Image: Current EastlakeFC Ruckman Chad Gibson with Hall of Fame Member Alex Jesaulenko
In terms of depth of history, Australia doesn’t come close to European countries. Where Australian’s talk in hundreds of years, European’s talk in thousands.
Despite Australia’s brief history, their population is extremely proud of what it has achieved and their sporting culture has been a huge part of building beliefs and values. Australian Rules Football has been around for 155 years and there have been a number of Europeans and European descendants who have mastered our game in that time.
Before I moving to London to work as AFL Europe’s General Manager, Ben MacCormack lived in the nation’s capital for five years. During this time he was involved as a coach at Canberra’s oldest club, Eastlake.
This year marks Canberra’s 100th Birthday and today AFL Canberra Hall of Fame member and Ben’s former Football Manager, Keith Miller, launched the book “Kick It Long”, which celebrates the rich history of the Eastlake Football Club.
Eastlake provided one of the game’s all-time greatest players in Alex Jesaulenko, born in Salzburg, Austria. He is regarded as one of the game’s greatest-ever players and is an official Legend of the Australian Football Hall of Fame. He immortalised his reputation in the game by taking the Mark of the Century in the 1970 VFL Grand Final.
Son of a Ukrainian father and a Russian mother, Alex and his family emigrated to Australia in 1949. According to Jesaulenko, the family name should have been spelt ‘Esaulenko’, but the immigration officials listed it with a ‘J’ in front thinking that is what they heard. As Australians tend to do, they shortened it and nicknamed him ‘Jezza’ from a young age.
A young Jesaulenko played soccer (football for you Europeans) and rugby union before taking up Australian Rules when he was 14. He starred for the Eastlake Football Club helping them to win three consecutive Premierships from 1964-1966.
“[Eastlake] certainly provided a winning culture. I was lucky to play at a footy club that was on the way up that just had a new regime put in, with [former Carlton president] George Harris and his mob, appointed a new coach in Ronald Dale Barassi, they had experienced players and they recruited young guns… and I just fitted into the mix,” said Jesaulenko.
One thing Jesaulenko remembers was the culture at the club – it was a great place to be.
”I think we got paid $2 each or two pound each [per game], at the end of the year – we’d played 18 games – and we just put our $36 on the bar and drank it out, so we gave our money straight back to the club,” he said.
Jezza was then drafted into the AFL, playing 256 games for Carlton and 23 games for St Kilda. In all of his 279 AFL appearances he kicked 444 goals and took many of the all-time great marks. To immortalise his ability, the annual AFL ‘Mark of the Year’ is known at the Jesaulenko Medal.
Miller’s book explores the history of Canberra’s oldest Australian Rules Football club, which was founded in 1926, as well as that of Manuka Football Club, which merged with Eastlake in 1991.
Miller’s extensive experience with the club included time as a captain, coach and player between 1978 and 1985.
“The book maps out the path of two clubs who created a rich tradition of fierce neighbourhood rivalry for over half a century then found themselves joining forces to survive,” said Miller.
“It is a history that has its origins in the formation of Canberra and parallels the changing economic, social, sporting and demographic development of Canberra.”
Manuka Football Club was formed in 1928 and was a long-time rival of Eastlake before they merged in 1991.
The two clubs were only separated by Manuka Oval and battled each other for six decades, playing 17 Grand Finals against each other and establishing one of the code’s strongest rivalries.
The two clubs shared 32 premierships between them, with Eastlake winning 17 and Manuka 15.
Miller said the book was a tribute to everyone who had contributed to the success of both clubs.
“The book is dedicated to every player, coach, committee member, volunteer and supporter who has travelled that journey and created our history,” Miller said.
“Canberra is 100 years old and these people have played an important part in 86 of those years.”
We look forward to many more Europeans playing their part in the history of our great game.
For those interested in buying a copy of the book please contact firstname.lastname@example.org .