Gridiron scores a touchdown in Victoria
The American version of football has never had a huge profile in Victoria or Australia, but Daniel Barnett is hoping that can change.
Barnett has seen the game develop first-hand, playing as running back for both the Australian team and locally with Gridiron Victoria (new window).
He says the game is gradually growing in popularity and the local competition is benefiting from greater interest. "I think Victoria's league is at a stage where it will continue to grow and everyone involved is pretty excited about that."
A graduate high school teacher during the week, Barnett pulls on the helmet and shoulder pads on weekends for Geelong's Bay City Buccaneers.
In 2010 the Buccaneers reached the Victorian grand final with an unbeaten record before their premiership dreams were plundered in the last moments of the game, losing to the Monash University Warriors.
"We had a really good year as a team and it was pretty disappointing to fall one game short," Barnett says.
The loss made it 27 years without a Geelong gridiron side winning a premiership. But with 27 years of competition in Victoria, 2010's finals series was an important sign of where the sport's at and where it's heading.
In 1983 Victoria's gridiron competition began with just four teams who played with equipment that ranged from bike helmets to motorcycle pads. The league has grown considerably since then, both in organisation and participation.
A league high of 14 teams competed in 1990, and although there's less teams now, with six sides registered in 2010, Gridiron Victoria is in a strong position.
Barnett says the league has had some great support, but it needs more sponsors to help sustain it. "There's a growing interest in the game and it's important to make sure we can also get more sponsors and investment," he says.
"I'd like the game to be bigger, obviously, but there's a lot dependent on funding and whether we can get sponsorships."
Each player in the league pays around $300 a year in registration fees, while most clubs also pay yearly fees for oval hire.
"It's a tricky thing because it's not like most sports where you can get paid to play, there's less of an incentive compared to some other sports," Barnett says.
For many Australians the local gridiron leagues are an important stepping-stone to greater opportunities overseas.
Representing the Australian team in England earlier this year, Barnett experienced the global opportunities the sport offers.
"On the tour of England we had a lot of talent scouts at the matches we played, from American colleges and Europe as well," he says. "There's a lot of European universities who offer scholarships to study and play football over there."
"Countries like Sweden and Germany, who are both strong teams, gridiron's almost their second biggest sport after soccer. It shows just how global the game is."
Growing up, Barnett never expected to be playing gridiron around the world.
As a 12-year-old he and his family lived in the US for a year, giving him his first experience of the curious American version of football.
"I remember just watching it on TV and thinking it was some weird sport where people ran at each other," he says. "I didn't understand it but I knew it was huge over there and since I got back to Australia I was always a bit intrigued by it."
He says the toughest thing about picking up the game was learning all the tactics and plays.
"We learn field formations in four different colour zones and in each of those there's 15 plays per colour. You might say, 'Red open in,' and you've got to know where to stand and where to run, sort of within three or four seconds," he says.
For the time being Barnett's happy to keep playing in the Victorian league and is hoping the code can benefit from a greater exposure in Australia.
"I think a lot of people are more aware of American football now, especially with (ex-AFL players) Ben Graham and Sav Rocca playing in the NFL and more games being shown on Australian TV," he says.
"Hopefully that creates a bit of interest which can only be a good thing for the game."
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Articles Written by Josh F
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