ANZAC Cup Player Spotlight – Mitch Skelly
Mitch Skelly certainly knows a thing or two about Aussie Rules football in Europe.
As the newly appointed Head Coach of the England Vixens and the current women’s coach for the Wandsworth Demons in the AFL London league, Mitch is well across the AFL landscape in a continent foreign to Australia’s game.
His connection to Australia’s Armed Forces stems mainly from the Second World War. On his father’s side, his grandfather Stanley Skelly (pictured on the left above) was an air frame mechanic for the RAF.
Spending several years in Palestine and Egypt working tirelessly to keep the fleet active and battle ready, Stanley was an accomplished footballer and played in various matches arranged to keep morale of troops up.
“These games were fond memories of his during a challenging time, another reason that keeping the tradition of sporting events played in honour of these soldiers is such a great idea.”
His mother’s uncles Bob Frazer and George Burgess also served in the Air Force during WW2, leaving him with three family connections in relation to World War Two.
But his connection to the armed services does not just stop there.
Unknown to Mitch until recently was story of his great grandfather John Orwin, who served in WW1. He was in the West Yorkshire Regiment and was fighting in France when he became the victim of a gas attack. Fortunately, Orwin survived and was discharged in early 1918. It left Mitch’s great grandfather with serious respiratory difficulties that endured for the remainder of his life.
Apart from his family connections to the Armed Forces, Mitch has also built a strong connection the Australia’s brigades through Ivanhoe Amateur Football Club.
It’s a club that Mitch played at for nearly ten years and during 2015, his side decided to put some time into researching the war history at their club as a way of honouring 100 years of the Gallipoli landings. Mitch remembers this process vividly and the touching stories that came out during this period.
“In one of the most moving moments of my football life our club president read out the names and backgrounds of 10 players who were either wounded or killed during the war, some of which were in France, others in Turkey.”
“What touched me most was knowing these were just local boys like myself and my team mates sitting in the club rooms that night. Some were teenagers, others into their 30’s with wives and children. They lived on Green St, Marshall St, Ford St; literally just around the corner from where I was living and roads I travelled daily. They were premiership players, half back flanks, rovers and many also played cricket for Ivanhoe.
“One story in particular focused on Robert Thomas Scott, he was a champion footballer who represented the league and played in the clubs first ever premiership in 1913. Scott, aged 22, was one of the 600 Australians to lose their lives at the first landings in Gallipoli on April 25 1915, and his mother had to wait many years before his remains were located and he could finally be put to rest at the Lone Pine Cemetery.”
It is knowing that people like Robert Thomas Scott, young blokes, guys like himself and his friends, that makes Mitch feel so fortunate and lucky to be both an Australian and to live the life that he does.
“In our generation we’ve never had a serious threat to our national security, and we owe a great deal to those that went to war in years gone by.”
“It would be an honour to represent the ANZAC’s, especially those who lost their lives from the Ivanhoe footy club, in France this year and take part in the dawn service to remember the 100th year since the battle of Villers-Bretonneux.”
Now named in the Australian Spirit side that will play on ANZAC Day in 2018, Mitch will get his wish and will take his place in V-B during this special anniversary year.
Will Taylor – AFL Europe
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