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  • Finlay McPherson

An Interview With the Reading Kangaroos

As the Aussie Rules football season begins to take shape, we sat down with Michael, President of Reading’s very own Aussie Rules Football team - the Reading Kangaroos. With Aussie Rules being a hugely popular sport in its homeland and growing rapidly in popularity in other nations, the chance to talk about it was one we were sure not to miss. After a brief chat at the beginning of our meeting, we got right into the questions.


(This is an amended transcript due to post-interview processing errors)


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FINLAY: So first of all, I think it would just be a good idea to tell us a little bit about the Reading Kangaroos and what you're all about.


MICHAEL: Yep. So yeah, obviously we're Aussie Rules Football Club. We play in the AFL London League in the summer, we've got our pre-season currently, and then our season runs from May to July. We play six games this year. We're a very social club, so we play in the Social League. There are multiple leagues: the Premiership Conference and the Social League. 



We're a very social team.


Our biggest thing is, you know, doing training and then going over for a beer afterwards - that kind of stuff. We have a social nearly every month at the moment: we try to bring it around together. For instance, we've got Ascot, we've got a launch party. We had a pub crawl last weekend, and we do a couple of pre-season games in Bristol this March: so, a lot of different things that we try to do once a month to keep everyone together. And then, during the winter as well, we try to do things as much as we can with the Christmas party and stuff like that.


It’s probably eighty-percent English, twenty-percent Aussie and, as I mentioned, a lot of rugby background, a bit of football background - but mostly rugby, which helps with picking up the game quicker. Obviously, it helps with the physical aspect and as well.


FINLAY: Oh great, it sounds like a really good community to get into. I was also wondering: what is it like kind of being part of what could be considered maybe a more unconventional sport?


MICHAEL: Yeah it's different, man. Obviously, I'm Australian. So I grew up playing the game, following the game. For me, it's normal but the English guys are there and it is very different for them. But, you know, most people that come down to training enjoy it and stay. We try to really encourage people to come down and give it a go. It's not for everyone, that's for sure. But it is fun. It's different. And it's exciting to learn a new kind of game. I think the biggest thing we've got are the English people that play, which is massive for us and something a lot of the other clubs in London don't have. They have a lot of Aussies, probably eighty-percent Aussie and twenty-percent English. So, I mean, that sets us apart from the others - which is a good thing.


FINLAY: Yeah, absolutely, and for those coming from a rugby and football background - how would you say they can kind of compare to those two sports? Is there much overlap there?


MICHAEL: It’s an age-old question I've never been able to answer properly, I don't think. It is a bit of a cross of everything I would say. Have you ever watched Gaelic football?


FINLAY: Yes, yeah.


MICHAEL: It's probably closer to that, with rugby involved. I'd probably say those two cross. There are eighteen people on the field for each team, so thirty-six players on the field. The goals are on each end, so if you kick it through the big ones you get six points. You kick it through the small ones, you only get one point. The aim is to get the most points. Obviously, by the end of the game, there are four different quarters - so you've got two halves. You swap end at each quarter. You can kick, you can handle the ball: so you can hit it with your hand. You can kick it with your foot. You can mark, so you mark and then you get a free kick. You can tackle people, you can jump on people's shoulders and take ‘speckys’ [spectacular marks] as we call them. You do all that kind of stuff so it's a very 360-game like Gaelic, where a lot of things like rugby and football are very, you know: go forward and back kind of thing. It's very hard to explain, but I'd say Gaelic and rugby cross. The best thing to do would just be Google ‘Aussie Rules highlights’. There are plenty on there and that gives you a bit of an understanding of what it is.


FINLAY: Yeah, it sounds awesome. I'm guessing, being Australian yourself, you played over there. You've got a bit of a background in it. Can you talk a little bit about that sort personal experience with the sport?


MICHAEL: Yeah, man, so I played juniors. When I was a kid I played up until under-sixteens and then moved away at sixteen, then hadn't played football until I got here and came to this club two years ago - or maybe three years ago. So yeah, basically, as an Australian - or especially in Victoria, where I'm from - it's just football, mate.


You play basketball or cricket in the summer. So, normally, it's running around on muddy fields and that kind of thing. Over here, we play in the summer because in the winter it's way too cold to do that kind of stuff. But it's always good fun: just kicking a football reminds you of home a lot, which is good.


FINLAY: Yeah, I bet. No, absolutely. And I get the impression that it's obviously a really big sport in Australia - it's bigger than rugby over there. I think it's a really growing sport elsewhere as well.


Michael: Yeah, I guess it is a bit of a national sport. Realistically, then, you'd have Rugby League which is big in New South Wales and Queensland. But AFL’s big in every other state, so that would probably be the national sport - but it rivals Rugby League.


FINLAY: It sounds pretty fun. You kind of spoke about it earlier, but what would you say about the experiences actually playing it? Would you say it's high-tempo or, you know, if you could describe it in a short sentence?


MICHAEL: Yeah, definitely very high tempo. Physical and interesting I think would be the kind of thing.


Once you understand the game it's good, but it's very hard to understand. Once you get the basic skills down, it's really fun and I think a lot of the English guys have learnt that once they get the basic kicking, marking and basic positions down they can play - especially in our level and the Social League. And then that's all we want. We just want people to come along, give the game a go and have a bit of fun. And again, we're mainly for socials afterwards and having a bit of fun.


FINLAY: Brilliant. Can you mention the benefits of the sport, and of being part of the team and things like that?


MICHAEL: You have fitness. You run a lot, so it's not a game where you just stand in one place. It's because you're moving a lot, especially in certain different positions. So fitness is a really good one.

There’s the social aspect. Again, just getting around different people, meeting different people from different walks of life. We've got people from everywhere and you would never think these people would play Aussie rules, but they do, which is really cool. So getting around them, meeting new people and I think for Australians just having something a bit from home. But for them, just having something different, as well as stepping outside of their comfort zone, is a really good one. There's nothing better than learning a brand-new game and just giving it a go. 


FINLAY: Sounds great. Would you say it's an easy sport to learn as well: is it one of those where it takes a little bit of time to get going?


MICHAEL: Yeah, it does take a bit of time. It depends. Depends on what position you play in rugby. If you can kick a ball, like a full-back or whatever it is that kicks the ball a lot, you'll pick it up a lot quicker than a prop or whatever. One of the big boys at the front. It kind of depends if you're skilful with balls and marking and stuff like that: then you'll pick it up. But yeah, it's more the basics we like to try to get everyone, you know, pretty clued up with in a couple of weeks - and I think we can do that. We've done that a lot.


But actually understanding the game takes a while. There are a lot of different things with positioning and stuff like that, but again we don't really need to do that in our league which is good. We're gonna have a kick and a couple of goals and have fun, that kind of thing. So yeah, it is. It is a tough game to understand fully, especially if you weren’t growing up in the game. Yes.


FINLAY: Would you say, because you're more of a social league, that maybe it’s more conducive to people that are beginners? 


MICHAEL: Yeah, one-hundred-percent, man. So the other two are premiership and conference, and those teams are playing there to win. 


We know there are some big teams in London that we're gonna play against: there are two or three games every year that we're probably not gonna do very well at because the teams are full of Aussies. We know that and that's fine. And the guys know that. But there are two or three games every year that we know we've got a chance at. So it's kind of building up to those games and trying to learn things throughout the year.


It’s definitely for beginners. That's kind of how our whole thing is: to bring beginners down and try to teach them. Teach them the game, have a bit of fun.


FINLAY: Fantastic. Whereabouts is it in Reading, just in case anybody was wondering?


MICHAEL: Kings Meadow. So we've got our own Oval. It is on a floodplain, so it floods. It's like a bit of a lake at the moment, but during summer it's really, really nice - and we've got one of the best ovals in the league, actually, which is really good. So yeah, big-size Oval, got our own goalposts there. Anyone can even just rock up down there if they want to, kick through the goals and have a practice - that kind of thing.


FINLAY: Just a final thing: if there's someone that was reading this thinking, you know, ‘I'm thinking about joining, but I'm not sure what would be going on’, what would you kind of say to them to help them decide to get involved?


MICHAEL: Yeah, just come down and have a crack. You can come down, kick a ball and handle the ball. If you don't like it, you go home. But, there are a lot of things where if you don't try you'll never know. So just come down. You know, we're a really good bunch of lads. As I said, eighty-percent English, twenty-percent Aussie, so you won't be surrounded by Aussies and not understand what we say. You'll be able to understand the language. Just come down and have a go. It's a fun game, especially if you have a rugby background. It's a physical game. And, you know, you get a bit of fitness and a bit of fun, have a couple of beers and enjoy everyone's company - which is the main thing.


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The Reading Kangaroos can be found on Instagram and Facebook. They currently run pre-season training at Kings Meadow, 1pm on Sunday.

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