Australian rules football is no longer just a sport for Aussie blokes to play. Footy, as it's popularly known by those who follow it, has been growing steadily in Canada over the last few years. The game is even providing some Canadian players the opportunity to represent their country internationally.
One such player, Matt Kidd, traveled to Melbourne in August with Canada's national footy team, the Northwind. Kidd only started playing footy in 2002 after he noticed a poster at the University of Calgary for the local club, the Calgary Kangaroos. After playing with the Kangaroos for three years and then for one year with the Red Deer Magpies, Kidd was selected to Canada's national side.
Despite having to pay almost $3,000 out of his own pocket to travel down under and Canada finishing a disappointing seventh of ten teams, Kidd still cherished the chance to wear the maple leaf.
"It was an awesome experience to play in Melbourne," said Kidd. "Even if the trip was expensive and short, I would definitely do it again."
There are 15 club teams in Canada, 10 of them based in Ontario. Although Aussie ex-pats make up about half the club players on those club teams, no Aussie-born players were allowed to compete in the International Cup.
This exclusion of experienced Aussies from international competitions has given more amateur athletes from places like Canada, Britain, USA, Denmark, South Africa and Spain a chance play for their respective nations.
"This is probably the only sport you can start playing at eighteen, and then go on to represent your country," stated the Calgary Kangaroos' coach Troy Rose.
Rose, who is also one of the Northwind's assistant coaches, believes that footy players who are in college or university make good candidates for the national squad.
"The best player [for Canada] was a young bloke who goes to the University of Toronto," Rose explained. "Guys in college have the time and money to commit to footy and they love the sport."
For one of the Kangaroos' new recruits, Matthew Henke, the chance to play for Canada is a big draw to the game.
"My goal is to make the 2008 Canadian team and to play for a semi-professional club somewhere in Australia," explained Henke, a recent graduate of the University of Winnipeg. "Footy really fits into my desire to travel around Australia in the next few years."
Kidd believes that making the 2008 Northwind team can be the goal of most amateur athletes.
"Footy incorporates skills from sports like football, soccer, rugby and volleyball," he said. "Anyone can play the game... unless you're soft of course."
For more information about Aussie Rules Football in Calgary, visit the local website, www.calgarykangaroos.com.