Footy fans in the English Capital haven’t had to wait long for another footy fix following the culmination of the AFL London season a fortnight ago, with the Netherlands Flying Dutchmen on the ground and set to take on the Great Britain Bulldogs in an International Friendly at Motspur Park on Saturday.
With a jam-packed International eighteen-month schedule for European sides kicking off in only 50 days’ time at Euro Cup 2018 in Cork, the game provides a welcome opportunity for both nations to bring players into camp and consolidate on the rapid development of the game in both countries which has been clear for all to see in recent years.
The match will be played as a full-scale 18-a-side clash rather than the 9-a-side format of the impending Euro Cup competition, but Dutch coach, Neil Cooke, says that Saturday’s game will provide a golden opportunity to showcase the development of footy in Holland, two-years after the Dutchmen played their first game in the traditional format against the Bulldogs.
“These sorts of games don’t come around that often for us, so we must seize this opportunity in London,” Cooke said.
“After a successful 9-a-side domestic season in the Netherlands, I am hoping to see the improvement seen by the Dutch squad translated to the 18-a-side format.”
The sentiments of the coach were echoed by player Bas van Schie, who expressed his delight at the prospect of taking the field in London after missing the match-up between the two nations in 2016.
“This weekend’s 18-a-side game against GB is a great chance for the Dutch players to get a taste of the real deal, since normally AFL Netherlands’ games are played in a 9-a-side format. This is something I’m looking forward to personally as well, as it will be my first 18-a-sider,” van Schie said.
“It will be a step towards the Flying Dutchmen’s goal to field a team in the 18-a-side European Championship in the future.”
As the Dutch strive to improve on their 6th place finish at Euro Cup 2017, Team GB are happy to admit their focus lays further ahead, with one eye on retaining their title at 2019’s 18-a-side European Championships.
Having named fifteen debutants in the squad, Bulldogs coach, Dean Thomas, says the side will be using Saturday’s hit out as a “precursor” to things in 2019 and beyond.
“Whilst we like to ‘stay in the moment at the Bulldogs, there is absolutely an eye towards 2019 and the European Championships,” Thomas said.
“We will experiment with some different structures and strategies in this game… things we plan to implement next year and beyond,
“We will be fielding 15 debutants, so in international terms, it is a relatively inexperienced squad, however many of these players have established themselves in their respective leagues over a number of seasons, so this opportunity acts as a natural progression for them.
“We would expect every player in the Bulldogs side this Saturday to be pushing hard for selection next year, but they will have competition, as we are in the process of putting together a substantial squad list for our training and practice match schedule next season, which will be a busy year.”
Thomas stated that the motivation behind the fixture is “twofold,” with the desire to develop more recognition for the traditional 18-a-side format another factor in arranging the friendly.
“We were keen to get an international fixture on the books this season, as were the Netherlands, so it was a good fit. In the future, we hope to return the favour and head to Amsterdam if we can get the right facilities arranged,” Thomas said.
“Many players only get to play 9’s during the season, and while 9’s is a very important part of the footy landscape in Europe, it is 18’s where players really discover what it takes to progress fully in the sport.”
Along with the Bulldogs and Dutchmen spectacle, fans will be treated to the world’s third-ranked female side, the Great Britain Swans, taking on a specially assembled London All-Stars team from midday, with Thomas hoping to see both games get the support they deserve from the footy public.
“It would be great for both nations to get as many of the footy family in the UK along to watch, even curious onlookers. These guys and girls work very hard and make a lot of sacrifices along the way, so to get ongoing recognition from the footy public here, is something these players deserve and I am sure, appreciate.”
12:00pm – Great Britain Swans vs London All Stars
2:00pm – Great Britain Bulldogs vs Netherlands Flying Dutchmen
Sir Joseph Hood Memorial Playing Fields
1 Marina Ave
Riley Brettell – AFL Europe