“Big Daddy” and the Vikings
AFL Europe’s new resident writer, Michael McCormick writes his first exclusive for afleruope.org.
The Danish Australian Football League (DAFL) is one of the oldest and most successful leagues in Europe and with team names like the Copenhagen X-Men playing in the local leagues, the national team, the Denmark Vikings, are sure to bring plenty of entertainment to the European Championships this year.
Australian football in Denmark originally began in 1989 with a newspaper advertisement placed by a couple of Australian guys who missed kicking the ball around. They asked for expressions of interest and had very few replies. Those who did reply however formed the basis for the initial competition which began in 1991. From there the competition grew and most years saw at least one new team join the competition. After a few structural changes over many years of recruiting, training and playing, the league today stands as one of the strongest in Europe and is arguably the largest in the non English speaking world.
One of the men at the forefront of the Vikings’ pursuit to become European Champions in 2013 is their Centre Half Back and DAFL board member, Jens Djernes aka Big Daddy. Djernes first experienced Australian football as a high school student on exchange in Western Australia. During his exchange from July 2005 till July 2006, the Western Australian teams were quite successful in the AFL competition and in turn the atmosphere in the state was electric. Because of this Djernes discovered a liking for the game and began to play with his school mates. Soon after discovering the game, he came to support the Fremantle Dockers largely due to the influence of his initial host family who liked to support the “underdog”. When Djernes returned to Denmark he founded the Randers Dockers who are now a strong fixture in the Jutland local league.
As the game has developed somewhat of a following over the years in Denmark, recruitment for the league is not as difficult as it is for some other European nations. Schools and Universities are heavily targeted as recruiting grounds which is proving to be very successful for the league. The decelerator for the next level of development of the sport however is the lack of commercial television coverage. According to Djernes, American Football and Rugby gain exposure through sometimes peak hour free to air television whereas AFL games are only accessible through the pay TV channel, Euro Sport. This being the case, recruitment efforts are initially slow as the teams have to “start from scratch” when trying to explain the game to prospective players. Thanks to a strong leadership group however, the efforts don’t go unnoticed with the numbers playing the sport steadily increasing year to year.
The league’s strength hasn’t ever really transferred to sponsorship from or links to any AFL clubs however. In fact, the league hasn’t got any real connection to Australia despite its efforts. The DAFL had approached the Australian born and raised, Danish Crowned Princess Mary with a request of ambassadorship but to no avail. Strangely enough though the players get plenty of attention from AFL clubs. Vikings midfielder, Aksel Bang is the perfect example of this. After being recognised as one of the best players in Europe, Bang was offered an international scholarship by AFL side Greater Western Sydney which allowed him to train with the team and play a game with their reserves side. This has set a precedent for AFL clubs to now look to Europe as a wealth of potential talent.
Denmark is on the cusp of earning the title of European Champions and with potential future AFL stars building the foundation of a very strong team, the Vikings are looking very likely to achieve their dream and take home the trophy.
Join an Australian football club in Denmark today.