The very best of AFL throughout Europe comes together once a year for the Champions League. This was the 5th annual outing of the event, held once again in Amsterdam, to contest for the AFL Europe Champions League Trophy.
15 men’s teams and 8 women’s teams battled it out to be crowned the best European club of this nine-a-side competition for 2019. With 29 different nationalities being represented across the globe the growth of this competition continues to exceed expectations, as word of mouth and love for the game continue to spread.
23 of Europe’s best teams competed at Amsterdam’s Sportpark de Eendracht and throughout the day added to be a total of 56 matches across the five pitches, making it a huge day of Aussie Rules. Working through their pool matches before progressing to finals and then some to the Grand Finals, teams had to work hard, aiming to be the men’s or women’s champions for 2019. This again is seen as such a stellar event and as one of the premier competitions for international Australian football.
With two new women’s teams of the Zagreb Panthers and the Amsterdam Devils making their debut in the competition, it leaves the women’s side of the event to have some unknown and excitement to brew, while eager to see the improvements and changes of the more experienced sides. Plenty of onlookers and teams were eager to see the future of the new teams and how the more experienced campaigners would react with plenty of great match-ups on the schedule.
Group A consisted of the Port Malmo Lynx, Nottingham Scorpions, Amsterdam Devils and the 2018 champions, seemingly the team to look out for in the women’s competition, the West Clare Waves. The Scorpions and Waves left no time in asserting dominance into the competition with some convincing wins to start off the event. The host side of Amsterdam gave it their all all day bringing a great amount of passion to the event but were outdone by a lot of class and experience from it’s pool competitors. All other three teams recorded some large wins throughout the day, where the Scorpions finished second in the group behind a convincing West Clare Waves who only allowed one point against them throughout their three pool matches.
Group B was considered one of the closest groups of the competition, including many tight games spread between the Wandsworth Demons, Hamburg Dockers, Paris Cockerelles and the Zagreb Panthers. With all three of Paris’ matches being decided by under eight points, for them to only come out with one win seems to not justify the competitive run they had. The Panthers in their inaugural turn in this event, showed a lot of heart with an extremely close game against Paris and proved that they can hit the scoreboard on offence. They unfortunately finished with zero wins, but showed plenty of positive signs for the future. Hamburg and Wandsworth seemed very forceful on the offensive end, having some big wins through the pool stages. Wandsworth showed the competition they are not to be messed with, with an important win over Hamburg, later leading the group stage in pool B.
The finals promised for some close encounters, with the top four teams focused on making the big dance. The Hamburg Dockers who had such an amazing tournament were out shone by the speed and class shown by the West Clare Waves who won convincingly by 46, heading to a second consecutive Grand Final appearance. Semi Final 2 was a much closer encounter where the game between Nottingham and Wandsworth was a grind for the win. The grit and skill of Wandsworth ran it out towards the end defeating the Scorpions by 13 points, progressing to the Grand Final.
Like many Grand Finals of the Australian game it started with both Wandsworth and West Clare having a tough body on body battle with plenty of contested footy. This didn’t last long as West Clare kicked into gear and showed the amount of raw fitness they had, even after injuries and the amount of games they had played already. The Demon’s crowd really got behind the skill and everything their women’s team were doing which was great to see, however the class that the Waves showed the entire day, again was brought out in this match. Never letting down they put on an extremely dominating performance with sheer pace and skill winning by 39 points and taking out their second consecutive AFL Europe Champions League win.
West Clare Waves (39) defeated Wandsworth Demons (0)
Only one new side of the Prague Dragon’s made their debut in the men’s competition adding an aspect of the unexpected to the event as the rest of these men’s teams, pull out very experienced teams in this nine a side competition and look to flourish on their efforts from previous years.
With an uneven amount of teams, Group A became one of the most formidable, with the Wandsworth Demons, Manchester Mosquitoes and Bristol Dockers, all big clubs in their respective areas of England. The Demons showed their forward pressure and dominance in their first game against Bristol posting a whopping 94 points in the 26 minute match. Despite the power of their group, Bristol held their heads high, and finished the group stage third of the three teams. With both Wandsworth and Manchester posting enormous wins already in the group stage, this pairing of the two teams on Pitch One had a big audience in the crowd and great anticipation. The crowd were not disappointed with a fiery display between the two sides, showing how far they would go to win this competition. Leaving nothing out there on the field both teams gave it their all, however the Demons turned the jets on in the second half and with great disposal efficiency, were able to win this one by 27 points and lead to the top of Group A.
Group B had an abundance of exciting match-ups with the new and experienced coming together in this one. Four time Champions League winners and the current trophy holders, the West London Wildcats seemed to be the team to beat in this group with the Copenhagen Giants, Zagreb Dockers and Prague Dragons hungry to take that crown. With countless close games in this group, many decided by under 10 points, Zagreb came so close to beating the four time champions in the first game losing to the Wildcats by four points. Seeing these as part of the powerhouses of this pool, the Prague Dragons showed just how close this group B really was, creating a draw between the Dockers and Dragons. Showing exciting signs for a new team to the event and the grit and determination of both teams to hang on. The Copenhagen Giants showed their ability to get scores on the board, showing their determination, narrowly winning two matches. However they came across a fired up Wildcats team, where West London finished the group stage unbeaten and lead this Pool B at the very top, seemingly having a rocky start to their campaign unlike other years, but still within a close reach of the trophy yet again.
Group C made for some thrilling affairs between the sides. This pool included the Belfast Redbacks, Winterthur Lions, Hamburg Dockers and the Edinburgh Bloods. The Bloods and Lions in the group were outshone at times by the Redbacks and Dockers, however showed many passages of play that could excite the crowds. Winterthur had a tough competition and with their best game being against the Bloods in a competitive affair. They still finished with their heads held high, finishing with no wins for the day. The Bloods in this game found a bit of confidence and really gelled against the Lions making this their only win but with a real positive outlook on the rest of the event. These group stage games proved how dominant the Redbacks and Dockers can be on such smaller AFL pitches, who both had some big percentage boosting games with pace and accuracy towards goal. Coming up against each other promised for a close encounter, but Belfast won this highly skilled battle by 16 points as they narrowly edged their way to the top of Group C to finish the group stages.
Group D provided the competition with some of the most exhilarating teams on display, involving the host team of the Amsterdam Devils, drawing in plenty of big crowds and support to build the atmosphere. The group consisted of the Amsterdam Devils, Paris Cockerels, Oslo Crows and the Norrtalje Dockers. Paris showed real fight to get over the line with two wins, especially winning a one point thriller against the Norrtalje Dockers. The Cockerels fought till the end just hanging on against the Dockers, helping Paris to finishing second in the group stage. Norrtalje, being very unlucky not to get over the line in this match-up were able to have a solid win against Oslo helping them to get at least the one win on the board. Oslo had a tough day with some big losses involved, however showed real unity and passion as a team throughout the day, even without recording a win. The home side of the Amsterdam Devils showed some real class on many of their home grounds. With multiple wins being over 40 points and the memory of being a part of many Grand Final losses in past years, they wanted to assert themselves as a real chance to take out this years event finishing with three convincing wins and topping their group after the first stages.
The Division 1 semi finals were too hard for anyone at the event to pick and the chance of a new Champions League men’s winner was a real possibility. The match-up of West London and Belfast was seen as intriguing by talk around the onlookers, as people were eager to see if the Wildcats would reign again or for the Redbacks to change the guard. Such an even battle across the entire ground, created for a tough match and goals having to come from pure burst of power. The Redbacks knowing they were up against one of Europe’s best ever AFL teams, had to bring their A-game and certainly did, using their sheer skill around the ground and being able to hang on by 4 points to head to the much wanted Grand Final, knocking out the four time champs.
Two of Europe’s powerhouse clubs of Amsterdam and Wandsworth were apart of semi final one. Neck and neck this entire match and such a big crowd with many Demons fans cheering on and such a big turnout for the hometown team, the suspense built for a tight finish. Down five with a minute or so left it looked all over for the home side. However with a turnover and surge forward for the Devils they were able to get a mark down forward. Lining up as the siren went a nervous chatter surrounded the ground – this kick could send them into the Grand Final. From a decent way out from goal, the ball was roosted and sent through the big sticks, where a wave of Amsterdam fans rush the field as they have won the match with a goal after the siren and headed to the big dance. Arguably the best match of the tournament and best finish to a game in the events history.
The Grand Final now open to a new winner for the first time in this competitions existence created a real buzz in the air and also unknown as these matched seemed like it was going to make for a perfect battle. Both teams with a high marking forward line and eagerness when heading forward made for an exciting display of footy. A close encounter throughout, Amsterdam seemed to will their way to the finish line to get the victory by 10 points. A fitting way to finish the last year the event will be in Amsterdam and great for the home team and crowd.
Amsterdam Devils (30) defeated Belfast Redbacks (20)
With the amazing support and effort from so many people we were able to make a memorable day for all involved. A massive thank you and mention to the umpiring squad for 2019 – 14 umpires were able to cover 56 matches which is a fantastic effort and thanks to them for their outstanding contribution to this Australian game in Europe.
2019 Golden Whistle winner James Olle receives trophy from 2018’s Winner Katrina Stopinski
For the fifth consecutive year our thanks must be said to AFL Netherlands for their amazing management of this event in conjunction with the team at Spark United and Sportpark de Eendracht for hosting us.
Also thank you to Drovers Dog for providing the food and beverage for the day, helping everyone quench their thirst and hunger with a great setup throughout the entire day.
We applaud all the volunteers and pitch managers for keeping the day running on time and for their support of the game in Europe.
We would also like to acknowledge the Australian Ambassador, Matthew Newhaus and Tony Pubjie the First Consul of the Australian Embassy to the Netherlands for coming along and supporting this fantastic event by presenting the Team of the Tournament jumpers and the Champions trophies.
To the entirety of the teams, players and coaches, congratulations on an amazing tournament played in great spirit both on and off the field.
You all represented your leagues and nations with pride.
Good luck and well wishes for a great 2019 season ahead!
Liam McAllion – AFL Europe