Everyone knows football. But there are many sports that don’t get that much attention in Germany – and are still played and fought. At this point we introduce a few different activities. This time: Australian football.
To be on the safe side, Berlin Crocodile players put a sign in the grass. It is a nice Sunday lunch and Australian football is being played in the park of Gleisdreich. Alligators invites interested parties to a trial training session. So that troubled passers-by can understand that men and women dressed in green and yellow are kicking and boxing oval-shaped leather balls in a vast green field, basic information about the sport is stated on the sign.
Australian football in Australia is like football in Germany
Despite an active community of players, the game remains largely unknown in Germany. In the Australian Football League Germany (AFLG), seven teams from different corners of the country play a champion each year, but structurally the league is still far from professional structures. There are no actual playing fields, the game is often played on lawns that are accessible to the public. “The teams themselves take care of equipment like the goal post,” says Mary Winkler.
It’s different in Australia, very different. Australian football, also known locally as “Australian rules” or simply “footy”, and below the Australian league is largely the Bundesliga in Germany. An average of over 36,000 spectators attended AFL games in 2019; The final, the “Grand Final”, is played annually in Melbourne in front of approximately 110,000 fans. Sports and leagues are a non-violent cultural asset there.
Australian football is often briefly described as a mixture of rugby, American football and football. “But the game is much more than that,” Winkler says. Eighteen players from both teams are permanently on the field and pass the ball by hitting or kicking with their fists as with a volley, with simple throwing prohibited.
Like football, the goal is to score goals. There is a big gate surrounded by two smaller gates on the right and left side. Hits through the center goal are worth six points, followed by shots and hits into goals on only one of the sides. And: Australian football is an extremely physical sport. It is only allowed to tackle between the shoulders and hips, players do not wear protective clothing. It may sound ludicrous: “Many girls are skeptical at first. You have to gradually introduce them to the game and practice the tackle as well,” says Winkler.
The Berlin Crocodiles started in 2001 with a total of six players, today the best Australian football club in Berlin has a men’s and women’s Bundesliga team, both with various national players. The men became German champions for the first time in 2017, and they lost the last two finals to their permanent rivals Hamburg Dockers.
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Many Australians like Jake Williams play on both teams. “I moved to Germany last year and mainly used the sport to get to know people,” he says. Like many children in Australia, Williams played Australian football at an early age, but he only developed an enduring passion for it in Germany.
It mainly has to do with the sense of community among alligators: “We’re one big family here,” Williams says. In general, many English-speaking new Berliners to come to town will use the sport and club. Winkler, on the other hand, got to know the sport during a work and travel stay in Australia and quickly learned to love it.
Berlin Crocodiles none of the players make any money
Crocodiles take long trips and plan weekends for their passion. Traveling to Munich or to games at the Rheinland Lions quickly takes an entire weekend, with no player making any money. Apart from the sporty aspect, the social aspect also counts on distant trips. “Meanwhile, friendships have formed between individual teams. Opponents like to show us something about the city, and we often do something after the game,” Williams says.
For Winkler, the end of July will be her longest trip to date. The German national player travels with the German Eagles to the International Cup in Australia. “It’s like the World Cup – but without Australia. They will be great,” she says. But things are happening in Europe as well. France and Scotland have really good leagues. The game is growing,” Williams says. Perhaps in a few years alligators will no longer be mowing lawns in interpretive signs, but there is still a long way to go.
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