UK Footy and the GB Swans

This summer sees me heading to my second International Cup with Great Britain but in an entirely different guise to my last visit in 2011 where I was a vice-captain for the Great Britain Bulldogs. I am proud to be assistant coach of the first Great Britain Swans outfit to head down under and take on the women of the footballing world.

I have always enjoyed coaching, starting with my local soccer club at the age of sixteen to running and coaching my own Aussie Rules club at home in Wolverhampton for eight years and counting. With that being in the AFL Central and Northern England (AFLCNE), I am much more accustomed to the 9 a-side version of the game that is popular in the UK, outside of London. This is fast-paced and frenetic, with many players new to the sport transferring across from rugby or soccer in the main.

It was the challenge of not only working with a ladies group for the first time but developing my knowledge of the full-sized version of the game that I found so appealing. If this wasn’t enough, then to be approached by long-time adversary in AFLCNE and Swans head coach Garth Nevin sealed the deal. Garth is someone whom I have always respected and who has always gone out of his way to help me, especially in the early days of starting up my own club. When it became clear that the third part of the team was to be Lauren Spark of the AFLW Western Bulldogs it seemed too good to be true!

The group of women that we have been fortunate to work with in the past eighteen months have made this such a great adventure already. They are not only talented, but so committed and dedicated to improving as individuals and as a collective that winning their debut tournament last summer was not a total surprise. We are hoping that being the current European champions is just a stepping stone to further honours this summer in Melbourne.

My experiences of footy in the UK have contained many highlights. These include the maiden win of the club that I formed (Wolverhampton Wolverines) after a really tough season and a half without gaining those elusive four points; to do it with a team full of pupils from the school at which I was teaching was particularly rewarding. Organising a junior tournament for over 100 primary school children was an afternoon to remember; seeing so many young people enjoying a game that three hours earlier, they had barely heard of, let alone played before. At the other end of the performance spectrum, captaining both England (9 a-side) and the Bulldogs in major European finals is something that will live with me forever, as will working alongside Tadgh Kennelly and Brad Ottens for the European Legion when the touring AIS squad were over in Europe a few years ago. Playing at the KIA Oval in a curtain raiser game before Port Adelaide faced a young Western Bulldogs side was also memorable!

These ‘on-field’ moments are made even more special by the other people involved in them. At club level, the footy scene in the UK is as much about the friendly rivalries and the winning as it is the beers and BBQ afterwards. I have genuinely made friends for life through the AFLCNE, England Dragonslayers, Great Britain Bulldogs and AFL Europe communities with team mates and opponents alike.

Footy has been such a massive part of my life for the last ten years and it is hard to see that changing in the near future. Working with the Swans is another highlight to add to the list above and maybe, just maybe, the Swans showing at the IC could provide an experience and footy highlight to top even drinking a beer with Brad Ottens!


  1. I love hearing these stories of people outside of Australia coming across the Australian game. Good luck with the Swans in IC17,

  2. bring back the torp says

    Great introduction, all the best for you & your Swans team in the IC.

    Care to give an estimate of what % of people under 30 in the city you live have ever heard of Australian Football, or AFL?

    Ditto what %, might have seen up to 5 minutes of AFL being played (FTA TV, or cable)?

    What, typically,are the 3 biggest reasons British players in the UK try AF ?

  3. Hi Ian,

    I am a Japanese AFL fan supporting St Kilda and a regular contributor here on the Footy Almanac.

    It’s an interesting read as I am planning to move to York in the near future. So it’s great to see how Australian Rules are played in the UK.

    How can players be transformed from rugby and football (soccer) into AFL? Just gaining new skills that are not found on their original sports?

    Are Australians coming to the UK to coach British clubs?

    I am so curious to know about footy in the UK.

    Having checked the AFLCNE website, there seem no footy club in York or Yorkshire. Which one is the closest to York? I would like to see Australian Rules in the UK.

    All the best with GB Swans including the International Cup in Melbourne.


  4. Ian Mitchell says

    Hi all, thanks for the comments. I’ll do my best to answer your questions!

    Bring back the torp: in terms of % it would be minimal, maybe 5% or less. Clearly the people we come across have heard of the game but we are having a big push on social media to become more well-known in our local area. In the eight years of our existence I’d say off the top of my head we have used around 80 players so assuming they’ve all told some people then our exposure is ok.

    I find people are far more willing to try the game if they have either been to Australia or watched a game on tv. Those who see clips on YouTube and the like tend to have seen ‘biggest hits’ or ‘worst knockouts’ so to me that isn’t the best advert for the sport.

    Generally we get a lot of soccer/rugby players who are keen to try the sport in their off-season as we play through our summer. So trying something new would be one reason, maintaining or improving fitness would be another reason and finally I’d say that they actually like/have experienced the game either in Aus, on TV or in our case (I’m a teacher) at school.

    Yoshi: I find footy is a great sport for those already playing team sports such as rugby or football. Obviously the skills are slightly different but the movement is similar and people tend to find it quite simple to transfer skills from their existing base into football.

    Mist Australians end up in London to play/coach but outside of London we do have some at most clubs. They’re obviously really useful and helpful to have around the clubs.

    Closest to York would be either Sheffield Thunder or Huddersfield Rams. Two great clubs who have been established for quite a long time! I would love to see you playing in the UK and we would face each other in the league if this was to happen. Please keep in touch!

  5. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for your respond to my comment.

    Oh it’s good to hear it’s not hard for rugby and football players to adopt another sport code (footy). Are Thunder and Rams good rivals? I would love to watch either club playing in the stadium.

    Thanks for your invitation, but I am 44 and have never played footy. So maybe playing in the social level would be the best. I need to gain marking skills.

    Is there any pub to watch footy in Acomb / York? If there is any place broadcasting Richmond versus St Kilda at Round 23, we might hit.



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