Eagles soar a long way from home

Sallese Gibson

Online at http://sallesegibson.wordpress.com/

It’s February in Toronto – outside, it’s snowing and the temperature is sitting at a chilly -10 °C.

But that doesn’t stop the Toronto Eagles.

It’s pre-season training as usual, no matter the weather.

While it may be a completely unknown concept to most locals, the Eagles are determined to keep the ‘Aussie spirit’ alive in Canada.

And what better way than a kick of the Sherrin?

The Eagles are Toronto’s local AFL team – that is, Australian Rules Football.

The side is made up of Australian expats and Canadian players, who come together for the Ontario Australian Football League season, which runs from May to September.

One of the club’s Australian contingents is president and player, Salv Capoferri.

Growing up playing and supporting the game has made AFL an important part of his life.

“I love the game of football – the competitiveness, athleticism, physicality and the excitement of being out on the ground.  It truly is a game that has it all and one I enjoy playing.”

Capoferri moved from Western Australia to Toronto four years ago to continue his elementary teaching career.

He said finding the Eagles helped him to settle into his new life, away from home.

“After leaving Australia and heading to a foreign country, it was nice to be able to still have a connection to my Australian culture – I get that connection through footy over here.”

It may be a surprise to most, but Australian Rules is only growing in popularity in Canada.

When the OAFL was first established in 1989, it was a small group of Australians living in Toronto who came together to play a few games of AFL.

Since then, the league has grown to 11 teams, which are situated throughout Southern Ontario and Quebec.

Capoferri said the growing number of Canadians playing AFL is exciting, as the locals add a lot to the game.

“There are some truly amazing athletes here in Canada who have taken to Australian football and are just as passionate about the game as their Australian counterparts,” he said.

“Their main benefit is that they are essentially making the game their own, which in turn is helping to grow the game here in Canada.”

But the appeal of AFL is far more than the game itself.

The strong club community and the ‘culture of footy’ is something that Capoferri believes is unique to Australian Rules.

“Playing in an AFL team is a special bond participants share.  It is through this bond that players experience strong mateship and a sense of comradery.”

“At the Toronto Eagles, the team is very close and considers the club more like a family than a group of individuals,” Capoferri said.

It’s not just the players involved in this community either.

Jess Burns moved from South Australia to Toronto last year.

She counts the Adelaide Crows as her favourite sports team and said she has missed watching live AFL games since leaving Australia.

“I like the idea of having footy in Canada because it allows me to feel connected to home,” she said.

“I really like the atmosphere of the game and you just don’t get that from watching it on TV.  That’s why it is so awesome that I can go and watch a game here in Canada.”

In 2011, the OAFL will continue to expand with the introduction of a women’s division.

Capoferri said he also hopes there will be enough interest for a junior division in the next few years.

“This will be the catalyst in growing the sport here in Canada and in getting Canada to embrace Australian football through their youth,” he said.

As the sport gains popularity, the future for the OAFL looks bright.

Until then, the league remains a little piece of Australia in the land of the maple leaf.

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