There’s another traditional ANZAC Day football match that takes place just slightly north of the MCG, in the small but incredibly beautiful town of Villers-Bretonneux, France.
This year’s Slater + Gordon ANZAC Cup saw Australia take out the win 112-63 making the tally 4 victories to Australia and 3 to France. What the tally doesn’t show you is the incredible relationships that are formed over the short few days between all involved. With both the Australian and French players and their guests being hosted by local families throughout the Picardie region, it has truly cemented this unique bond.
ANZAC Day in Villers-Bretonneux began with all the French and Australian players attending the Dawn Service, held at the Australian War Memorial, in the early hours of the morning in the cold and heavy rains. Not one complaint was made, all involved shared this special experience, hearing only the rain and the bugle.
The players reunited for a march through the streets of Villers-Bretonneux, following three bagpipers and the French and Australian flags, right up to Stadium Timmerman. Standing arm in arm the National anthems played, and a minute of silence for our ancestors, who had fell on that very ground.
A spirited start for the Australian team saw them dominate in the first quarter but the second quarter onwards showed a feisty French team not go down without a fight. With great quality of football being seen, two stand outs were chosen by the opposing teams. Best on ground for the Australian team, James Gottschalk, said he, “Just gave it my all for my country, it’s not every day you get to wear your country’s jersey. I wore it with pride and represented my country to the best of my ability to pay my respects to the ANZACs who also gave it their all for their countries”. With the players being chosen on their connection to the land and the history of Villers-Bretonneux and the ANZACs the quality of football was outstanding. The French best on ground went to Thibaut Picard who read the movement of the play outstandingly and worked exceptionally well with his team mates, always being on hand to keep the ball moving forward. Inside and outside player, tough and explosive, and really embodied the ANZAC spirit.
At the conclusion of the men’s match we saw the first ever Women’s match played at the AFL Europe ANZAC Cup. A lack of Australian numbers wasn’t an issue for the ladies, a seven a side match was played with the French lending a helping hand to their opponents. All the women mingled and played alongside and against each other adding another level to the relationships already formed. Australian, Jess Edwards, was awarded best on ground for the women’s team after dominating and coming away with 6 goals. Edwards also made an incredibly moving speech about mateship and the French-Australian relationship. The French women’s best on ground went to Camille Portal, twin sister to fellow French player, Berengere, for her aggressive and skilful approach to the game!
Captain-coach, for the Australian men’s team, Tom Rischbeith, was fortunate enough to play his second year for the Australian Spirit. In reflecting on the game, Rischbeith said “I have found that one of the nicest thing about being involved in this game is that is has been a platform for myself and others to reconnect with our ancestors and with an era which is fast becoming old history rather than recent. I think it’s becoming rarer and rarer these days for people our age and younger to put much thought to the incredible sacrifices made by those who have fought for Australia at war, but with an event like this it gives a unique twist on ANZAC Day which us youngies (loosely applied term!) can attach to.”
AFL Europe would like to thank all those who volunteered and supported the ANZAC Cup. It was an extremely special and touching event that we hope will get bigger and better in the years to come.