The Danish Australian Football League have over 350 registered participants.

Denmark - from kick-to-kick to burgeoning competition

By Nick Townsend

The history of Australian Football in Denmark started back in 1989 when Australian expat Mick Sitch placed an advertisement in the local newspaper, requesting participants for some kick-to-kick in a Copenhagen public park. Only two other people showed up, but it was the beginning of process that would see the establishment of the largest Aussie Rules football league in the non-English speaking world.

Today Denmark can boast eight clubs, playing a mixture of full 18-a-side matches and smaller modified 9-a-side games. They have over 250 registered players, plus over 100 juniors. The strength of the Danish league has also helped the sport grow in Iceland and neighbouring Sweden.

This August, 21 years after that momentous meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark will co-host the inaugural European Championships of Australian Football. Eight teams will partake in the competition, with games being played throughout the Danish island of Zeeland and neighbouring Skåne in Sweden. Unlike previous tournaments, the European Championships will consist of 16-a-side matches and squads will be made up entirely of local players.

As co-hosts, Denmark will be spared the usual problems involved in international travel and are expected to field a strong squad. “I will be disappointed if we don't get to the final and at least give Ireland an even match,” says Danish coach Jim Campion.

Niels Schønnemann has played Aussie Rules since 1999, when his cousins recruited him to the North Copenhagen Barracudas. What started out as a brief interruption in his soccer career soon turned into a life long passion.

“What drew me was the social side of the sport,” says Schønnemann “But also the fact that you can use both feet and hands, and also the speed.”

Schønnemann is now Vice President of the Danish Australian Football League (DAFL), and is currently undertaking a Level 1 Umpiring course. “I Skype with my Australian umpire coach for an hour each week.”

One area where the DAFL has really excelled has been in junior development, particular the efforts of one club, the Farum Cats. Since 1998, when Jim Campion started training his own two sons and their friends, Farum have successful run junior clinics and given the long-term development of the game a huge boost. Today over 100 boys and girls between the ages seven and fifteen play every week throughout the year.

“We have held a year 11 and 12 tournament for the last five years and the same schools attend every year,” says Campion, “They love it and it’s a great recruiting base for our club. If the resources were there we could extend the tournament to many more schools.” 

Farum have also been able to establish a reciprocal relationship with the Geelong Football Club in Australia, and have been able to send junior sides to Australia in 2000, 2003 and 2006.

“99.9% of Danes have never heard of the game, the remaining think its either rugby or American football,” says Schønnemann on the difficulties of recruiting players, “The few who do know about it, have a very violent perception of the sport.”  For Schønnemann the key is to develop the 9-a-side format of the game, as it reduces the resources needed and the travel costs, thus making it easier to establish new teams.

“The dream would be to have clubs scattered all over Denmark, so no one was more than 50km away from a footy club.” Far fetched? Mick Sitch probably thought the same thing when he placed that fateful advertisement in the local paper.  

Visit the website for the European Championships in Australian Football 2010.

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