The USAFL (United States Australian Football League) Nationals descended on San Diego this weekend, with teams from over 40 cities arriving to contend for the title across numerous divisions. It was a huge two days of Aussie Rules football action with 40 men’s and 13 women’s teams competing across 7 divisions, and the tournament welcomed over 1000 participants.
In 2015, the umpiring leadership groups from AFL Europe and the USAFL created a pathway for to umpire at the corresponding tournaments. This year, AFL Europe welcomed Laurie Rupe from the USAFL Umpire Association to the Champions League tournament in Amsterdam, and more recently to the Euro Cup in Bordeaux, where she was awarded the prestigious ‘Golden Whistle’ for her efforts across the tournament.
Three AFL Europe Umpires made the trip to San Diego this weekend to experience the USAFL Nationals in all their glory. John Enright from Ireland, Ian Kafka from England and Nilss Lode from Germany decided to umpire at the 2017 USAFL National titles. With six full size pitches and an 18-a-side format, the AFL Europe Umpires had to adapt quickly to the larger scale tournament but were in capable hands. The AFL Umpire Development Managers from Canberra, Sydney and Queensland were in attendance, as well as two AFL Grand Final Umpires; Hayden Kennedy and Chris Donlon.
Ian “Fabio” Kafka began umpiring in 2013, after being introduced to footy during his time at the University of Birmingham and spending four years playing for the Birmingham Bears in the AFL CNE (Central Northern England) League. Ian says that he was thrust into the umpiring role after a last minute cancellation but grabbed the whistle and never looked back – since then he has become an AFL London regular and has umpired at numerous AFL Europe Tournaments, including winning the prestigious Golden Whistle at his first European Championships back in 2013 and being awarded the AFL London Outstanding Umpire of the Season award this year.
John Enright made the transition to umpiring after retiring from a long playing career in Ireland – including being a member of the victorious Irish Warriors side at the International Cup in 2011. Since then, John has become one of the best umpires in Europe, making the journey to San Diego fresh off the back of his sixth consecutive Euro Cup in Bordeaux. In addition to being a fantastic umpire, John is also a huge part of ensuring that AFL Europe tournaments run smoothly as part of his role as an AFL Europe Umpire Manager.
The third AFL Europe Umpire to join the ranks at the USAFL Nationals, Nilss Lode, has a similar story. Nilss played in the AFLG (Australian Football League Germany) for 14 years and switched to umpiring after attending an AFL Europe Umpiring workshop in 2011. Nilss soon became the Umpiring Coordinator of the AFLG and has umpired at seven AFL Europe tournaments, being awarded the Golden Whistle at the 2012 Euro Cup. Nilss is also one of the most internationally experienced umpires, having umpired at the 2014 AFL Japan Grand Final in Tokyo, and a USAFL Match last year in Chicago.
Following an umpiring workshop on the Friday afternoon, the tournament kicked off on Saturday morning in some sweaty conditions as temperatures soared into the 30’s. After an eventful tournament John, Ian and Nilss were honoured to umpire the Men’s Division 4 final, and were lucky enough to receive medals from Hayden Kennedy.
Special thanks to Jonathan Mills, President of the USAFL Umpires for extending an invitation to our Umpiring Community and the brilliant hospitality shown to the AFL Europe Umpires. It was an unforgettable experience for all three of them to umpire a 2-day tournament at a high level of footy and receive coaching from AFL umpire development managers and staff. With the added bonus of umpiring with Chris Donlon in Division One, this was an invaluable experience and development opportunity with a potential trip to IC20 certainly on the horizon for the 3 umpires.