Beginning at 9:30 AM (BST) in Russia and Scotland, and finishing beyond 7:30 PM (BST) in Croatia, this year’s AFL Europe Festival of Football was a monumental one.
The event, in its second year running, once again welcomed all participating countries in Europe to host a tournament with their local clubs in a local city of their choice, all on the same day of Saturday, August 14th.
This year, we approached the half century of almost 50 matches played with exactly 50 teams from 12 different countries.
Thanks to AFL Europe’s Official Apparel Partner, O’Neills Sportswear, each tournament was supplied with new umpire shirts for the near 30 umpires officiating across the day.
And while teams were competing for title of Festival of Football champion of their respective tournament, each player had the chance to be voted best afield and win a player of the tournament guernsey, again courtesy of O’Neills Sportswear.
It’s time to recap all the action from the start of the day to its end, as we congratulate and review the 12 countries who participated in our 2021 Festival of Football.
Kicking off the 2021 event were some of our most westerly European teams in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Beginning at 9:30 AM (BST), AFL Russia hosted a tournament with the Baltic Hawks, Northern Tigers and St. Petersburg Cats.
The first victory of the day went to the 2020 St. Petersburg Australian Football League (SPAFL) premiers in the Northern Tigers, defeating the Cats by 12-points.
The Tigers looked to continue their momentum into the second match of the day, but could not keep up against a fresh Hawks outfit, who went on to last the day undefeated with winning margins of 31 and 15.
Congratulations to Pavel Aman who was awarded player of the tournament.
Getting things underway in the morning, along with Russia, were the men’s and women’s sides in Scotland.
Six matches were played in Edinburgh, starting with the women’s round robin and followed by three matches of the AFL Scotland men’s competition.
The Edinburgh Bloods women’s opened up the round robin with a big win over the Glasgow Sharks. The Sharks remained on the pitch for the second match in Scotland and managed to bounce back to defeat the Greater Glasgow Giants by five goals.
A final match between the Bloods and Giants resulted in a victory for the home side, who were crowned as champions of the day with their very own Hannah O’Brien awarded as player of the tournament.
Edinburgh’s men’s side carried on the women’s momentum into their match-up against West Lothian Eagles with a big win.
The Tyne Tees Tigers enjoyed a convincing win against the Reading Roos, whilst the Giants men’s were able to overcome the Sharks by 38-points.
POLAND WITH CZECH REPUBLIC
The Warsaw derby set about the first of ten games to be held in Nysa, Poland for the Festival of Football.
All teams played three games each to determine which two teams would progress to the grand final, as well as a third place play-off match.
However, players in Poland were competing for more than the title of Festival of Football champions, as spots in Poland’s national team, Polish Devils, were up for grabs.
The visitors from the Czech Republic, Prague Dragons, went into the day as favourites and in their first match, proved all onlookers just why.
A triumphant ten-goal win over the Warsaw Bisons hurled the Dragons to the top of the table, to then win their next two games and see themselves into the grand final.
The Warsaw Boars defeated Wrocław Lions and just snuck past Fort Nysa FC by two-points to meet the Dragons in the final match.
Roger Scott, head coach of the Polish Devils, spent the day closely monitoring the performance of all players for selection of the Polish national team.
“For this tournament, we challenged the players to show us how they can implement the skills we learn in trainings, to real match situations. They out-performed my expectations!” said Scott.
“Not only this, but they played with a huge amount of guts, a desire to win, and showed a level of sportsmanship and professionalism I haven’t seen in Poland before.
“I’m proud of everyone and happy to report that Poland will be taking a very strong team to the next international tournament.”
Continuing their dominant day out, Prague went on to defeat the Boars by eight goals and were crowned champions of the day.
Perhaps the match of the day was the third-placed play off game, as Fort Nysa and the Bisons went right down to the wire. The Bisons coming out on top by just three-points.
Congratulations to Tyson from the Boars and Sebastian from the Lions who were tied as the players of the tournament, and Kevan Lyons from Prague who was the umpire of the tournament.
Shoutout to Klaudia Ćwiąkała for her fantastic coverage of the day on AFL Poland’s social media accounts.
Heading over west and to start the first of fourteen matches in the south of Dublin, and across two pitches, were the men’s and women’s teams in Ireland.
The men’s tournament got the day underway as the Belfast Redbacks and Leeside Lions claimed commanding wins before midday, and would eventually go on to meet in the grand final.
The women’s matches commenced soon after and with the South Dublin Swans, Cork Vikings and a combined side between the Ulster Kookaburras and Galway Magpies.
Head Coach of the Irish Warriors and AFL Ireland Men’s Competition Representative, Eoin O’Sullivan, reflected on the day that was had in Ireland.
“It was great… We had 14 games of footy throughout the day, with over 150 players taking part, six umpires, three pitch managers and numerous more helpers throughout,” said O’Sullivan.
“The games themselves were fantastic, with some being decided by less than a goal, and every team picking up a win along the way. Then, we log on to AFL Europe and see similar situations in cities all over Europe, it’s just amazing.”
Angi Crispe was awarded the umpire of the tournament medal, taking on the role of field umpire for the women’s grand final as well as chasing scores, goal scorers and best on ground votes throughout the day.
Cork Vikings, who were impressive all day, won the women’s tournament with their very own Maria Quirke awarded as the women’s player of the tournament.
In the men’s competition, the Redbacks kept up an undefeated performance to be crowned champions of the tournament. Conchúr O’hAlluráin from the Redbacks won men’s player of the tournament.
Combining round three of their 2021 season with the Festival of Football, AFL Switzerland featured four games in Vessy, Geneva.
The first match was held between the Geneva Jets and the Zurich Giants, as the home side went on to win convincingly.
Rolling straight into their second match, the Jets defeated the Winterthur Lions to go 2-0 and become the winners of the tournament.
Zurich and Winterthur had a close encounter for the third match of the day, both seeking their first win. The Lions remained strong in the final minutes of the game to win by 16-points.
The fourth and final match in Switzerland was competed between the Geneva and Basel reserve sides.
The Jets reserves were the only team in Switzerland to surpass a score of 100 for the day, defeating the Dragons by 12-goals.
Congratulations to Geneva Jets’ seniors player Brad McConnachy and reserves player Clemens Bourgeois for being selected as the players of the day.
The Danish Vikings were on show for the first time in almost two years and were up against a select DAFL Australian side for the Festival of Football in Denmark.
Prior to the Danes vs. Aussies match was a mixed game played between new and old men’s and women’s players in the DAFL.
It was great to see some of the DAFL’s legends return to the pitch for a kick, as well as some new faces trying out Australian Football for the first time.
A quick storm hit Copenhagen during the warm up for the Vikings and Australia match which set up slippery conditions that could not separate either team by the end of the first half.
Perhaps the Vikings just needed a half to warm-up, as they got back to their 2019 European Championships form and dominated the Australians in the second half to win by a margin of 78-points.
Josefine Ravanaki (mixed match) was awarded as the best player of the day.
Our most northernly matches on August 14th started at 3:00 PM (BST) in Turku.
The day started with a round robin between three teams; Turku Dockers, Helsinki Heatseekers and the newly formed FAFL All-Stars side, and finished with one final match played as a friendly game with players from various clubs playing together in mixed teams.
Coach of the Turku Dockers, Stephen Phillips, spoke on the final game of the day and his joy of Finland being involved in the Festival of Football for a second year in a row.
“The [final game] was a really nice way to end a fun day,” said Phillips.
“It summed up the feeling from the whole Festival – that it’s just great to be playing together again after such a long forced break.”
Turku managed an early victory over the All-Stars as both sides were soon to be handed a loss each by the Heatseekers, who were far too strong on the day.
Congratulations to Alix Kalliojärvi who was the umpire of the tournament and Dylan from the Turku Dockers for winning player of the tournament.
AUSTRIA (WITH HUNGARY)
Styrian DownUnderDogs and Vienna Galahs were joined by the Budapest Bats from Hungary who were eager to make their Australian Football debut.
A few last-minute injuries and players away on holiday meant the Bats and DownUnderDogs were a few numbers short, however, would combine their sides on the day to compete in just the one match against the Galahs.
A well-structured Galahs side and perhaps a lack of chemistry between the Bats and DownUnderDogs players led to a big victory for the home team.
“The game went very well for us. We improved our skills and have trained fairly hard since our last game against Munich,” said Galahs vice captain, Maximilian Tomek.
“All of our hard efforts paid off and earned the Vienna Galahs their first victory in 2021.”
Despite the loss, Zoltan Marosy from Budapest was voted best afield whilst Desmond Reilly was awarded as the umpire of the day.
Bulgaria also welcomed the debut of a new side as the Varna Demons travelled down the east coast to Burgas, to compete against the newly formed Burgas Hawks.
The Hawks, who are led by co-founder of AFL Bulgaria, Stamen Stamov, have been in development for a couple of months and held regular training sessions during the summer.
Experience prevailed in Bulgaria as the Demons continued their fine form from their round two win in the AFL Bulgaria season to defeat the Hawks 102 to 45.
The inaugural AFL Bulgaria season is currently tied at one win apiece between the Sofia Magpies and Varna Demons.
The two teams will next meet for round three of the season on September 18th.
The final matches of the 2021 Festival of Football were held in Croatia. Played on the coast in the small town of Tribunj, the first game in Croatia did not start until 5:00 PM (BST).
The women’s match was played first between the Sesvete Redlegs and Zagreb Panthers. Undefeated from four rounds in the Croatian league, the Redlegs were clear favourites heading into the festival.
But now earning the name of the Festival of Football specialists in Croatia, the Zagreb Panthers were up and about for their first win of the year and defeated the Redlegs by 20-points.
As the sun started to set, the pitch lights were turned on and the men’s match got underway.
Two teams were formed with the men’s players as ‘Team Red’ and ‘Team Green’ who went head-to-head to determine the champion men’s team for the Festival of Football in Croatia.
Congratulations to ‘Team Green’ who were eventual winners, as well as Iva Marinčić from the Zagreb Panthers and Miro Jumanović for winning the player of the tournament awards.
Ivan Molnar and Roko Buljanovic were selected as the umpires of the tournament.
Thank you and congratulations to all teams who were able to put on a safe event and participate in this year’s Festival of Football.
We were thrilled to see this year’s event go bigger and better with more countries, teams and matches on display, as the AFL Europe community came together for another fantastic day out.
A final thanks to O’Neills Sportswear, AFL Europe’s Official Apparel Partner, for supplying each participating country with player of the tournament guernseys and umpire shirts.
Jackson Jones – AFL Europe