-formed AFL Europe body, which organises different tournaments and games in Europe,” Ottesen said. “They also have some former AFL players helping them out, so there is a chance to meet some of those guys if you get selected for a European team, or for the Vikings – Denmark’s national team.”

While Denmark’s Aussie rules comp enjoyed a growing support base soon after it started up, the sport’s popularity started to dwindle from about 2004.

Ottesen said the DAFL is making several changes to the way it recruits players so clubs can attract more participation and interest in the game.

Aksel Bang (Aalborg FC) sidesteps Kim Christensen and Lars Christiansen (both North Copenhagen Barracudas) on the boundary to run in for a clear shot on goal (photo: Bayram Ali)

“I believe we will succeed, and in doing so, have many more clubs popping up around Denmark over the next couple of years.”

Now that Eurosport 2 is broadcasting live AFL games during the season, Ottesen hopes that they can draw a fresh batch of players and spectators. 

“It’s always hard to compete with soccer and handball, but as more and more people in Denmark learn of this great game, I am sure we will get more numbers to the clubs,” he said.

One recent recruit, Adrian Brennan, a New Zealander, has played two seasons for the North Copenhagen Barracudas.

According to Brennan, most of the players in the league come from Denmark, Australia, South Africa, England, Ireland and Sweden, with some representation from Africa and eastern Europe.

In his experience, Danes have taken to the game well because it combines the foot and hand skills required to play both of Denmark’s most beloved sports: football and handball. 

“In a way, they don’t find it strange to catch the ball and then kick it,” Brennan said. “The sport also accommodates players of various builds, as there are positions for smaller and taller players who are strong or fast.”

Most clubs will start their winter training indoors this month, focusing mostly on skills and building up fitness. 

The 2013 season kicks off in early April, so there is plenty of time for players and supporters to get involved.

“If anyone is interested, send an email to exec@dafl.dk or give us a call, and we will be more than happy to point you to your nearest club,” Ottesen said.

The 2013 match fixtures will be posted online at dafl.dk over the coming months. 

DAFL Vice President Troels Ottesen battles it out for a mark against David Harrop of the Aalborg FC (photo: Bayram Ali)Factfile  |  What is Australian Rules Football?

A high-paced sport similar to gaelic football, but with an oval-shaped ball, it was unsurprisingly invented by Irish and British immigrants in Melbourne in the 1850s.

Its key rules include:

– Each team has 18 players on the oval.

– A game is divided into four 20-minute quarters plus overtime.

– The ball can be propelled in any direction by way of a foot or clenched fist (otherwise known as a handball or a handpass) or open-handed tap.

– The ball can be kicked in a number of ways, but the most common is the ‘drop punt’ where a player holds the ball and then drops it onto their boot.

– Despite physical contact being a quintessential part of the game, players wear very little in the way of protective clothing; short shorts, a sleeveless guernsey, football boots and a mouth guard are the bare essentials.

– At each end of the oval-shaped field, there are four posts: two taller ones and two shorter ones either side.

– If a player kicks the ball through the taller posts, their team will score a ‘goal’ (six points).

– Kicking the ball though the posts either side of the middle two will register a ‘behind’ (one point), and tapping the ball through will also score one point.

Factfile  |  Danish Vikings at the 2011 Euros and 2010 Worlds

In September, the national Aussie rules football side, the Danish Vikings, came within a minute of claiming the European title, the AFL Euro Cup. 

Leading the Irish Warriors by eleven points heading into the final of the game’s 24 minutes, they conceded two late goals to lose 4.5-5.0, a 29-30 cumulative points defeat. 

The result represented a vast improvement on its 9-72 loss to Ireland at the 2010 AFL International Cup in Australia, where it eventually finished tenth in the 18-team tournament, despite being seeded eighth. 

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though: it managed to beat Sweden 77-38.

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