The ANZAC Cup was played in Northern France over the weekend with the Australian Spirit claiming victory in both the men’s and women’s games on Sunday. Players spent 4 days with host families, with the event culminating in a moving dawn service at the Australian National War Memorial on ANZAC Day.
Saturday 22nd April
The Australian and French players arrived in Villers-Bretonneux to be greeted by their host families in the early afternoon. Many were treated with a traditional French lunch by their hosts before a combined training session at Stadium Timmerman.
Players from all four sides mingled and trained together for over an hour, with drills being led by the French coach, Andrew Unsworth and Australia’s Ash Walsh.
Following the training session players convoyed to Le Hamel for a welcome dinner hosted by the Association Bretonvilloise Animation (ABA). Prior to the dinner commencing respects were paid to the policeman killed in the Paris terror attacks two days earlier, with commemorations being led by the Mayor of Villers-Bretonneux.
The coaches from both sides presented the players with their jumpers before the team captains spoke of what it meant to represent their countries, in what is such an important time for both Australia and France.
Once the formalities were over, the ABA served the aperitif before serving a traditional French meal for the 100 people in attendance. Players and support staff of both teams openly shared their favourite football stories as the teams began forming relationships ahead of their big match.
Sunday 23rd April
Players and officials had a nice early start on Sunday morning with a visit to the Australian National War Memorial. This provided the opportunity for reflection at what is a beautiful and very special memorial.
Walking amongst the gravestones, players read the names of fallen soldiers engraved on the walls of the memorial, which was an incredibly moving and humbling experience for all the players.
Soon it was time to head back into Villers-Bretonneux for the parade through the town, another unique element of the ANZAC Cup. Players followed a local bagpiper and local children bearing the Australian and French flags through the streets of Villers with locals waving and cheering from their houses as the parade moved past.
Shortly after the conclusion of the march, the women’s match was underway. In the second official women’s ANZAC Cup game, it was the French who started stronger and looked dangerous early.
The Australian’s ferocity at the contest and tackling pressure proved too much for the French, as they failed to register a goal in the second and third terms.
In what was a great game of footy, Australia claimed victory 9.15.69 to 3.8.26. Stephanie Filbay and Camille Portal were awarded best on ground honours for their respective sides.
The men’s match followed immediately after the women’s match, but not before a rousing rendition of the French national anthem, which had many in the crowd believing that this could be the year to break their 3 ANZAC Cup drought.
It was a fast-paced start with both sides registering early goals. A massive third term gave Australia the advantage, and despite a strong final quarter the deficit proved too much for the French to overcome.
The final score read 13.12.90 to 6.15.51, with Michael ‘le lapin’ Curcio and Pierre Leschales rightfully chosen as the best players afield.
A moving presentation ceremony was hosted by the ABA, a presentation that was made even more special with trophies and medals presented by Harriet O’Malley, Cultural Attache at the Australian Embassy in Paris, and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Honourable Dan Tehan MP.
A special thanks to umpires Tobias Siegel and Cai Davies for officiating the matches doing a splendid job.
On what was a beautiful day in Villers, players and officials enjoyed some well-earned post-game refreshments generously provided by Pirate Life Brewery Company.
For full match reports click here.
With the French players departing on the Sunday evening, the Australian’s were hosted by one of the local families at their home to enjoy a mix of French and Australian cuisines. Celebrations carried on into the night with some classic Aussie rock ballads being belted out by all who attended.
Monday 24th April
The Monday gave players a chance to explore the surrounds of VB with many enjoying the sights of nearby town, Amiens.
In the afternoon, the players delivered an Auskick clinic for the children of Le Hamel, which has a population of only 500. Forty local children had their first AFL experience and took part in the session, which taught the students some basic AFL skills such as kicking, handballing and marking.
The hour-long session was one to remember with neither the kids nor the players wanting it to end. Players were presented gifts by the children and were surprised when the young students sung the Australian national anthem in what was a very touching moment.
Whilst in the area, several players took the time to visit the Le Hamel Memorial. A timeline of events leads visitors out to the memorial proper. The vast landscape and trenches surrounding the memorial created an eerie sense of the conditions those fighting would have encountered close to 100 years ago.
The day finished with a quiet drink at the Le Melbourne pub in Villers. This time was used to share stories of the past few days, before players returned to spend their final evening with their host families.
Tuesday 25th April
Players met at 3:30am to begin the 40 minute walk from the town centre out to the Australian National War Memorial. An incredible Dawn Service, in icy cold conditions, was delivered with dignitaries and armed servicemen and women delivering stories and letters from those who gave up their lives on the battlefields of the Somme.
Following the service, it was time for players to go their separate ways with the Australian squad returning to all the different parts of Europe that they now call home.
It was the 9th time AFL Europe has had the privilege to deliver the ANZAC Cup. The event wouldn’t be possible without the huge efforts of the ABA led out by Xavier Graux, the host families, O’Neills Sportwear for supplying a fantastic playing uniform for the Australian team, BarTV Sports for capturing the event, the French national men’s and women’s sides, the locals of Villers-Bretonneux, Le Hamel and surrounds, the umpires, and the Australian players who put in so much effort with their applications.
2018 is the 10th edition of the ANZAC Cup, but more importantly the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux. AFL Europe looks forward to working together with the ABA and local families of Villers-Bretonneux to create another fantastic ANZAC Cup.
Click here to see the video highlights of the Anzac Cup, courtesy of BarTV.