Wombats working hard to grow AFL in Finland

‘Newest Team in Town’ introduces some of the upcoming Australian Football clubs who have recently joined their respective league’s around Europe.

Reporter for AFL Europe, James Brosnan spoke to president of the Waasa Wombats, Anton Salmi as the team looks forward to their first official game this year.

As the latest addition to Finland AFL, the Waasa Wombats are counting down to their first official match of the season, to be played in AFL Europe’s Festival of Football on September 26.

Waasa Wombats is the oldest of the clubs to feature in the ‘Newest Team in Town’ series having formed back in 2011 and playing their debut season in 2012.

The Finnish Cup, which will be played for the Festival of Football, comes at a good time for the Wombats according to president, Anton Salmi.

“We started the season well back in March, we had good numbers to the first trainings but then COVID struck and we had a break until June,” he said.

“Now, in the summer we might get four guys to a training, but it’s not the same four guys every week because they work different shifts. We have not had great numbers this summer but we do our best with the numbers that we have.

“The people in the team are excited for the upcoming FAFL Cup. We moved dates so we could be a part of the Festival of Football. At the moment, if we’re lucky we could get 12 players and in this situation that is good.”

The Wombats will be joined by fellow Finnish teams the Helsinki Heatseekers and the Turku Dockers in the tournament which will be held in the outskirts of Turku.

With 16 players on the roster in 2019, the Wombats have had players move away from Vaasa and into mandatory military service but are still working hard to recruit a younger demographic to the club.

“Our hope for the club before COVID was to get a younger median age, a lot of the guys are 25 or older. I’m the oldest active player in our team at 37 and a few others are not far behind in their 30’s,” Salmi said.

“We aim to get more guys in the 18 to 25 age range. Last year we did tours in schools, showing the sport to people aged 12 to 18. That was the plan this year, but with COVID they had to be scrapped.”

ENG/FINToday #WaasaWombats Anton, Mikko and Paul held a taster session for Vaasan lyseon lukio boys age 17-18.We went…

Posted by Finland AFL on Thursday, September 3, 2020

Whilst the majority of school and university visits for the club have not been able to go ahead, they did visit a school last Thursday, 3 September in the hope of some last-minute recruiting before the Finnish Cup.

“I’m hoping that with the Cup so soon around the corner that we can get somebody from there interested to come and play and have the chance to become Finnish Champions,” Salmi said.

“To go around to schools and universities and spread the word out is so important for us because there is so much competition from other sports in Vaasa.

Vaasa, which is situated on the west coast of Finland, can lay claim to a unique achievement. The Wombats playing list is made up solely of Finnish nationals, making them arguably one of very few AFL international teams in the world to be made up purely of local players.

“We only have Finnish players on our roster and that’s been the case besides a couple of seasons. It is something special about us, but it’s certainly not planned, we would love to have some expats or foreigners on our team but it just hasn’t happened,” Salmi said.

Whilst the Wombats haven’t had an official outing this season, a number of their players took part in a friendly game with other Finnish players earlier this year where they mixed teams on the day.

With the Euro Cup in Scotland postponed this year, it was the first gathering of the national team who were hoping for a trip abroad to play a neighbouring country.

After a six-year hiatus, the Finnish national team returned to the Euro Cup last year in Sweden and were looking forward to the event in Scotland this year.

“We’re hoping to get another game for the national team against another country, but there is not many options at the moment with the pandemic,” Salmi said.

“We were looking forward to getting across to Scotland, we have to hope that next year will be a better year so we can take part in it and people are still interested after a year off.”

To learn more about the Waasa Wombats, find them on Facebook @WaasaWombats.

To find a club near you, check out our Find Your Club page.

James Brosnan – AFL Europe