Australian rules football is played in Europe at an amateur level in a number of countries. The oldest and largest leagues are those in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark, each nation having a number of clubs and organised junior programs.
There is no official governing body for the sport in Europe, although an informal group called Aussie Rules Europe exists among some of the leagues. A future body under the banner of "AFL Europe" is under discussion.
Cup competitions that have been played between nations in Europe include the Atlantic Alliance Cup, EU Cup and Central European Australian Football League Championships. In addition, there are tests matches played between Great Britain and Ireland, a tri-series (European Australian Football Tri-nations Tournament) between Germany, Denmark and Sweden, and a tri-series between Croatia, Austria and the Czech Republic.
Andorra made its first appearance at the WAFF (World Australian Football Federation) World 9s in September 2008, which was played in Valls, Catalonia. The first ever international goal for the Andorran team was kicked by Sumra Sallis and the team went on to defeat Spain in their first international match. Andorra finished equal third in the competition which included teams from Senegal, Catalonia, Argentina, France and Spain. France went on to win the final which was played against Catalonia.
In 2009 the Andorra Crows made their debut in the Catalan AFL. The team's Catalan name is Corbs d'Andorra, which translates at "Ravens", but they use the name Crows when referring to the team in English.
Australian rules football in Austria has been played since 2004, with one club to date based in Vienna. The club began life as the Vienna Dingos, changing their name to the Vienna Kangaroos in 2006. In the same year and doubling as the National Team, the Kangaroos competed in a tri-nations series against Croatia and the Czech Republic.
Australian rules football was first played in Chatelet in 1919 by Australian soldiers in World War I.
Australian rules football has been played in Belgium since 2004, with a team based in Brussels. The Brussels Saints have played matches against the Paris Cockerels and teams from around Europe, including winning the 2005 EU Cup, although since this era, the club has gone into recess and is not currently active.
Australian rules football in Croatia began with the first official team, known as the Zagreb Giants, in January 2006, although there had been efforts for many years before this to found a team in Zagreb.
In 2006, the team began a tri-nations series against the Czech Republic and Austria, winning the first event. In late 2006 plans were laid for a new team in Rijeka called the Sharks, although these did not come to fruition.
The Zagreb Giants formed an alliance with Australian Football League club the Hawthorn Hawks, changing their name to the Zagreb Hawks. Croatia's second club was created in 2008 under the name Kapitol Saints, with a series of domestic matches played between the Saints and the Hawks. This series has continued in 2009, with the Saints changing their name to the Agram Power, Agram being an old name for the city of Zagreb.
There have been beginnings of a national governing body set up under the name Croatian Association of Australian Football. The national team has been nicknamed the Croatian Knights.
The first lasting club was founded in 2005, known as the Czech Lions. The Lions remained the only team in the Czech Republic for the next three years, playing mainly in tournaments against other European teams, hosting the CEAFL Championships in 2006.
The Czech AFL hosted the EU Cup in Prague in 2008, hosted at Slavia Rugby Club.
In 2009, the Czech AFL took steps to create a domestic competition in the Czech Republic, with the creation of two sides known as the All-Stars and the Marauders. As of July 2009, the two sides had around 30 active playing members, of which around one half were Czechs, one third expatriate Australians, and the remainder from other nationalities. The national representative side of the Czech AFL still competes under the name Czech Lions.
Australian rules football in Denmark is governed by the Danish Australian Football League (DAFL). The league has grown to over 300 senior players and has one of the most successful junior programs outside Australia with a few hundred young players playing regular club football annually. The DAFL is often considered the largest Australian rules football competition outside the English speaking world.
The national team, the Denmark Vikings, competed at the 2002 International Cup, finishing in fourth place. They withdrew in 2005 due to financial reasons, but returned for the 2008 event.
Australian rules football in Finland is controlled by the Finland AFL, who formed in 2006 after the creation of Finland's first Australian football club around a year earlier. Domestic matches began in 2007 with two teams, the Helsinki Heatseekers and Halikko Juggernauts. A third team, the Espoo Roos was created in 2008.
The Finland Icebreakers are the representative Australian rules football team of Finland, formerly known as the Finnish Lions. They have twice won the Central European AFL Championships, going back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. While the team was started by Australian expatriates, it has been captained by a Finn ever since the 2nd match with the current captain being Kimmo Heikkilä, and the Icebreakers are now almost exclusively Finns.
The Icebreakers have appeared at the EU Cup in 2007 and 2008, as well as making their first trip to Australian for the 2008 Australian Football International Cup.
As of 2008, Australian rules football was played in France by four clubs in Strasbourg, Paris, Montpellier and Bordeaux, with the Paris Cockerels winning the inaugural national club championship tournament that year.
The national league commenced on March 28th, 2009 with those four clubs, although new sides are also under formation in Perpignan, Toulouse and Aix en Provence. The newly-formed Perpignan Tigers will compete in the Catalan league in 2009.
The Australian Football League Germany plays a home-and-away season featuring clubs based in Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Hamburg. The official German national team (the Black Eagles) first appeared in the tri-series with Sweden and Denmark in 2006, although ad hoc German representative teams had appeared at other events in the past.
Australian rules football has been played in Iceland since 2009, when Icelanders who had played in the Danish Australian Football League returned to their homeland. The first club was founded in Reykjavik, known as the Ravens. As the foundation club in Iceland, the Ravens also competed as the Iceland Ravens at the 2009 EU Cup.
Australian rules football is a fairly recently-introduced team sport in Ireland but the country has a long history of interaction with Australian rules leagues. There has been some awareness of Australian rules football in Ireland since the first International rules football tests took place in late 1967.
Since 1982, the Irish experiment has seen Irish players becoming professional Australian rules footballers in the Australian Football League. High profile players include Jim Stynes and Tadhg Kennelly among others. As GAA sports are primarily amateur competition and the AFL competition is professional, there is a strong financial lure.
The Australian Rules Football League of Ireland was formed in October 2000.
The Irish national Australian rules football team, first appeared at the Atlantic Alliance Cup in 2001, going through the tournament undefeated. Their berth in the Grand Final created a small amount of interest in the Irish media. They then went on to win the 2002 Australian Football International Cup, but despite not having kept the pace with other emerging nations, they have since remained in the top four.
The International Rules Series between the AFL and GAA generated a high amount of media interest in Ireland, although this is more due to the similarity between International rules football and Gaelic football than anything related to Aussie Rules. In terms of Australian rules football, the media has covered with interest the successful recruits of the Australian Football League. Television coverage of the sport has grown in Ireland and highlights and game packages are now regularly shown on pay-tv on Setanta Sports.
Australian rules football in Italy was first played in 2004 with an attempt to start a league based around the city of Naples, under the name Federazione Italiana di Football Australiano (FItAF). Four teams in Salerno, Naples, San Giorgio and Barra were created, but the league ultimately did not get off the ground.
A new group started playing under the name AFL Italia in Milan in July 2009.
A large number of Italian Australians have played professionally in the Australian Football League, including "Mr Football" Ron Barassi, Sergio Silvagni, Stephen Silvagni, Robert DiPierdomenico, Saverio Rocca and Peter Matera.
A team representing the Melbourne Italian community also competed at the Australian Football Multicultural Cup in 2005.
Australian rules football was first played in the Netherlands around 2003, with the creation of the Dutch Australian Football Association (DAFA). This organisation later disappeared but was re-formed in 2007. There was still no formal team or league in the Netherlands, but by late 2006 some steps had been taken with a group training and playing regularly in The Hague and the national team being nicknamed the Flying Dutchmen (de Vliegende Hollanders).
2009 has seen the beginning of rapid growth for the DAFA, with 6 scheduled home and away international games, plus plans for the establishment of 4 domestic teams, in Utrecht, Den Haag, Eindhoven and Amsterdam. The first domestic match played in Holland was a friendly between the newly-formed Utrecht Saints and the Rest of Holland played on May 9th in Utrecht. Training sessions are held weekly in various locations around the country.
In 2005 a new team representing the Netherlands appeared at the EU Cup, where they finished third. In 2007, the Dutchmen played their first game in almost two years with a social match against the Rheinland Lions from Germany. In the 2007 EU Cup the Flying Dutchmen finished 10th, losing to Belgium in the plate final. In 2008 the Flying Dutchmen established a home ground in Amstelveen, near Amsterdam and fielded a team in the 2008 EU Cup in Prague, finishing as bowl champions in 9th place overall. The Flying Dutchmen finished second in the 2009 EU Cup, losing to England in the final.
The Oslo Trolls formed in 2005 as Norway's first Australian rules football club, but didn't play their first match until hosting the Karlstad Dragons from Sweden in August 2008. Prior to this, players from the Trolls had travelled to western Sweden to play in club matches with the teams in Karlstad and Gothenburg.
The second club to form in the Oslo area were founded in early early 2009 in the town of Ås. This club is nicknamed the Ås Battlers, after the Australian expression Aussie battler, due to the name of the town sounding similar to the first syllable of Aussie. The Oslo Trolls and Ås Battlers will play their first match against each other in August 2009.
In May 2009, a group started playing social matches in the northern city of Tromsø. This club is currently the most northerly Australian rules team in the world.
The Norway Polar Bears (Isbjørnene in Norwegian) made their first test match appearance against Sweden in Karlstad, Sweden on October 3rd, 2009. The side involved players from all three Australian football clubs in Norway, with around 50% local-born players, the Norwegian side defeating Sweden on the day.
Australian rules football in Spain is currently played in two regions, with an emerging local league in the Autonomous Community of Madrid and the LFAC in the region of Catalonia. Spain's national Australian rules football team is nicknamed the Bulls, their guernsey showing a Bull, the national symbol of Spain, in the national colours of red and yellow. The Spanish national team entered a team into the 2005 Australian Football International Cup, successfully raising the money to travel to Melbourne, Australia. The team failed to win a game and finished last, but was widely commended for its spirited performance. This team was drawn exclusively from players from the Madrid Bears and Spanish nationals resident in Melbourne, the Catalan league not taking part in the squad for various reasons.
Australian rules was first played in Madrid at a social level in 1997. In 2003, the Madrid Bears club formed and quickly grew in player numbers. In a minor international championship in 2003 hosted by Spain and with Germany and England also involved, Spain defeated Germany in the final.
In October 2003 the Australian Convicts played their second match of their European tour against the Bears in Madrid, Spain.
The Bears' level of activity dropped off in the season following the 2005 International Cup, although the creation of a second team known as the Kangaroos in the town of Móstoles near Madrid and the commencement of a championship series between the Bears and Kangaroos has seen a resurgence in playing numbers.
Australian rules football in Catalonia is currently played by two teams in Barcelona and Valls organised as the Lliga de Futbol Australià de Catalunya (Catalan Australian Football League). The sport began in Catalonia in 2000, when a group of people begun to play in Valls. The LFAC was officially created in 2005, teams that have competed in this league include Belfry Valls, Barcelona Stars, Gabas Tarragona, Lleida Coiots, and Wendells Salou. Salou marged with Tarragona for the 2006 season, then in 2007 the teams from Lleida and Tarragona elected to withdraw from the league, hoping to rebuild.
The Catalan national team played at the 2005 EU Cup in London and also appeared at the EU Cup in 2007.
In 2008 the league kicked off the season with four teams; Belfry Valls, Cornella Bocs (previously the Barcelona Stars), Valls Fire and Picamuixons Birds. A team from Andorra had planned to compete, but were forced to withdraw due to problems with the stadium they had planned to use. The Andorrans competed in other matches outside the LFAC season.
In 2009, the league spread to cover teams from the Catalan regions of Andorra and France, with the inclusion of the Andorra Crows and the Perpignan Tigers.
Australian rules football started in Sweden with the creation of a club nicknamed the Saints in the southern city of Helsingborg to play in the Danish AFL. For the next decade, Scania was the only area in Sweden where the sport was played, clubs in Gothenburg and Stockholm being created in the early 21st century. Scania, Gothenburg and Stockholm remain the three largest centers for the sport in Sweden, although clubs have also been created in Falun, Karlstad and most recently Uppsala in 2007 by Australian and other Students studying at Uppsala University.
The Swedish national team, the Elks, have become increasingly competitive in the last few years and appeared at the 2008 Australian Football International Cup.
There are a number of leagues operating throughout the United Kingdom, affiliated with the AFL Britain. The Great Britain Bulldogs are the representative team for the whole of Great Britain, although the England Dragonslayers, Scottish Puffins and Welsh Red Dragons have also competed on occasions. Northern Ireland is represented through the Irish national team.
The sport in England has a long but obscure history which dates back to the 1880s. Local competition has grown since 1989 to several amateur leagues.
The only club from Northern Ireland to date were the Belfast Redbacks. The Redbacks were part of the Australian Rules Football League of Ireland, although they are currently in recess, and have supplied some players to the Irish national team.
Australian rules football is currently played by three clubs in Scotland, with the Glasgow Sharks, Edinburgh Bloods and Aberdeen Dingoes forming the Scottish Australian Rules Football League, affiliated with the AFL Britain. A fourth club is under formation in Stirling.
While the current SARFL has only been in existence since 2002, there are stories of a league existing in Scotland prior to the First World War, referred to by Geoffrey Blainey in A Game of their Own, although other historians have claimed that this is probably apocryphal.
Scots living in Melbourne and Victoria in the mid-19th century were greatly involved in the formation of the rules of the game, as well as the formation of a number of early clubs, including the still-existing Essendon Bombers.
The Scottish national representative team is known as The Puffins.
Australian rules football began in Wales with the formation of Aussie Rules Wales (ARW) on September 1, 2006, associated with Aussie Rules International under the umbrella of the London-based Aussie Rules UK.
The first Welsh premiership season was conducted in 2007, with an affiliation with the South Australian National Football League. The four Welsh senior sides in the South Cardiff Panthers, Cardiff Double Blues, Newport Tigers and Swansea Magpies wear the guernseys of South Adelaide, Sturt, Glenelg and Port Adelaide respectively.
Aussie Rules Wales was renamed the Welsh Australian Rules Football League for the 2008 season.
The national Welsh team known as the Wales Red Dragons was formed by ARW, with their first appearance against the England Dragonslayers which was played in Cardiff on 3 November 2007 with England defeating Wales 61-91. Welsh representatives Ed Doe and David James became the first Welsh members of the Great Britain Bulldogs at the 2008 Australian Football International Cup.