Month: March 2017

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Canada

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Aussie rules has developed rapidly in the country of Canada in the past decade or so, buoyed by a wave of Aussie ex-pats who live and work in the large cities of Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, among others. There are several leagues currently operating, most notably in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec, and British Columbia.

The AFL brought the game to Canada officially in the late 1980s, when exhibition matches were held in both Vancouver and Toronto. In fact, the 1987 Vancouver-based match between Sydney Swans and the Melbourne Demons drew a record crowd of over 32,000 – which, to this day, is the largest crowd ever to see a footy match outside of Australia.

Like in the US, many Canadians were first introduced to Aussie rules during the 80s, when ESPN hosted regional broadcasts of AFL games. The first Canadian league was established in Toronto in May 1989, with two teams, the Toronto Panthers and the Mississauga Mustangs. Four other teams had joined by 1992, and by 1993, the Canadian national team, the Northwind, was born.

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Almost immediately, the Northwind experienced success, beating a British representative team in only their second year of existence. In 1995, a cable TV station in Hamilton, Ontario, broadcast a local footy game for the first time, and in 1999, the Canadians played the Americans in the first edition of the 49th Parallel Cup.

The Northwind have competed in every edition of the Australian Football International Cup, starting in 2002. The women’s team, known as the Northern Lights, first played their edition of the 49th Parallel Cup in 2007 and have also competed at the International Cup, starting in 2011.

In 2012, the AFL got even more recognition up north when former Canadian rugby union player Mike Pyke won an AFL premiership with the Sydney Swans. This, perhaps more than anything, signified the birth of Aussie rules in Canada as both a major competitive enterprise and an exciting spectator sport.

At the junior level, there have been organized footy competitions since 2003, when the North Delta Junior Australian Football League was founded in British Columbia. The sport of footy continues to grow in Canada, aided by the AFL’s push to add more development officers and coaches in North America. Today, there are 833 registered senior male players and 212 female players, as well as over 6,400 youngsters in various junior leagues. This makes Aussie rules one of the fastest-growing sports in Canada.

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CANADIANS IN THE AFL

  • Mike Pyke (played 2009-2015) – A British Columbia native who played numerous sports as a kid, Pyke played professional rugby union in both Canada and in Scotland. After injuries stalled his career, Pyke surprised many when he decided to switch to Aussie rules based on a friend’s recommendation. He caught on as a ruckman with the Sydney Swans and slowly managed to carve out a role for himself, drawing praise from coaches and teammates alike. In 2012, Pyke made history as the first Canadian to win an AFL premiership. Now a dual citizen of Canada and Australia, Pyke retired from the AFL in 2015 and currently works as an investment banker.
  • Andrew McGrath (played 2017-present) – Born in Ontario, McGrath moved to Melbourne with his family at the age of five. A long-armed, polished defender, McGrath was drafted as the #1 pick in the 2016 AFL Draft by the Essendon Bombers. As a junior, McGrath played for the Vic Metro squad in under-18 footy while attending Brighton Grammar School. He was also a gifted track and field athlete.
  • Scott Fleming (played 2008-present) – A lanky 6’3″ forward, Fleming started playing Aussie rules as a teenager in British Columbia and moved to Queensland in 2008 to pursue his goal. Helped by Canadian footy liaison Greg Everett, Fleming found a place at the Broadbeach Cats, a historic club in the Queensland Australian Football League (QAFL) that has also produced AFL players such as Joel Wilkinson and Dayne Zorko.

AFL CANADA

  • Alberta Australian Football League
    • Calgary Kangaroos
    • Calgary Bears
    • Calgary Cowboys
    • Edmonton Wombats
    • Calgary Wolves
  • British Columbia Australian Football League
    • Burnaby Eagles
    • Delta BayHawks
    • Vancouver Cougars
    • West Coast Saints
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Australian Football League
    • St John’s Puffins
  • North West Pacific Australian Football League
    • Burnaby Eagles
    • Columbia Basin Crows
    • Vancouver Cougars
    • Victoria Lions
  • Nova Scotia Australian Football League
    • Halifax Dockers
    • Sydney Giants
  • Ontario Australian Football League
    • Broadview Hawks
    • Central Blues
    • Ottawa Swans
    • Etobicoke Kangaroos
    • Grand River Gargoyles
    • Hamilton Wildcats
    • High Park Demons
    • Toronto Downtown Dingos
    • Toronto Eagles
    • Toronto Rebels
  • Quebec Australian Football League
    • Laval Bombers
    • Montreal Demons
    • Montreal Saints
    • Old Montreal Dockers
    • Point Claire Power
    • West Island Wooders

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Hugh Laurie

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He’s one of the most accomplished television actors of the past decade, appearing in numerous award-winning shows and programs on both sides of the Atlantic, but it’s easy to forget that Hugh Laurie took the long road to become an international star.

After all, he basically got into acting by accident.

The youngest of four children, Laurie was born on June 11, 1959, and grew up in Oxford, England. His parents, Dr. William George “Ran” Laurie and Patricia Laidlaw Laurie, were of Scottish descent. The elder Laurie (1915-1998) was a well-regarded general practitioner and a former rowing champion who represented England at the 1948 Summer Olympics.

Hugh, meanwhile, attended the Dragon School in Oxford during his pre-teen years; he admits today that he was a horrible student who preferred smoking cigarettes and cheating on French vocabulary tests. Laurie then went on to the world-renowned Eton College, where he competed in rowing and also played percussion in the school orchestra. Upon graduation, he moved on to his father’s alma mater, Selwyn College, Cambridge.

Like his dad, Laurie was a gifted rower and therefore felt the pressure to live up to his family name. He studied archaeology and social anthropology while at Selwyn, but was eventually forced to give up rowing after contracting a case of mono.

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Shortly thereafter, Laurie fell into the Cambridge Footlights. Founded in 1883, the Footlights are the oldest comedy club at the university and have produced many hilarious talents, including Monty Python members John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Eric Idle, as well as Jonathan Lynn, creator of Yes, Minister.

While training with the Footlights, Laurie became friends with his future long-time comedy partner, Stephen Fry, and got romantically involved with future Oscar winner Emma Thompson; they remain good friends to this day. Laurie and Thompson were president and vice president of the Footlights, respectively, during their final year at Cambridge (1980-81).

Upon leaving Cambridge, Laurie, along with Fry, found success on a variety of BBC programs, including Blackadder. Co-created by fellow Cambridge alum Ben Elton, Blackadder is a collection of satirical period-piece sitcoms featuring numerous recurring characters, and it gave Fry and Laurie plenty of chances to show off their skills.

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Shortly thereafter, the duo got their own sketch comedy show, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, which ran from 1989 to 1995. Widely considered a BBC cult classic, Fry and Laurie’s show helped them reach new heights in the UK, later leading to their hit show Jeeves and Wooster, an adaptation of the famous P.G. Wodehouse stories. Laurie often got chances to show off his musical prowess on TV, as he is a gifted pianist and guitarist who also plays the drums and the saxophone.

However, on the other side of the pond, Laurie was practically an unknown – which made it all the more surprising that he was tabbed for the title role in the medical procedural drama House.

Nearly all of us have seen at least one episode of House, so it’s very difficult to look at the show with fresh eyes, as audiences did back in 2004. Laurie played Dr. Greg House with such precision and perfection from the get-go, enthralling audiences worldwide. In fact, Laurie’s American accent was so convincing during his audition tape that executive producer Bryan Singer had no idea that Laurie wasn’t American until they met in person.

In addition to becoming one of the highest-paid actors on TV, Laurie’s skills finally caught on with an American audience, who only vaguely remembered him from his brief turns in 102 Dalmatians and Stuart Little. The character of Dr. House was so mean-spirited and complex, and critics were consistently impressed with Laurie’s chops. The actor took home two SAG Awards and two Golden Globes for his portrayal of House. And in 2011, Laurie received a Guinness World Record for being the most watched actor on television.

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Laurie admitted that the reason he took the role of Dr. House was because of his own father’s profession, once claiming that he felt slightly guilty for earning far more money than his dad ever did by playing a “fake doctor” on TV.

“I had a long-term reverence for medicine because I hero-worshipped my father, a former doctor, and because I admire doctors. I admire study, empiricism, and rational thought,” Laurie remarked.

However, he clarified that his late father would be “appalled” by the character of Dr. House.

“My father was an endlessly polite, generous and soft-spoken man. He was no pushover, but he would never hurt, shock or outrage people just for the hell of it. At the same time, I hope he would be entertained and see that science and logic are like a religion to House. He’d approve of that.”

Since the mammoth success of House, Laurie has pursued his musical career more consistently, recording two full-length blues albums and touring worldwide. He’s also popped up in other acclaimed shows, including a recent, well-received stint on HBO’s Veep, and took home another Golden Globe just a few weeks ago for his appearance on the BBC’s The Night Manager.

Laurie is currently starring on the Hulu original series Chance, playing a pessimistic neuropsychiatrist who is drawn into the dark underbelly of San Francisco while attempting to help an emotionally disturbed patient who suffers from an abusive husband. The intense, suspenseful show is based upon the novel by Kem Nunn – who also co-produces the show – and co-stars Lisa Gay Hamilton and Ethan Suplee.

Laurie remains best friends with Fry, who was best man at his wedding and godfather to his kids. He and Thompson are also close, with Laurie co-starring in Thompson’s universally-praised adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in 1995. Laurie returned the favor in 2001, having his daughter star in the film Wit, in which she played a younger version of Thompson’s character.

In his free time, Laurie loves playing music of all kinds and is a well-known supporter of the Fulham Football Club. He is also a motorcycle enthusiast, having incorporated these elements into the character of House, and has published two crime novels. In addition to his recreational hobbies, Laurie supports several charities and is a notable patron of Save the Children (his sister, Susan, is on the Board of Trustees).

Laurie currently resides in London with his wife of 27 years, Jo; they have three grown children – Charles (age 28), William (age 26), and Rebecca (age 23).

 

HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Billy the Kid

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If you’ve lived in New Mexico for any amount of time, you have to have heard of Billy the Kid (1859-1881). As someone who spent the better part of four years in the Land of Enchantment, it’s hard to argue with that.

Any Wild West historian worth his/her salt can tell you all about the legendary outlaw simply known as Billy the Kid. And that’s exactly what he was – a legend. To that end, there have been dozens of poems, documentaries, and live-action movies about Billy, most notably the 1973 Sam Peckinpah film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, starring Kris Kristofferson as Billy and James Coburn as Pat Garrett.

Still, many people, even experts in the field, know very little about Billy other than a few facts and information handed down by oral tradition and folklore. In fact, the above photo is the only surviving depiction of the man.

Some people – both Western historians and Billy’s own contemporaries – are divided over who he actually was. In some circles, he’s known as a vicious killer and thief who was part of a growing violent epidemic in post-Civil War New Mexico. Others believe that Billy was simply a punk kid who fell in with the wrong crowd and never killed anyone for the fun of it. And still others viewed Billy as a cunning, suave marksman – noted for being a charmer, a talented dancer, and a folk hero. In modern terms, say a combination of James Bond, Batman, and Clint Eastwood.

So what DO we know about the mysterious Billy the Kid? Let’s find out.

The first thing that you need to know about Billy the Kid is that his name wasn’t Billy. He was born September 17, 1859 in New York City and his given name was Henry McCarty. He was raised Catholic by his Irish-American mother Catherine, and he had a younger brother, Joseph (born 1863).

Very little is known about Billy’s father, other than the fact that he died when Billy was very young. Shortly thereafter, Ms. McCarty and her boys moved to Indiana, where she met and fell in love with a man named Henry Antrim. The family moved around to several places before settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1873. Ms. McCarty married Antrim shortly thereafter, and then moved the family again, this time a few hundred miles south to Silver City, New Mexico.

Unfortunately, Billy’s mother passed away a year later from tuberculosis. Billy, by now age 15, started working for a lady named Sarah Brown in Silver City. Brown took him in after his mother’s death, while Billy’s brother remained with Antrim.

In 1875, Billy and a friend robbed a local laundromat, stealing clothes as well as two pistols. Billy was charged with theft and put in jail, but escaped two days later and fled to his stepfather’s house. Soon after that, Billy fled again to the Arizona Territory, where he worked on a ranch and developed a gambling habit. The following year, a respected rancher named Henry Hooker took Billy in and gave him consistent work as a cattle wrangler.

Around this time, Billy befriended a man named John Mackie, an ex-Army cavalryman who had become a small-time horse thief following his discharge. The two men began stealing horses from soldiers at nearby Camp Grant.

During one of these incidents, things turned violent. On August 17, 1877, Billy got into a verbal altercation with Francis Cahill, a blacksmith who had become increasingly suspicious of Billy. During a poker game, Cahill attacked Billy, and after a brief struggle, Billy shot Cahill, who died the next day. Billy was taken into custody by Camp Grant authorities, but managed to escape again.

Billy stole a horse and attempted to return to New Mexico, but was attacked by Apaches on the way back, who robbed him and stole his horse. A tired and dehydrated Billy managed to walk several miles through the desert to the home of John Jones, a gang member who lived in Pecos Valley, New Mexico. Billy stayed at the Jones home and recuperated for awhile before catching on with a band of cattle rustlers. By this time, Billy began using the alias “William H. Bonney” to avoid catching unnecessary attention from newspapers and authorities in his adopted hometown of Silver City.

Billy eventually went back to honest work as a ranch-hand in Lincoln County, New Mexico, working for an Englishman named John Tunstall. Tunstall and his friend, a lawyer named Alexander McSween, were locked in a feud with three prominent businessmen: John Riley, James Dolan, and Lawrence Murphy. This trio were intimately involved in local politics and were suspected of shady dealings with various authority figures in Lincoln County.

In early 1878, on behalf of Dolan, county sheriff William Brady attempted to claim $40,000 of Tunstall’s property in order to repay a much smaller debt owed by McSween. Tunstall, sensing danger, warned his ranch-hands (including Billy) to guard the property and prevent the sheriff’s men from stealing any horses or cattle.

On February 18th, Sheriff Brady assembled a posse and attempted to force Tunstall off his land. In the process, Tunstall was shot and killed, starting what eventually became known as the Lincoln County War.

Two days later, Billy and a couple of his associates went to the local justice of the peace, John Wilson, and obtained murder warrants for Sheriff Brady. While attempting to do so, Billy and his friend, Dick Brewer, were ambushed by the sheriff’s posse and imprisoned. This caught the attention of Deputy U.S. Marshal Rob Widenmann, who freed Billy and Brewer on February 23rd and, in turn, locked up Sheriff Brady’s men.

After his release, Billy joined the Lincoln County Regulators and attempted to avenge Tunstall’s murder. On March 9th, two of Tunstall’s alleged killers, Bill Morton and Frank Baker, were shot dead. A month later, during an ambush at nearby Blazer’s Mill, Brewer and Sheriff Brady were also killed. A warrant was then issued for the arrest of numerous parties, including Billy.

By now, McSween was the leader of the Regulators, who were nearly 60 strong. They occupied the town of Lincoln on the night of July 14th, surrounding the town for several days. The new sheriff, George Peppin, dispatched several sharpshooters to kill the Regulators at the local saloon, but it backfired when Charles Crawford, one of the snipers, was shot by a Regulator named Fernando Herrera.

A furious Sheriff Peppin requested help from Colonel Nathan Dudley of nearby Fort Stanton, but Dudley refused. On July 19th, McSween and the Regulators were attacked at their lodge by Deputy Sheriff Jack Long, who burned the house down. As Billy and the Regulators retreated, McSween was shot and killed by Robert Beckwith, who was then shot by Billy.

Billy and three surviving Regulators regrouped outside of town on the Mescalero Apache Indian Agency. However, when a local bookkeeper was murdered on August 5th by a Lincoln County Constable, the Regulators were framed for the crime.

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On October 5th, U.S. Marshal John Sherman met with the new governor of the New Mexico Territory, Lew Wallace. A Union officer during the Civil War, Wallace was intent on restoring law and order to the dangerous New Mexico landscape. In their meeting, Sherman informed Wallace of a number of pending arrest warrants, including for a one “Billy the Kid.” Due to widespread political corruption in Lincoln County, Sherman had been unable to indict the people involved in the conflict.

In November, Governor Wallace issued amnesty to anyone involved in the Lincoln County War following Tunstall’s murder earlier that year. However, the pardon did not apply to anyone who was under indictment for a crime, so Billy was still a wanted man.

On February 18, 1879, Billy and a friend of his were in the wrong place at the wrong time. A local attorney, Huston Chapman, was murdered and his corpse set on fire while Billy and his friend were forced to watch. Later, Billy wrote a letter to Governor Wallace, offering information on Chapman’s murder in exchange for amnesty. Billy met with Wallace in person on March 15th, with Wallace offering full amnesty to Billy if he testified before a grand jury. Soon after, Billy turned himself in to Sheriff George Kimball.

As agreed, Billy provided information about the Chapman murder, but as the weeks passed, Billy began to question Wallace’s motivations. Believing that the Governor had double-crossed him, Billy escaped the jail on June 17th and decided to lie low for several months.

In January 1880, Billy shot and killed a man named Joe Grant (allegedly in self-defense) at a saloon in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. By now, Billy had joined a new posse and they were still causing trouble in the area, causing headaches for the new sheriff, Pat Garrett.

Garrett had been given a bounty on Billy’s head from Governor Wallace himself. Two days before Christmas 1880, Garrett captured Billy and his posse and took them to stand trial in Santa Fe. On the way there, the group was mobbed by rowdy locals attempting to kill Billy and his men. After arriving in Santa Fe, Billy was interviewed in the jailhouse by a reporter from the Las Vegas Gazette. The reporter took note of Billy’s relaxed demeanor, to which Billy replied that he didn’t believe in being pessimistic and that he would have the last laugh.

While in jail, Billy wrote Governor Wallace again, asking for clemency, but to no avail. In April 1881, Billy was transported to stand trail in Mesilla, New Mexico. After two days of testimonies, Billy was found guilty of murdering Sheriff Brady – the only conviction of any combatant in the Lincoln County War. On April 13th, Billy was sentenced to hang. He was moved once again, this time back to Lincoln.

On the night of April 28th, Sheriff Garrett was out of town. Deputy Bob Olinger and his colleagues were out at dinner, leaving a lone deputy, James Bell, to watch Billy.

Billy requested to use the outhouse, and Bell agreed. Somehow, on the way back to the jail, Billy freed himself from his handcuffs and knocked Bell over, before grabbing his revolver and shooting him in the back as he fled. Billy’s legs were still shackled, but amazingly, he was able to hobble into Garrett’s upstairs office and arm himself with a shotgun. Olinger, who had heard gunshots from across the street, approached. Billy called out, “Look up, old boy, and see what you get,” before shooting Olinger in the head. Billy then freed himself from his leg irons, stole a horse, and fled town.

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Three months later, Governor Wallace placed a new bounty for Billy’s arrest or death. After hearing rumors that Billy was in Fort Sumner again, Garrett and two deputies left on July 14th to question Pete Maxwell, a friend of Billy’s and the son of a prominent landowner. Late at night, Garrett was questioning Maxwell when Billy unexpectedly entered the room. Due to the poor lighting, Billy did not recognize Garrett and called out, “Who is it?” Garrett, recognizing Billy’s voice, shot him in the chest twice, killing him.

Garrett was eventually given the bounty by Governor Wallace, but rumors began circulating that Garrett had ambushed Billy and killed him in cold blood. Feeling a need to set the record straight, Garrett told his side of the story in his book The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, published in April 1882. It remains one of the few definitive chronicles of Billy’s life.

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: United States

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The growth of Aussie rules football in the US has been a slow, steady, but satisfying journey. The United States Australian Football League (USAFL) was originally established in 1996 and is currently based in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Americans and Australian ex-patriates alike have been able to get the word out about the historic game, and the excitement of footy is finally coming to American shores on a large scale.

In the 1960s, the Victorian Football League (VFL) tried to expand its international audience by promoting what they called the Australian Football World Tour in 1967 and 1968. It was initially conceived as a way to develop international rules football – a hybrid sport featuring representatives from both Aussie rules football and Gaelic football – but also became a way for international audiences to see various elements of footy up close and personal. Games were played in Dublin, London, and New York City, but the tour was discontinued after 1968.

The VFL (now the AFL) also tried to play various preseason exhibition matches overseas in American cities  – such as Portland and San Francisco – as well as two consecutive games held in Miami in 1988 and 1989. Most recently, the Sydney Swans battled the North Melbourne Kangaroos in a 2006 preseason game held at the UCLA intramural fields.

As far as a US-based league goes, the USAFL was founded in 1996 and incorporated as a formal competition the following year. Many of the American players had developed a passion for footy during the 80s, when VFL/AFL matches were televised on the then-fledgling ESPN network. Some of the original footy clubs in the first two seasons were the Cincinnati Dockers, the Louisville Kings, the Nashville Kangaroos, the Boston Demons, the North Carolina Tigers, the San Diego Lions, and the St. Louis Blues.

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The USAFL has gained some passionate champions in Australia. Some of the current USAFL ambassadors include such big names as former Brisbane Lions superstar Michael Voss, AFL Hall of Famer Leigh Matthews (former Brisbane and Collingwood coach), and Hawthorn icon Robert DiPierdomenico. These men, in particular, have helped the USAFL gain international credibility as a top-level footy league and as an avenue to help establish and develop the sport in the States.

Currently, the USAFL is divided into three separate regional leagues, which all have their own tournament during the summer season. In all, the USAFL has 37 men’s teams and 13 women’s teams. The USAFL Nationals tournament is held annually in October, with the location changing each year (the 2017 edition will be in San Diego).

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The best American footy players get a chance to participate in the triennial Australian Football International Cup and (in alternate years) the 49th Parallel Cup, which pits the American team against the Canadian team.

The Revolution (men) and the Freedom (women) are the names of the International Cup teams. The Revolution have competed in every International Cup since 2002, with their best finish coming in 2011, when they received fourth-place honors. The Freedom joined the party in 2011 and 2014, finishing in third place both years.

As of today, there are 2,000 registered footy players in the US, with many more on the way. The AFL has conducted more tours of the States in recent years, including combines in many major cities, and are working to place more development officers throughout North America.

AMERICANS IN THE AFL

  • Sanford Wheeler (played 1989-1994) – Born in California to an African-American mother and an Australian father, Wheeler moved to Parramatta (a western suburb of Sydney) at age six. He first picked up footy as a teenager before getting drafted by the Sydney Swans as a defender. Unfortunately, Wheeler played for Sydney during some of their worst seasons as a club and was de-listed by coach Ron Barassi in 1994.
  • Jason Holmes (played 2015-present) – Originally from Chicago, Holmes played college basketball at Morehead State University and was signed as an international rookie by the St Kilda Football Club in October 2013. After spending time with the VFL’s Sandringham Dragons, Holmes made his AFL debut in 2015 as the first born-and-raised American to ever play in the league.
  • Dwayne Armstrong (played 1996) – Armstrong, a former American football player for Iowa State University, attempted to transition to Aussie rules with the Essendon Bombers. While he never made a start in any AFL games, Armstrong gave a solid effort at lower levels of competition, both with Essendon’s VFL squad and also with Wanderers Football Club in the Northern Territory Football League.
  • Matt Korcheck (played 2015-present) – A basketball convert who played for the University of Arizona, Korcheck was selected as an international rookie by Carlton back in 2015.
  • Mason Cox (played 2016-present) – A former walk-on basketball player for Oklahoma State University, Cox is the tallest player in AFL history, standing at an imposing 6’11”. After being spotted by AFL scouts in the States, the ruckman showed plenty of raw talent when he landed in Australia, starring for the Collingwood Magpies’ VFL reserve team in 2015. Cox made his AFL debut in 2016 during the annual ANZAC Day clash (Collingwood vs. Essendon) and kicked the game’s opening goal.
  • Seamus McNamara (played 2010-2012) – McNamara played basketball for Marist College before switching to Aussie rules in 2010, signing an international scholarship with Collingwood. McNamara played a handful of preseason games for the Magpies before being delisted in 2012. He stayed in Australia and ended up going back to a basketball career.

UNITED STATES AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE

  • Central Region
    • Austin Crows
    • Baton Rouge Tigers
    • Chicago Swans
    • Cincinnati Dockers
    • Cleveland Cannons
    • Columbus Jackaroos
    • Dallas Magpies
    • Des Moines Roosters
    • Houston Lonestars
    • Indianapolis Giants
    • Kansas City Power
    • Louisville Kings
    • Little Rock Coyotes
    • Milwaukee Bombers
    • Minnesota Freeze
    • Nashville Kangaroos
    • North Star Blue Ox
    • Oklahoma City Flyers
    • St. Louis Blues
    • Tulsa Buffaloes
  • Western Region
    • Arizona Hawks
    • Denver Bulldogs
    • Golden Gate Roos
    • Las Vegas Gamblers
    • Los Angeles Dragons
    • Orange County Bombers
    • Portland Steelheads
    • Sacramento Suns
    • San Diego Lions
    • Seattle Grizzlies
  • Eastern Region
    • Atlanta Kookaburras
    • Baltimore-Washington Eagles
    • Boston Demons
    • Fort Lauderdale Fighing Squids
    • New York Magpies
    • North Carolina Tigers
    • Philadelphia Hawks
    • Tampa Bay Starfish

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Tonga

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The South Pacific country of Tonga has been introduced to footy fairly recently, but they’ve taken to the sport quickly and have been able to earn their stripes on the international level. The small Polynesian archipelago of roughly 103,000 people is home to many talented athletes.

Tongans have historically favored other full-contact sports throughout their history, as rugby union is their national sport and rugby league is also widely played in the islands. This influence is apparent in the growing Tongan diaspora, specifically in Australia and New Zealand.

Footy wasn’t introduced to Tonga until the 1980s, when a couple of Australian teachers visited Tongan schools and managed to show the kids the rules of the game. Later on in the 90s, Ewen Gracie, a teacher from Melbourne, worked at a Tongan high school and attempted to establish an ongoing school-based Aussie rules competition with reasonable success.

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The Tongan Australian Football Association (TAFA) was founded in January 2003 by Aussie ex-patriates Tim Valente and Mark Korsten. The teams grew rapidly in skill and in numbers, and the following year they sent the first Tongan footy player overseas to compete – Sila Va’enuku, a former rugby union footballer, traveled to Melbourne to play in the Australian Football Multicultural Cup alongside a handful of Tongan Australians.

By 2008, Tonga’s national footy team, the Tigers, were hoping to have the numbers to compete in the Australian Football International Cup, but they didn’t qualify. They tried again in 2011, and surprised many by placing ninth. Despite losses to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, the Tongans showed enough promise to return to the competition three years later.

At the 2014 International Cup, Tonga beat Japan, Pakistan, and India in decisive victories, while also suffering losses to Canada and South Africa. The Tongans finished sixth in the competition that year and brought renewed optimism for the 2017 edition of the Cup.

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Many Tongan youngsters are involved in footy to this day, with the U16 national team winning the 2009 AFL Oceania Cup and earning runner-up honors in 2010.

Currently, the Tongans have less than 200 registered footballers nationwide, but the sport continues to grow in popularity and has an established presence in five different Tongan high schools.

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TONGANS IN THE AFL

  • Israel Folau (played 2011-2012) – A Tongan Australian who grew up in both Sydney and Brisbane, Folau played in the National Rugby League with the Melbourne Storm (2007-2008) and the Brisbane Broncos (2009-2010) before surprising many by switching to Aussie rules. Folau played for the AFL’s Greater Western Sydney Giants as a utility player. He played in 13 AFL games and 15 games in the North East Australian Football League (NEAFL) before switching football codes again, this time to rugby union.
  • Peni Mahina (played 2014-present) – One of the most famous Tongan footy players, Mahina is the son of rugby union legend Malakai Mahina. He surprised many when he decided to pursue Aussie rules, but has since become one of the most consistent playmakers for the Tongan national team, starting in 2014 at the International Cup.

The good, the bad, and the so-bad-they’re-good

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“That movie is so bad, it’s good.”

We’ve all heard this saying, so much so that it’s almost become a cliche. Many films enjoy cult classic reputations strictly based on the fact that they’re bad-but-entertaining. Frequently, these films have a niche-market value to them which the filmmakers can use to their advantage, marketing it in an effort to win over people with ironic senses of humor. More often, the cult classic status happens completely by accident. These movies are also frequently low-budget affairs that are inadvertently sabotaged by their writer or director’s lack of experience, talent, or money.

At the end of the day, these audiences recognize that these films lack any value or substance. Most so-bad-they’re-good films become classics well after the fact, once they develop an underground DVD/Blu-Ray following. A lot of them belong in their own sub-category, specifically for the variety of hilarious movies starring, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Nicolas Cage.

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Arguably the best known so-bad-they’re-good films are Troll 2 (1990) and The Room (2003). I’m not going to get super in-depth about the plot (or lack thereof) in these movies, as that information is readily available online and has been hashed and rehashed by numerous critics (especially on YouTube). Still, I’ll go over the basics of these films and include as much relevant information as I can without spoilers.

To me, there are three types of so-bad-they’re-good movies:

THE ENTERTAINING ONES

Troll 2 and The Room both work for me, because their plots are incredibly nonsensical and nothing in the movie is realistic. The Room is, ostensibly, a romantic drama/love-triangle tragedy about San Francisco banker Johnny, his fiancee Lisa, and his best friend Mark.

Troll 2 is an even stranger movie, featuring no trolls (they’re goblins), having no connection to the original Troll film, and being made in America by a crew that spoke Italian exclusively. Also, the film’s poster has nothing to do with the film itself. (Confused yet?)

There are two separate reasons for why these two films are the way they are, and both are related to cultural differences.

  • The writer/director/producer/star of The Room, Tommy Wiseau, has gone to great lengths to hide where he is from in various interviews. None of his co-stars had the slightest clue as to where his bizarre accent originated, where he grew up, or even how he got the $6 million to finance the making of The Room. But Wiseau’s enigmatic nature helps lift The Room to larger-than-life bad movie status. The Room works so well because of Wiseau’s broken English and his complete lack of understanding of how Western culture works. It’s the perfect example of a movie that fails miserably in what it’s trying to do, but does so in a blissfully unaware and almost innocent way. It’s the perfect storm of awkward, confusing insanity.
  • Troll 2‘s filmmakers aren’t quite as beloved, because their motive for making the film was genuinely confusing. Husband-and-wife team Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi, both Italian nationals, shot the film in rural Utah. The entire crew, except for the production designer, spoke little to no English, and the inexperienced actors had very little idea of what was actually going on and how they were supposed to say the words on the page. Since Troll 2 is ludicrous in nearly every way, one would expect that the filmmakers would have a tongue-in-cheek attitude about it and take the so-bad-it’s-good status to heart. But Fragasso and Drudi have never gone back and admitted that the film was – for lack of a better word – trolling (obvious joke is obvious). Infamously, Fragasso even crashed a cast reunion for Troll 2 after the movie achieved cult classic status; he heckled the cast members and hurled insults at them before security removed him from the venue. It’s also worth mentioning that the movie’s producer, Joe D’Amato, was notorious for making poor quality exploitation movies purely for a paycheck.

Still, in spite of the motive for making them, both Troll 2 and The Room work on nearly level, particularly in plot holes, over-the-top acting, nonsensical dialogue, and general WTF moments.

THE BAD ONES

Two other notable movies that have attained cult classic status are Foodfight and Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

  • Foodfight was made on a $65 million budget. The film was directed by Lawrence Kasanoff and was originally supposed to be released in 2002. Foodfight was intended to be a satirical parody with anthropomorphic food icons representing such brands as StarKist Tuna, Mr. Clean, Count Chocula, etc. But the film hit numerous snags in securing the licensing for the product placement, and at one point, the entire film’s animated assets were stolen from the studio. Foodfight lumbered around in production hell before getting released in 2012, when many of its stars (Eva Longoria, Charlie Sheen, Christopher Lloyd, Hilary Duff) were either washed-up or irrelevant.
  • Meanwhile, Birdemic: Shock and Terror was an indie film released in 2010 by writer/director James Nguyen. A Vietnamese immigrant who was long fascinated by Hitchcock films, Nguyen could only shoot the film on weekends due to his day job and many of his actors being unavailable. The result is an appallingly-bad film that is frequently listed as one of the worst ever made.

Quite a few people ironically enjoy and appreciate these films; I hate them. Why is that?

For a film on a $65 million budget (slightly above average for a studio film), Foodfight‘s animation is atrocious in every way. The characters are beyond obnoxious, and nearly every joke misses its target. In addition to the obvious product placement, Foodfight also has genuinely creepy moments, highlighted by a bizarre amount of sexual innuendos and references to Nazism. Yes, this was intended to be an animated children’s movie.

Birdemic might be the most technically incompetent film ever made. It features the bad movie staples of a lousy script, lousier acting, and gigantic plot holes, but the film is a completely different nightmare on a technical level. Sound comes in and out of scenes like a punch to the face, the camerawork is incredibly amateur, and the visual effects are so laughable that I’m convinced a 13-year-old could do better on Adobe AfterEffects. The film is also rife with preachiness about environmentalism, as the killer birds of the film’s title are said to have been caused by global warming and fossil fuels. No, I’m not joking.

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I’m not going to fault anyone for liking these films ironically. But both Foodfight and Birdemic, to me, represent the worst, most cynical level of moviemaking. I don’t know Larry Kasanoff or James Nguyen personally, but based upon their reputations and the interviews I’ve seen with them, they’re unprofessional people who don’t have the personality or the skills to make successful movies. Both men’s entire reaction to their films and their lackluster defending of them show them to be lazy, cynical, or like they made their movies for a prank or because they lost a bet.

It shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that in order to make films, you have to be passionate about making them. I’ve made short films in the past, and I can guarantee you that it’s not all sunshine and roses; Murphy’s law always applies, and everyone has to be on top of their game every day of shooting.

Even if you aren’t a filmmaker, as an audience member, you should be willing to watch films that are made with the proper effort. There’s certainly a time and place for bad movies, but it really irks me when I see directors and writers who seem cynical, lazy, and defeatist from the get-go.

THE BAD/ENTERTAINING ONES

There are many films that fall in the bad AND entertaining category. Here are two:

  • The 2006 remake of the 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man looked good on paper, starring Oscar winner Nicolas Cage and being directed by Neil LaBute, a filmmaker known for making unsettling and harsh thriller movies. But in the end, the film was a massive box office bomb and received extremely negative reviews from audiences and critics alike.
  • Samurai Cop was released in 1989 and was almost instantly forgotten. A micro-budget film made by the late Iranian director Amir Shervan, the film wasn’t even released theatrically and generated a cult following on its later VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray editions. Samurai Cop is essentially piggybacking off of genre tropes of the day, most notably Beverly Hills Cop and the Lethal Weapon franchise.

Samurai Cop and The Wicker Man are very different films. The former was a misguided low-budget adventure of an Iranian national trying to replicate American action movie success. The film is known for its terrible editing and audio dubbing, and has some ludicrously choreographed action scenes. But it works for me, because it’s insanely entertaining and funny, even though the technical flaws are blatantly obvious.

Meanwhile, The Wicker Man was an ambitious effort to adapt a bona fide horror classic into the modern day. While the movie is poorly plotted and the characters in it make baffling decisions, it is lifted by – who else? – Nicolas Cage.

Cage has made many good movies and many horrible movies in his career. But he seems to have a unique level of staying power for someone who has starred in box office bomb after box office bomb. Very few actors can be consistently entertaining while acting in bad movies, and The Wicker Man is a prime example of this effect. Even in an otherwise terrible film, Cage entertains you and makes you cry with laughter.

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Bad movies are basically a tutorial for anyone interested in making or critiquing films. And normally, it’s nothing too intricate or complicated. Most bad films are bad for fairly simple reasons – an unfocused script, a complicated plot, bad acting, stilted dialogue, or simply a director who is inexperienced, unaccountable, or both.

I have a very basic rule of thumb when it comes to evaluating films: don’t be a hater unnecessarily. I’m definitely not the only one who hates the Star Wars prequels, but I doubt I’ll just say “they suck because they suck.” I could earn lots of points from fanboys and fangirls by criticizing specific things or spending too much time on something that people love to hate, but I usually won’t.

Does that mean that some films don’t deserve to be ripped to shreds? No. But I feel like a lot of people don’t actually bother to explain their rationale for not liking a movie. You can chalk that up to people having knee-jerk emotional reactions in general, but as serious film-goers, we need to be the best critical thinkers there are. That doesn’t mean we have to go into a feature film and break down the good and bad in every frame, but it’s still a useful guide for anyone who loves movies and how they’re made.

I hope this blog has helped you, not just to evaluate and appreciate so-bad-they’re good movies (and the different types thereof), but also to approach any film with a slightly different mindset. Cheers!

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Nauru

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The smallest island nation in the world, Nauru has a notable and sizable presence in the international Aussie rules community. With 680 registered junior and senior players out of a population of roughly 10,000, Nauru has the highest participation rate of any country in the world (30-35%).

That’s pretty impressive for a nation that is less than a century old and covers less than 10 square miles.

Nauru is a tiny phosphate rock island in the central Pacific, located just south of the Equator in the vicinity of several archipelago-nations, including the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu and Kiribati.

The indigenous Nauruan culture features both Micronesian and Polynesian influences. After being liberated from Japanese control by Australian naval forces in 1945, a joint trustee partnership among the UK, Australia, and New Zealand helped administer Nauru in the post-war years. Nauru permanently became independent in January 1968. Its isolated location and lack of natural resources notwithstanding, the country has long been considered a major magnet for phosphate strip mining.

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Despite its young and humble history, the country of Nauru is passionate about footy, which was first played on the island in the 1930s and is currently administrated by the Nauru Australian Football Association (NAFA) under the auspices of AFL Nauru. The country’s only major stadium, Linkbelt Oval, hosts footy matches annually, and the NAFA Grand Final is a major annual event on the island, regularly drawing crowds of 3,000. In addition to weightlifting, Aussie rules is considered the national sport of Nauru.

Nauruans have played footy dating back to the pre-WWII era, when a large number of Nauruan children attended schools in the football-crazy Australian cities of Geelong and Melbourne. Even Hammer DeRoburt, the first president of Nauru (1968-1976), had a footy background from his days as a student and teacher at the Gordon Institute of Technology in Geelong.

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The Nauruan national footy team is known as the Chiefs, and they have participated in numerous international tournaments, including the Australia-based Arafura Games in 1995 and 2001. The Chiefs have also competed in the triennial Australian Football International Cup, placing four different times, including a fifth-place finish in 2005.

Nauru also competed in the Web Sports Cup in both 2000 and 2001. The Chiefs won two notable matches both times, including one against a Queensland team from the Gold Coast, and another against the team from Samoa. In 2003, Nauru’s junior team got a chance to play in the Barassi International Youth Football Tournament; they fought hard, but suffered defeats to teams from both the Australian Capital Territory and New Zealand. Other young footy players have had chances to represent Nauru at tournaments like the Oceania Cup and the NAB Under-16 Championships.

Today, Nauruan footy, as represented by the NAFA, has a dozen teams in two separate divisions, representing nearly every local district in the country. While the NAFA is formally recognized as an international partner by the AFL, the league also receives sponsorship and funding from Nauru Airlines, local banks, phone companies, and hotels.

NAURUANS IN THE AFL

  • Yoshi Harris (played 2012-present) – Harris was a Nauru native who was selected in 2011 on an international scholarship for Greater Western Sydney. A 6’0″ halfback/wing player, he played a few games in 2012 for GWS’s reserves squad, as well as in the AFL Sydney competition. In 2014, he represented Nauru at the International Cup.

NAURU AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION

  • Senior League
    • Aces
    • Blues
    • Boe Lions
    • Menaida Tigers
    • Panzer Saints
    • Supercats
    • Ubenited Power
  • Junior League
    • Esso
    • Frigates
    • Meneng Eagles
    • Ubenited Power
    • Yaren Magpies