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Denver Bulldogs take football down under

Aussie Rules team one of best in league


There was a lot about Melbourne, Australia, that Troy Kirk missed when he moved to Colorado years ago with his wife — family, friends and football.

“I missed everything about the sport when I moved here but an old coach had told me there was an amateur league over here,” Kirk remembers. “I contacted the boys out here, and the rest is history.”

The boys he’s referring to are the Denver Bulldogs, Colorado’s only Australian Football club. The club has a men’s division one team, men’s division four team, and a women’s team, and was founded in 1997 — just a year after the United States Australian Football League (USAFL) was founded.

“Aussie Rules Football is very different to American Football, and in terms of movement is more like soccer or basketball, where the movement can be 360 degrees,” said Casey Robertson, co-coach of the Bulldogs’ division one team. “If someone wants to watch a continuous game, unlike American Football, there is a lot of physical contact, spectacular plays and high scoring then a Bulldogs match is where to go.”

In Aussie Rules Football, the main method to move the ball is to kick it. Kicks can be anywhere from 10 yards to about 60 yards in length, but players can also move the football with what is called a “hand ball,” Robertson explained. A hand ball is when one player punches the ball to a teammate.

Teams accumulate points by kicking a goal or a point. The goals are four upright posts: two tall posts in the middle and a shorter post on either side of the large posts. A team scores a goal (worth six points) when they kick the ball between the two tall posts. A point (worth a single point) is when a team kicks the ball between one of the tall posts and one of the short posts.

“It’s a mix of all American sports — if you take baseball, soccer, basketball, ultimate Frisbee, hockey, running, and football, put it in a blender, you would have Australian Rules football,” said Andy Vanica, another member of the Bulldogs. “It’s very different from NFL as there are no pads, the field is round, and there are no set downs. It is often described as a game of hot-potato that looks like chaos.”

The USAFL is home to about 39 teams from all over the county, and the season usually runs from late May to mid-October.

In the 20 years since the club’s founding, the men’s team has won eight national championships, and the women’s team has won six, making the Bulldogs one of the most successful teams in the league, Kirk said.

One of the best things about the sport, according to the players, is the openness of the club and the culture if fosters. Club members come from all over the Denver Metro Area and beyond. Training sessions and games are held at Washington Heights Park, 6375 W. 1st Ave. in Lakewood, and at Denver City Park, 2001 Colorado Boulevard, on Saturdays. Not only are people encouraged to watch the training sessions, but they can participate if interested.

“I wish more people knew how much fun competing is, and the club is in general,” Robertson said. “The fact that the sport is full contact is loved by our American players as many of them have not played a full contact sport since high school or college. Our club is very welcoming to everyone, whether you are an athlete or not, a good player or not, experienced or inexperienced, young or old. If you just want to be part of the club off the field then we are happy to have you.”

For Kirk, Robertson and Vanica, football has given them another family and community to be a part of.

“It’s a very tough game, both physically and mentally, and there is a mutual respect that develops among teammates,” Vanica said. “The football club sports culture in Australia is also unique where entire communities and towns will revolve around the football club. It’s very special.”

With at least two months of games left, Kirk hopes more people will come out and see what Aussie Rules is all about.

“Australian Football is one of the most fast paced, exciting games in the world,” he said. “People will fall in love after one game.”


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