Falls na­tive has grown to love Aus­tralian ‘footy’

The Niagara Falls Review - - NEWS - RAY SPI­TERI

A trip to Aus­tralia in his younger years led Ni­a­gara Falls na­tive Eric Klein on a path­way to fall in love with a grow­ing sport in Canada, and one that is rich in tra­di­tion in the land Down Un­der.

And now, the 31-year-old is part of the Canada squad sched­uled to head to Mel­bourne — the birth­place of this brand of “footy” — in Au­gust to com­pete for the In­ter­na­tional Cup.

Klein said his in­ter­est in the game, which he de­scribes as a blend of many sports such as soc­cer, bas­ket­ball and rugby, be­gan dur­ing a youth trip to Aus­tralia for a work­travel pro­gram.

“I worked in Perth and it’s one of the many hot­beds in Aus­tralia of footy as they call it down there and cer­tain parts of the coun­try,” he said.

“I was for­tu­nate enough to go to a few games and kind of de­vel­oped an in­ter­est for the sport.

“I didn’t get to play the game down there, but I came back to Canada learn­ing what this game was all about.”

Klein said he moved to Bri­tish Columbia four years ago for work and shortly af­ter got into the “fun and crazy world” of Aus­tralian foot­ball.

He said the vice pres­i­dent of a com­pany he was work­ing for in B.C. had played the sport in Burn­aby.

“I went out one day and kind of the rest is his­tory,” said Klein, whose plays for the Burn­aby Ea­gles in the Bri­tish Columbia Aus­tralian Foot­ball League.

He said it’s an am­a­teur league and he plays the cen­tre half-for­ward po­si­tion.

Klein said he gets a lot of ques­tions from peo­ple when they find out he plays Aussie rules foot­ball.

“A lot of peo­ple say it’s play­ing soc­cer, but you can use your hands as well,” he said.

“It’s 18 play­ers aside and the field is about twice the vol­ume and the size of a soc­cer field, so as you can imag­ine in Canada there’s not too many places you can set up a field. But a cricket pitch works, which is why they have one in Toronto, and wide-open spa­ces and parks work as well.”

Klein de­scribes the sport as an ex­cit­ing, free-flow­ing game.

“The play is rarely stopped. It’s a 360-de­gree game. There are some rugby el­e­ments, like the tack­ling part of it, but you don’t al­ways have to go for­ward, you can go back.”

He said even if many sports fans don’t un­der­stand the game, they may have seen high­light clips.

“Prob­a­bly one of the first things you see is some­body fly­ing through the air and tak­ing (the ball) well above a big pack of peo­ple, or maybe even us­ing some­one as a spring­board to grab (the ball).”

Klein said he at­tended the Aus­tralian Foot­ball League Canada na­tional team’s se­lec­tion camp in Toronto this past sum­mer and later learned he was cho­sen to go to Mel­bourne with a team that’s picked ev­ery three years.

“Rep­re­sent­ing my coun­try is a dream come true,” he said.

“On top of that, go­ing to the birth­place of foot­ball, you can’t beat that. Be­ing a fan of the sport you know how pas­sion­ate they are over there. They pack the (Mel­bourne Cricket Ground) with 80,000, 100,000 peo­ple for games. It’s their foot­ball, it’s their Su­per Bowl.”

Klein said his fa­ther and un­cle played soc­cer at dif­fer­ent lev­els for Canada, so “I’ve had that his­tory in my fam­ily.”

Klein said he also played fairly high-level soc­cer in Ni­a­gara men’s leagues, but “knew” he wasn’t go­ing to progress any fur­ther.

When the chance to play Aus­tralian foot­ball came up, “it was some­thing I re­ally worked hard to­wards.”

Klein said there are a num­ber of male clubs in Canada, in­clud­ing in Hamil­ton and the Greater Toronto Area, and “quite a strong ” fe­male pro­gram as well, es­pe­cially in On­tario.

He said about 30 male and 30 fe­male ath­letes will be trav­el­ling to Aus­tralia for the three-week tour­na­ment.

The Cana­dian women are cur­rent In­ter­na­tional Cup cham­pi­ons.

Klein said both the na­tional men’s and women’s teams have a crowd fund­ing page set up (makeachamp.com/aflcanadanorth­wind) to raise a por­tion of the travel costs that are 100 per cent self funded.

“Peo­ple are do­ing this out of their own pocket and for the love of the sport,” he said.

“That’s why a lot of fundrais­ing ini­tia­tives are be­ing done to try to ease the cost of the trip.”

Klein said the fact the sport is called Aus­tralian rules foot- ball, “peo­ple just think it’s for Aus­tralians and might not nec­es­sar­ily grav­i­tate to­wards it.

“It doesn’t have a long his­tory in Canada, so it takes a while for peo­ple to know about it.”

Klein en­cour­ages peo­ple to give the sport a try, even if it’s just watch­ing high­light clips or games on YouTube.

He said a good place to start would be to watch the 2016 Aus­tralian Foot­ball League Grand Fi­nal.

“It was one of the best games ever played and if you want to get peo­ple ex­cited about the sport … that’s a great place to start.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about Aus­tralian foot­ball in Canada, visit aflcanada.com. rspi­teri@post­media.com Twit­ter: @RaySpi­teri


Ni­a­gara Falls na­tive Eric Klein, who now lives in Bri­tish Columbia, will head to Aus­tralia this sum­mer to play for team Canada in the Aus­tralian Foot­ball League In­ter­na­tional Cup.


Ni­a­gara Falls na­tive Eric Klein.

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