There are few people who can claim to have first hand experience playing the game of Australian Rules Football on two continents at many different levels. I am one of those lucky people who can speak with authority on Footy in the US and in Australia. I first started playing Footy about two years ago for a club in Milwaukee Wisconsin called the Milwaukee Bombers. In my first year I came in at the end of the season in time for Nationals, which are our finals. Milwaukee was placed in Division III and we lost the Grand Final in a disappointing game. The next season we improved as a team due to some fresh talent coming in and moved up to Division II where we won the Grand Final at Nationals. A month or so after Nationals I found out that I had won a scholarship to come to Australia to train with the Essendon Bombers in January. Excited is one way of describing how I felt, a little intimidated is another. During my time with Essendon I learned a lot about what it takes to be an elite footballer, more than once I felt out of my league. After I finished with Essendon I decided to stay in Australia and continue to play Footy. Through contacts with USfooty and the Milwaukee Bombers I was able to train with the VFL side Williamstown and amateur side Hampton Rovers. I will draw on my experiences from playing with the Bombers in the US and three different clubs in Australia with my main focus being on the Hampton Rovers where I have played most of my games.
Playing for Hampton has allowed me to experience Australian culture and people on a personal level. I have been able to take part first hand in the tradition of Hampton Rovers who are one of the largest Amateur clubs in Australia. The atmosphere makes it easy to get caught up in the spirit of Footy that brings everyone together during the week at training and then allows you to unleash yourself against another team on Saturdays. I will examine some of the differences between the Milwaukee Bombers and the Hampton Rovers with the goal being to encourage movement of support, ideas and players between the two clubs.
The most obvious difference between Footy in the US and in Australia has to do with the skill level of players and knowledge of the game. Footy in the US has only been around for seven or eight years while Hampton Rovers have been a club since 1918. A constant source of frustration for me is my inability to match skills with the Australian players; it is small consolation to know that Australians have had the luxury of being brought up on the game of Footy since childhood making their skills second nature. The skills and experience in Australia lead to faster paced games than we have in the US. I remember my first game with Hampton when I received a handball near the goals; I took two steps and was flattened by an opposition player behind me. In the US I am used to having more time with the ball and not having to dispose of it as soon as I touch it. As Footy in the US grows our skills and knowledge of the game will increase, with that increase the level of play will go up as well. The process can be sped up with more players like Luke Woolrich going to the US to play and others like myself coming from the US to Australia to improve their skills.
Another difference between Footy in the US and Australia lies with the culture that surrounds a club. As mention earlier Hampton has been around since 1918 giving them 86 years to build history and pride into their teams. Hampton also has a large and loyal support base, envy to most US clubs. Barring Nationals most of my games played for the Milwaukee Bombers were in front of family and a few players girlfriends who made up the core of our fan base. It has been a treat in Australia to play in front of more than fifteen people each week. As a player I think you give a little more in a game knowing you are being watched and it is a good feeling to rise to the challenge. With a fledgling club such as the Milwaukee Bombers we are building up our team history and culture much as Hampton did back in 1918. Building history and culture for a club is slow work, Milwaukee is on the right track with steady increases in talent coming to our side and consistently raising the bar of our expectations.
There are similarities that lie at the heart of the two clubs, Milwaukee and Hampton, where the players and supporters represent their club every Saturday. Playing for both the Hampton Rovers and the Milwaukee Bombers has been a positive experience for me. I came to both clubs not really knowing anyone and in both cases the players and the coaches were very supportive. What keeps the game fresh and people coming back is the attitude of the players and supporters from both clubs to have a good time. Following a game its fun to grab some food and a couple beers. After the Milwaukee Bombers home games we always go to one of the bars that sponsor us for a BBQ and drinks. It is a great way to wind down after four quarters of hard fought Footy. It would be a tough call to say whether Milwaukee or Hampton like their beer more. Hopefully in the future that question can be answered.
Playing Footy has given me the opportunity to live and play in a way I never would have expected. I have had the great fortune to discover Australian Rules Football with a solid team in the Milwaukee Bombers and to further develop myself as a player half way around the world with the Hampton Rovers. Similar opportunities are out there for players on both continents to cross the ocean and bring their unique perspectives and experiences to a club in the US or in Australia. I am thankful to USfooty, the Milwaukee Bombers and the Hampton Rovers for giving me the chance to live life for a little while in a different culture while playing Australian Rules Football.
By Jared Brunmeier