Footy in Port Moresby, PNG

A typical day at the footy in Port Moresby is characterized with the Lahara Laina (south wind) blowing straight down the Amini Park Oval to the Boroko East end. Like the Fremantle Doctor it is a given, but unlike the good Doctor, it is a constant presence. There is no sense of a wind advantage; it is simply accepted you are either kicking with it or against it.

Of far more importance is securing a ground to play on consistently each season. AFLPNG has a good relationship with the PNG Defence Force and the respective ovals within the Taurama and Murray Barracks are relatively secure this year. Which is just as well, as preparation for the 2015 South Pacific Games is in full swing and virtually all of the traditional facilities are closed or pending closure for reconstruction or upgrading of facilities.

As footy is played during the dry season (May – September) a large cloud of dust around each and every contest is synonymous with the action. Comparing this with the dust swirling around the wildebeest migrating across the Serengeti is a bit of a stretch but you get the picture. The watering of grounds is non-existent and the unpredictable bounce of the Sherrin even more pronounced given the mass of large cracks in the uneven terrain at each ground. Anyone who has experienced a game of footy at the more isolated indigenous communities in Australia will immediately visualise the scene. However nothing diminishes the enthusiasm of the players to get their hands on the ubiquitous ‘Tommy Sherrin’.

The competition, until relatively recently, has been plagued with instability at the club level with many clubs being formed around the energy of individuals but lacking a club administration base and folding within a season or three.

In 2013 the competition in Port Moresby was expanded to ten clubs, with corporate support for individual clubs by local companies – many clubs adopting the jumper and nickname of the sponsor’s favourite AFL team. The newly created clubs were based in suburbs without a past footy identity with the objective of enhancing community participation and the development of the code.

Three clubs, Koboni (Demons), University and Defence are considered foundation clubs with long and proud histories. In addition, the Koki Dockers have a stellar history and are a perennially successful club with a strong administration and considered very much the benchmark for the other clubs to aspire to; both on and off the field. The Bomana Cats are the ‘academy’ side, comprising talented youngsters many of whom are supported in their academic endeavors.

New clubs the Taurama Suns, Gulf Giants, Gerehu Magpies, Gordon Kokafas (Lizards) and Central Bombers are recent additions to the competition and apart from the Suns are finding life difficult on the field. However, they are located in geographical locations that lend themselves to the development of the game and – it is hoped – they have the resolve to persevere and provide further opportunities for the local youth – both boys and girls – to participate in our great game.

For example, Gerehu is a suburb with a large unemployed youth population and a reputation for crime and social disorder (thus it is probably no accident that they adopted the Magpie strip). If the establishment of the Gerehu Magpies FC generates half the pride and passion in Gerehu, as the suburb of Collingwood invested in its beloved Magpies, then the Gerehu FC is well on the way to becoming a Moresby footy powerhouse in the forseeable future.

Ethnic allegiance is still a significant factor with many clubs fielding players of common ethnicity. Koboni is fiercely proud of their Central Province tradition and a Koki vs Taurama game is considered very much a local derby between clubs fielding players predominantly from West New Britain Province.

This year is an AFL International Cup year and a PNG Mosquito squad selected from across PNG is currently in training. The PNG AFL community anticipates that its beloved Mosquitoes will be as equally competitive this year as they have been in past competitions. AFLPNG has competed in every International Cup Grand Final to date and it would be seen as a failure if this feat were not repeated in 2014. Unfortunately due to a lack of funds the women’s team, The Flames, are unlikely to participate this year. This is a huge disappointment as seven of the clubs field a female team and the women are every bit as passionate and competitive as the men.

Port Moresby has a long and proud AFL heritage dating back to the 1950’s. Despite a rather bumpy and haphazard journey at times over the years it continues to prosper in its uniquely PNG way. The fact that footy continues actively in Port Moresby and other regions across the country is testament to manner in which Papua New Guineans have embraced the great game.

Comments

  1. Andrew Fithall says

    Thank-you for sharing this.
    You are right about the haphazard nature of Australian Rules footy in PNG. My father, as coach or team manager, took a Victorian U17 team there in the mid ’70s and there were trips the other way by PNG teams, but interest fell away. Without know a lot of the detail, I think there was a loss of support from the VFL and gains were made by Rugby League to the detriment of Aussie Rules. Good to see interest is growing.

    AF

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