Australian Rules Football came to Dubrovnik for the first time ever last weekend when two Croatian teams played an exhibition match in Kupari. This typically Australian sport brought interest as the two teams, the Ploce Eagles and the Barbarians from Zagreb ran out onto the field in Zupa on Saturday the 12th of March.
The match was organised as part of the “Trece Uho” festival. Every year the “Trece Uho” festival highlights the traditions, cultures, art and diversities of a different country, and this year is the time for Australia. “The history of this young, successful and multicultural country can bring us wisdom from which we want to learn,” commented the organisers of the festival. The main events in the Trece Uho festival will be held in November, however more events have been organised throughout the year.
Australian Rules Football in Dubrovnik
This uniquely Australian sport and has the highest spectator attendance of all sports in Australia. The roots of the game come from rugby and Gaelic football. And whilst the only professional league in the world is in Australia, the game is popular in many past of the world. In fact there are six clubs playing the sport in Croatia, many of these were originally set up by Croatian expats who brought the game to these shores. However after these early beginnings more and more Croatians took up the sport.
“We have a regular league in Croatia and six teams take part, with the first round starting at the beginning of April,” explained the captain of the Croatian National Australian Rules Football team, Tomislav Cvetko. “Ninety percent of the players are now Croatians, we did start with many expats, but that has changed over the years,” added Cvetko. And apart from the men’s national team, the Croatian Knights, there is also a women’s team, the Croatian Queens.
The Dubrovnik Times talking to Tomislav Cvetko
This is not a sport for the faint-hearted, and the thrills and spills delighted the crowd in Kupari. “This is the first time I have seen it played, and I have to say that the players are very fit,” commented a member of the crowd. “The ball is a little weird and the rules are hard to understand but it is certainly dynamic,” she added.
The match in Dubrovnik was organised by Michelle Kojaković, an Australian who has been living in Dubrovnik for over 13 years, and Davor Deranja. “Following a contact from Mikki Kojaković the Association of Australian football of Croatia (AAFC) was contacted by an old friend, Davor Deranja, and we connected the two of them with the desire to start a new club in Dubrovnik. It will be a long process, but it is up and running now and we hope that Davor and Mikki will successfully animate kids to start playing the sport,” said the AAFC.
The Ploce Eagles and the Barbarians in Kupari
The Ploce Eagles are the most southerly city in Croatia to play the sport, however there are plans to start a club in Dubrovnik. It was hoped by the organisers that with this exhibition match that more people will be interested in trying this Australian game. “At the moment we have four clubs in Zagreb, one in Ploce and one in Slavonski Brod. We would like to start up a club in Dubrovnik as well,” said the captain of the Croatian national team.
“I was introduced to the game by a couple of Croatian expats from Australia, I played basketball before so I have a good sports background, so it wasn’t too hard to start playing Australian Rules Football,” said Cvetko. Although it is a truly Australian sport more and more countries are also taking it up, in fact there is even a European Championship which is held every three years. There is even a Croatian born player who has just started playing in the Australian league.