Footy worldwide: Poland

Here’s the interview with president of AFL Poland Phill Forbes. We spoke about how it was started in Poland and about plans for the future.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Phil, the president of AFL Poland. I’m Australian, from Melbourne, and have lived in Warsaw, Poland, since 2016. 

When and how you met with footy?

I’ve played footy my whole life. I played for my local club from the age of 12 to 16, but gave it up and then just played with friends. After moving to Poland, I started to play again in order to help the game grow in Poland. 

How and by whom was made the first club in your country?

Several years ago in both Poznan and Bydgoszcz, a few guys tried to start teams. But nothing ever eventuated, as there was just no interest. In late 2018, I inherited the social media accounts from these guys, as they gave up. Being in Warsaw, myself and several other Aussies (and an American) had access to more people and better facilities. We did it a bit backwards compared to most European countries in the sense that we build the national team, the Polish Devils, before we built local clubs. The first two Polish teams to ‘debut’ were the Warsaw Boars and the Warsaw Bison. 

«Polish Devils» in action.

How many teams play in your champ?

Right now we have 4 teams — the two Warsaw teams (but we’re a single playing group that trains together), the Wrocław Lions and Fort Nysa. We have the foundations of teams in both Poznan and Bydgoszcz again. 

Is it difficult to find new players for your team?

Yes and no. We find that about 95% of people who come and play twice end up staying committed to the game for the long run. But it’s finding those people that can be challenging. Our job is 2 parts — we have to educate the wider population about Australian Rules Football, and then we have to try and convince a certain demographic of that population to come and actually play the game. When you look at the highlights of AFL, it’s all about the big hits or injuries. That does scare people, as straight away they think it’s some form of rugby, when in actual fact there’s a lot more running and a lot more ‘thinking’. 

Before and after.

And what about fields?

Warsaw is prime real estate, and finding good quality fields that maintain is tricky. We’ve got a good working relationship with a few facilities here in Warsaw, but it’s a bit easier in other cities, as there’s more space and fields are somewhat easy to come across. Rugby fields are the first choice, then soccer fields. No one likes playing a contact sport on astroturf. 

And what about umpires — do they have any licence?

Most of our umpires here are Australian, so they know the rules inside out. The only real accreditation comes from AFL Europe in completing their umpire course. It teaches the fundamentals and really helps keep the players safe, but most umpiring skills are a result of loving the game and being a part of it at different levels for most of your life. 

Tell us please the system of your season (trainings, games, productions).

The season here is actually quite long. We start training in March, and try and have our first competitive matches in April. The first weekend in May, which is called ‘Majowka’ here in Poland signals the start of summer and is really the start of our season. From here, we try and organise a game at least once a month against another team from Poland, or at the very least a game against the two Warsaw teams. Nysa and Wrocław often face off and train together a lot, too. They train on weekends, but as the Warsaw group is about 30 people, we train on Monday nights. We also have social events at our local pub, ‘come and watch’, where we’ll watch a replay of a popular game from last week and the Aussie guys will disect it and explain things to our Polish players. A tipping competition also helps keep the guys involved with the AFL that’s being played in Australia. 

After game with «Dresden Wolves».

What about games with other European teams?

Geographically Poland is almost in the centre of Europe, but in terms of the location of other teams, we’re very very east. Wrocław, the team from the south is actually closer to the teams in Prague, Vienna and Graz than they are to Warsaw, so we’re trying to get them to play more regularly. We’ve played against Dresden and Berlin in some friendlies, and Latvia, Malmo and Helsinki aren’t too far away either. We’re hoping to get more international friendlies happening sooner rather than later. 

How do you feel about AFL Europe, do they support you? And if it “yes”, is it difficult to take support from them?

AFL Europe does a lot to support us — not financially, but in terms of educational resources and general guidance in growing the game. In 2020 when lockdowns came into place and no one could train, AFL Europe went above and beyond in taking the time to create educational resources for everyone all throughout Europe. Umpiring courses, coaching courses and now the community development courses have all helped us with the off-field development of AFL in Poland. It’s made some of our POlish guys realise that they’re a part of something bigger, and that AFL in Europe is more than just a dozen blokes kicking a ball in a park in Poland. There’s almost 1000 people all over Europe playing this sport, and they’re representing Poland and their city every step of the way. Other initiatives like the Festival of Football and Race to the ‘G really helped create a sense of community and keep people involved. Furthermore, hearing the input from Established clubs like Prague and Berlin, but also helping out developing clubs like Latvia, Bulgaria and Hungary really help the development of the game not just in Poland, but all throughout Europe. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. 

Thank you so much and we wish you a great season after lock-down.

Thanks a lot mate!

-Phil

 AFL Poland web site: futbolaustralijski.pl 

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FutbolAustralijskiWPolsce/

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