The German Black Eagles, the nation’s Australian Football team, will compete in the 2010 European Championships.

Germany's football underdogs

By Nick Townsend

Germany has already captured all the headlines for their exploits in one code of football, and in August they’ll have the opportunity to do it in another: Aussie Rules. Hoping to emulate the feats of Joachim Löw’s boys will be the German Black Eagles, the nation’s Australian Football team, who will be going to Sweden and Denmark to compete in the European Championships.

“I think Germany is definitely the underdog of the tournament,” says Malte Schudlich, President of Australian Football League Germany (AFLG) and founder of the Frankfurt Redbacks, highlighting a big difference to their soccer-playing counterparts.

This will be Germany’s first major tournament but a strong domestic league would suggest they’ll be more than competitive. Australian Football in Germany started in 1995 with the founding of the Munch Kangaroos and Frankfurt Redbacks, and has since grown with the establishment of clubs in Hamburg, Stuttgart, Düsseldorf and Berlin. Today there remains six clubs, encompassing ten teams, and over 300 players. “In our group we might be able to come 2nd if we can field the best possible team.”
 
Benno Bock saw his first game of Aussie Rules while visiting relatives in Brisbane when he was 17. A few years after his return he saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a club in Berlin. From his first training session he was addicted. “What appeals to the players most is the strong team feeling footy has,” says Bock, “No other sport in Germany can match up with the team camaraderie and newcomers feel that from the first session.”

In 2006, Bock returned to Australia and even managed to play a few games for the Cairns Saints reserves, the highlight of which was when his performance was described as “wunderbar" by his coach.

Unfortunately for Bock, a long-term injury will prevent him from playing for the Black Eagles in Denmark and Sweden this August, but he remains heavily involved in the promotion and development of the sport. “Most of our German players saw or played the game in its home country, Australia, either as exchange students or working travellers,” says Bock “We try everything to recruit the others: subway advertisements, Facebook advertisements, flyers, posters and word-of-mouth.”

With over 80 million people, Germany is the largest and most populous of the eight nations competing in the championships. While this provides a much bigger recruitment pool, it also creates larger logistical problems when it comes to coordinating and forming a national team. “The biggest challenge for the team is the difficulty of training together,” says Malte Schudlich “In the case of the European Championships only a fraction of the team will have the chance to train together over one weekend.” Selection often has to be made on the recommendation of coaches at Germany’s six clubs, and often from a limited number of training sessions.

“Being involved in organisational duties for the past four years I know that it will take a while before we have a stable structure,” says Benno Bock on the logistical difficulties they face in Germany, “It’s not going to happen if three people are doing the workload.” But as long as they continue to attract people as dedicated and passionate as Bock, then the long-term future will always look bright.

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

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