Australian rules football in England

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Australian rules football in England
Governing bodyAFL England
National team(s)England
First played1888, London
Registered players3,600 (total)
600 (adult)
3,000 (junior)
Club competitions
Audience records
Single match18,884 (2005). West Coast v. Fremantle (The Oval, London)

Australian rules football in England is a team sport and spectator sport with a long history and has grown since 1989 to a number of local and regional leagues coordinated by AFL England. In 2018, these regional divisions will be the AFL London, AFL Central & Northern England and Southern England AFL.

Australian rules football exhibition matches have been held in London every few years since 1972 and have been well attended.

History of Australian rules football in England[edit]

In 1883, during a visit to Australia, English journalist and rugby player Richard Twopeny wrote of Australian Football:

A good football match in Melbourne is one of the sights of the world... The quality of the play... is much superior to anything the best English clubs can produce... there is much more 'style' about the play.[1]

British tours to Australia (1888–1914)[edit]

Australian rules football was played by a British representative rugby team which toured Australia in 1888. The team arrived in Hobart, Tasmania on 18 April.[2] They attended a social function with the Southern Tasmanian Football Association, before going to New Zealand for a series of rugby matches.

After they returned to Australia they again trained in Australian rules in Sydney, before leaving for Victoria in mid-June. The tour included 19 matches. They played against several of the stronger football clubs from Melbourne including the Carlton Football Club, South Melbourne Football Club, Essendon Football Club, Fitzroy Football Club and Port Melbourne Football Club. Additionally, they played against some strong regional Victorian clubs including two teams from Ballarat, the Ballarat Football Club and Ballarat Imperials, as well as two teams from Bendigo (Bendigo Football Club and Sandhurst Football Club) as well as playing against the Castlemaine Football Club, Maryborough Football Club (of Maryborough, Victoria), Horsham Football Club (of Horsham, Victoria) and Kyneton Football Club (of Kyneton, Victoria).

The team also played against several of the stronger South Australian teams including South Adelaide Football Club, Port Adelaide Football Club, Adelaide Football Club (no connection to the later Adelaide club), Norwood Football Club. The only club from outside of Victoria or South Australia which played against them was the Maitland Football Club (from the Hunter Region in New South Wales). The British team won six matches, including a win over Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on 10 July 1888, and drew one.

The reigning Victorian premiers, Carlton defeated Great Britain at the MCG 14.17 to 3.8. At this stage goals and points were recorded but only goals counted in the score; for example, when Great Britain played Castlemaine under very heavy conditions they kicked 1 goal 2 points and the locals kicked 1 goal 4 points, but the match was declared a draw. Great Britain also played 35 games of rugby, making a total of 54 games in 21 weeks. A star of the team's Australian rules games was Andrew Stoddart, who captained the team for part of its tour and also captained England in cricket.

The 1888 tour had been organised by the English cricketer Arthur Shrewsbury but his involvement with Australian Rules football did not end there. He planned to have an Australian team sent to the United Kingdom to play a series of demonstration matches and to that end he looked to Scotland where he had identified possible opponents. Shrewsbury's plans are outlined in his correspondence with Alfred Shaw and Turner, the Nottingham Cricket Club Secretary.[3]

Introduction of the game in England[edit]

Between 1870 and World War I many overseas students studied medicine in Scotland, and some went down to England to play the Australian Rules teams in that country. On 14 April 1888, the Edinburgh Australians played an Australian Rules game against the University of London at Balham, a match which drew considerable praise in UK newspapers such as the Times and the Scotsman.

Shrewsbury suggested that the 'Edinburgh Australians' team at Edinburgh University should travel down to England to meet the Australian team in a series of demonstration matches in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Unfortunately his bold plan did not eventuate as the authorities in Australia aborted the venture and a possible expansion of Australian Rules in the UK was lost.

World War I[edit]

In 1916, a match was held at the Queen's Club in London between Australian Army teams, representing the Combined Training Units and the 3rd Division, in which many senior Australian rules footballers from all over Australia took part. However, the end of World War I put an end to organised Australian rules competition in England.

Varsity matches between Oxford and Cambridge[edit]

Cambridge and Oxford Universities contest centre bounce

After the war, in 1921, the annual Oxford UniversityCambridge University Varsity match was played for the first time between expatriate Australian students.[4] This game is still played,[5] and is the longest running Australian rules fixture outside Australia.[6][7] The match is an official Varsity competition.[citation needed] Over the years, some distinguished Australians to have played in the match include Mike Fitzpatrick, Chris Maxwell, Joe Santamaria, Sir Rod Eddington and Andrew Michelmore.[8]

Men's Results
Year Winner Results Notes
1923 Oxford Oxford ?.? (80) d Cambridge ?.? (30) [9]
1925 Oxford Oxford 10.17 (77) d. Cambridge 1.11 (17) [10]
1926 Cambridge Cambridge 8.11 (59) d Oxford 8.7 (55) [11]
1927 Oxford Oxford 10.10 (70) d. Cambridge 5.10 (40) [12]
1928 Cambridge Cambridge 11.12 (78) d Oxford 5.10 (40) [13]
1929 Oxford Oxford 9.19 (73) d Cambridge 5.9 (39) [14]
1930 Oxford Oxford 4.4 (28) d Cambridge 4.2 (26) [15]
1931 Oxford Oxford 12.11 (83) d Cambridge 7.5 (47) [16]
1935 Oxford Oxford 9.8 (62) d Cambridge 1.4 (10) [17]
1949 Oxford Oxford 12.6 (78) d Cambridge 3.13 (31) [18]
1954 Oxford Oxford 12.10 (82) d Cambridge 8.10 (58) [19]
1983 Cambridge Cambridge 15.10 (100) d Oxford 7.9 (51) [20]
2003 Oxford Oxford 10.7 (67) d. Cambridge 0.5 (5)
2004 Cambridge Cambridge 3.4 (22) d. Oxford 2.6 (18)
2005 Oxford Oxford 14.15 (99) d. Cambridge 3.4 (22)
2006 Oxford Oxford 32 d. Cambridge 27
2007 Oxford Oxford 19.11 (125) d. Cambridge 3.10 (28) Highest ever score recorded
2008 Oxford Oxford 8.11 (59) def Cambridge 5.2 (32)
2009 Oxford Oxford 6.15 (51) d. Cambridge 1.1 (7)
2010 Oxford Oxford 17.16 (118) d. Cambridge 9.12 (66) Highest scoring match to date
2013 Oxford Oxford 10.6 (66) d. Cambridge 3.6 (24)
2014 Oxford Oxford 14.6 (90) d. Cambridge 2.2 (14)
2015 Cambridge Cambridge 7.13 (55) d. Oxford 3.4 (22)
2016 Oxford Oxford 9.4 (58) d. Cambridge 7.10 (52)
2017 Oxford Oxford 12.8 (80) d. Cambridge 4.4 (28)
2018 Cambridge Cambridge 4.10 (34) d. Oxford 4.4 (28)

In 2018, amid the growth of the sport in England, there was the first ever women's Australian Rules Football Varsity, ending in a tie.

Women's Results
Year Winner Results Notes
2018 Tie Oxford 1.1 (7) drew with Cambridge 1.1 (7) First tie in Australian rules football Varsity history.

Second World War matches[edit]

RAAF (Sunderland) vs RAF Mount Batten was played in 1943 in Plymouth.[21] In November of the same year, a game was played in Sussex between No.11 Personnel despatch and Reception centre team based in Brighton vs RAAF Headquarters from London.[22]

Teams representing RAAF, Headquarters vs Sunderland, met in Hyde Park in 1944 in front of a sizeable crowd. Headquarters defeated Sunderland 12.7 (79) to 5.4 (34).[23]

The first local league[edit]

In 1967, a charity match was played in Regent's Park in London, attracting a crowd of 1,000 spectators. it was followed by matches arranged against Royal Australian Navy personnel and local school sides and rugby clubs. A league was formed which by 1970 had six teams, including two English rugby sides which used the sport to keep fit in the off-season. Among the supporters were Rolf Harris, Barry Humphries and Michael Cyril Hall.[24] Clubs included the Kensington Demons, Earls Court Magpies, Oxford University Blues, Australian Dentists and Australian Navy (based in Portsmouth).[25] This league had disappeared by 1973.

Post-war exhibition matches[edit]

In 1972, the first exhibition match of the AFL was played at The Oval in London. By 1987, the game had become an annual event, missing only some years. With a large number of ex-patriate Australians, interest in the game grew and small crowds of up to 10,000 were in attendance for the event in some years. Interest and crowds grew further with the change of the VFL to the Australian Football League. Highlights during this time included large crowds for the Australian Football League's West Coast Eagles v. Collingwood in 1997 with an attendance of 14,000 and the match between Richmond and Essendon in 2002 which drew 13,000.

The British Australian rules football league[edit]

In 1989 the British Australian rules football League (BARFL) was formed. Serious competition began and the competition became more popular, with the local BARFL Grand Finals becoming a large event attracting attendances in the thousands, including a record crowd of 1,500 in 1999.

In 2002 a national team represented Great Britain at the Australian Football International Cup for the first time, finishing the tournament in 6th place. 2005 saw the British Bulldogs again compete in the International Cup, again finishing 6th overall.

Following the 2005 International Cup, promising 22-year-old British Bulldog Luke Matias began playing with the Port Melbourne Football Club in the Victorian Football League.

Also in 2005, the first Western Derby to be played outside of Australia, the West Coast Eagles v. Fremantle game was played as a pre-season test at The Oval in London, drawing a record crowd of 18,884.

In the 2005 Oxford vs Cambridge match, held at Oxford, the Oxford dark blues triumphed 99-22 over the light blue tabs, despite the loss of their inspirational full forward, whose finger was snapped off in a freak brawling accident.

Emergence of Aussie rules UK[edit]

In 2005 the first junior development program, Aussie Rules Schools, commenced. The program, co-ordinated by the new development body Aussie Rules UK, part of Aussie Rules International was kicked off. This project has seen up to 10 English schools adopt Aussie Rules as part of the school curriculum to combat obesity. Juniors teams have competed at the London Youth Games.

2006 was a big year for Aussie Rules in England, with the admission of new clubs in Manchester, Middlesbrough and Thanet.

On 17 September 2006 history was made in Denmark when the England Dragonslayers took on the Denmark Vikings in Europe's first fully-fledged international junior Aussie Rules match. England claimed the King Canute Cup, with England 6.10(46) defeating Denmark 0.6(6).[26]

In July 2007, the AFL announced that the annual London exhibition match was likely to be abandoned for the year, after only the Western Bulldogs had expressed interest.

In a first in 2007, the GB Bulldogs including several past and future England players, soundly defeated Ireland in Dublin 11.15(81) to 2.9(21).

AFL Britain[edit]

In 2008, a resolution to the divide between the two competing leagues saw a single national body, AFL Britain form, which formally affiliated to the AFL. The BARFL was dissolved and became AFL London, while regional leagues including the Scottish Australian Rules Football League and the Welsh Australian Rules Football League affiliated with the new national body.

AFL England[edit]

In 2012, AFL England was formed as the national governing body for Australian rules football in England, separate to AFL Scotland and AFL Wales.


In 2004, there were a total of around 435 senior players across 18 clubs in England. The local league has a higher number of ex-patriate Australians compared to other countries that participate in the sport, however the league recently put in place caps on the number of expatriate players in certain divisions to improve the mix and encourage more local players.

By the end of 2007, the game had experienced substantial growth due to the placement of permanent development officers. AFL International Census figures indicate over 3,600 participants[27]



Australian rules football is regularly shown on BT Sport.

Attendance records[edit]

Local competitions[edit]

1,500 (1999). BARFL Grand Final. West London Wildcats vs Wandsworth Demons. London[28]

Exhibition match[edit]

18,884 (2005). West Coast v. Fremantle (The Oval, London)

National teams[edit]

AFL England currently manages four national teams. The Great Britain Bulldogs and Great Britain Swans compete every three years at the International Cup in Melbourne. The squad is made up of players mainly from the London clubs, however they are often joined by players competing in Australia. In 2017 the Bulldogs finished sixth, their joint-highest finish, while in their maiden year the Swans finished third, defeating the United States 5.2 (32) to 4.1 (25)

The English teams are known as the England Dragonslayers and the England Vixens. Both teams won the AFL Europe Euro Cup in 2017[29]. In 2018, the Vixens finished runners-up



Club Years in competition Conference Team Social Team Previous names
Earls Court Kangaroos 1990–97 Esher Kangaroos (1992), Firkin Roos (1996–97)
North London Lions 1990- Regent's Park Lions Bounds Green
Putney Magpies 1999- Hammersmith Magpies Fulham Magpies London Gryphons (1999–2003), merged with London Collingwood Supporters' Group
Lea Valley Saints 1990–96
London Swans 1991- City Swans Sussex Swans (1991–2007), name still used for their ARUK Southern team
Thames Valley Magpies 1990–91
South East London Giants 2008- Dulwich Dragons (2008–2011)
Wandsworth Demons 1990- Clapham Demons South London Demons
West London Wildcats 1990- Shepherds Bush Raiders Ealing Emus
Wimbledon Hawks 1990- Fulham Hawks London Hawks (1990–94)

Regional England[edit]

Club Leagues competed in Other names
Birmingham Bears ARUK Central Division (2009)
Birmingham Crows BARFL (1993–94)
Bournemouth Demons ARUK Southern Division (2007–11)
Brighton Black Swans ARUK Southern Division (2007–08)
Bristol Dockers BARFL (1991–2002), BARFL Regional (2003–06), AFL London Social League (2007-) Bristol Bears (1991–96)
Chippenham Redbacks ARUK Southern Division (2008–09)
Doncaster Saints BARFL Regional (2003–04)
Durham Saints ARUK Northern Division (2007–09) Durham Swans (2007–08)
East Midland Eagles BARFL (1990–96)
Gateshead Miners ARUK Northern Division (2009)
Guildford Crows ARUK Southern Division (2011)
Hartlepool Dockers ARUK Northern Division (2007–09)
Huddersfield Rams ARUK Central Division (2009)
Leeds Bombers ARUK Central Division (2009)
Liverpool Blues BARFL (1993–94)
Liverpool Eagles ARUK Central Division (2009)
Manchester Mosquitoes BARFL Regional (2006), AFL London Social League (2007–09)
Middlesbrough Hawks SARFL (2006), ARUK Northern Division (2007–09)
Newcastle Centurions ARUK Northern Division (2007–09)
Nottingham Scorpions BARFL Regional (2004–06), AFL London Social League (2007–09)
Plymouth Lions Plymouth Seagulls (2011)
Portsmouth Pirates ARUK Southern Division (2009)
Reading Kangaroos BARFL Regional (2003–06), AFL London Social League (2007–09)
Sheffield Thunder ARUK Central Division (2009)
Southampton Titans ARUK Southern Division (2007–09)
St Helens Miners BARFL (2002–04) Northwestern Miners (2004)
Sussex Swans BARFL (1991-), ARUK Southern Division (2007–09)
Swindon Devils BARFL Regional (2004–06), WARFL (2007)
Thanet Bombers BARFL Regional (2006), ARUK Southern Division (2007) Thanet Bombardiers (2006)


English-born players in the AFL[edit]

Name Playing Clubs VFL/AFL career
Colin Alexander Collingwood/Brisbane 1989–1991
Ian Dargie St Kilda/West Coast 1989–1991
Lawrence Bingham Hawthorn/St Kilda 1989–1990
Mark Bayliss Collingwood 1989
Wayne Blackwell Carlton 1984–1990
Chris Burton Footscray/Richmond 1980–1984
Harry Davie Melbourne/Carlton 1924–1927
Fred Fairweather North Melbourne 1944–1946
Andy Goodwin Richmond/Melbourne 1987–1991
Paul Harding Hawthorn/St Kilda/West Coast 1987–1994
Johnny Leonard South Melbourne 1932
Brad Moran Adelaide/North Melbourne 2006–2011
Brian Mynott St Kilda 1964–1975
Richard Nixon Richmond 1987–1990
Polly Perkins Richmond 1940–1949
Mick Plant South Melbourne 1972
Will Thursfield Richmond 2005–2011
Clive Waterhouse Fremantle 1996–2004
Fergus Watts Adelaide/ St Kilda 2004–2006

Current players are highlighted in bold.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ R. Twopenny, Townlife in Australia, Melbourne 1977 (1883), p.207-8
  2. ^ "THE MERCURY". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania. 19 April 1888. p. 2. Retrieved 14 July 2011 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ Letter from Shrewbury to Alfred Shaw. 'Football's Forgotten Tour' (p50)
  4. ^ "Aussie Rules' history in UK - in just 250 words Archived 22 August 2006 at"
  5. ^ "Oxford vs Cambridge, Aussie Rules, 23/2/2002 Archived 15 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine"
  6. ^ Four quarters decides 1000-year rivalry, 12/1/2010 Archived 17 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Triumphant Oxford are rucking great Archived 20 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine from
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 September 2012. Retrieved 2014-02-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ The Argus, 13 April 1923
  10. ^ The Argus, 25 November 1925
  11. ^ The Argus, 27 November 1926
  12. ^ The Argus, 30 November 1927
  13. ^ The Argus, 23 November 1928
  14. ^ The Mercury, 16 November 1929
  15. ^ The Argus, 28 November 1930
  16. ^ The Argus, 20 November 1931
  17. ^ The Advertiser, 11 November 1935
  18. ^ The Canberra Times, 5 December 1949
  19. ^ The Times (London), 22 November 1954
  20. ^ The Times (London), 3 December 1983
  21. ^ "Australian pictures in Trove". Trove.
  22. ^ Australian War Memorial UK0742
  23. ^ Australian War Memorial UK0900
  24. ^ Obituary throws up questions about British footy history from
  25. ^ London Footy Sixties Style from
  26. ^ Aussie Rules - England defeat Denmark Archived 25 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ AFL International Census 2007 Archived 24 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ "Instant Loans - Iafc".
  29. ^ "England Dragonslayers – AFL England".