A game that, for the best part of the last 150 years, was played exclusively in Australia has spread its wings far and wide in recent times to foreign shores as unlikely as the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Tomorrow, the newly founded Cambodian National Aussie Rules Football team will join more than one-hundred expected punters to watch Collingwood and St Kilda fight for footie’s Holy Grail.
Far from the days when the conclusion of the AFL season in Phnom Penh meant watching the game in an isolated sports bar, this year Aussie Rules fanatics will flock to a fully stocked Grand Final breakfast at the prestigious Intercontinental Hotel.
The breakfast has been organised by Australian Business Association of Cambodia, the Australian Football League, and anti-human trafficking NGO South East Asia Investigations into Social and Humanitarian Activities.
SISHA Founder and director Steve Morrish says the aims of the event are both serious and social – to support vulnerable Cambodians at risk of trafficking and to support desperate Australians in need of beer and meat pies on grand final day.
“SISHA will run a raffle during the day, and money from the raffle will go towards our youth legal rights project. ABAC have said that if there is any money left over they will put that back into our organisation,” said Morrish.
Punters will be treated to bottomless draft beer, buffet breakfast and lunch and, of course, a meat pie, if they enter through general admission, which costs US$40 a head.
But for those who wish to emulate the feeling of a corporate box, an AFL members ticket will get them special grandstand seating, one extra meat pie and ten bottles of boutique beer for an extra US$30 each.
Morrish wants to use the event to build the profile of the sport locally and he’s brought some high-profile names to greet enthusiasts tomorrow - former Essendon stars Paul Barnard and David Calthorpe.
“Paul Barnard was known as a bit of a thug, a bit of a hitman footballer, and Dave Calthorpe, he was a nuggety little rover that played at Essendon and the Sydney Swans,” Morrish joked of the former stars who terrorized his beloved Navy Blues during the 1990’s.
They’ll also pass on a few much needed tips to the Phnom Penh footie side the Cambodian Cobras, who have been steadily improving and generating local interest since they began with a spate of beltings at the hands of the Vietnam Swans when the team first formed two months ago.
“We’ve got a Cambodian playing at the Cambodian Cobras football club – the kickboxer Thy – and we’ve got few other Cambodians who are interested to come and train,” says Morrish, adding that he believes the AFL will pick up a player from the Kingdom.
“I don’t think it’s too far away ... the AFL’s really pushing out there to try and get it.”
In the meantime, Morrish is ready to enjoy the last Saturday in September showpiece, and he wont be too upset if archrival and premiership favorites Collingwood fall short of expectations.
Tomorrow’s Grand Final, played to a packed house at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, kicks off at 11:30am Cambodian time.