Cambridge 21-57 Birmingham
Report by Ian McNicholas
Birmingham’s Aussie Rules team travelled away to Cambridge last weekend, returning with a victory against a team who have a history reaching back to the early establishment of Association Football in the UK. Usually confined to 9-a-side games on rugby pitches, Birmingham’s lack of experience of 18-a-side, which can be played on an oval field as large as 180m long, was certainly cause for concern. Most of the team have never encountered a field or squad of such a large size before, with only a couple of the Sharks having played any full-field footy at all. This inexperience was quickly dealt with in the match thanks to Birmingham’s aggressive commitment to the ball, which presented the team with many opportunities to put points on the scoreboard.
The first quarter saw Birmingham take an early advantage. Having emphasis on their midfield and half-back line, the visiting side were able to keep Cambridge at bay from scoring, whilst managing to send the ball into their own forward line several times. However, the experience of the home side’s Australian players was immediately evident and Cambridge were able to come away with points each of the few times they were within scoring range. Birmingham edged by quarter-time due mainly to their frequent attacking plays, with a goal eventually coming from some well timed fancy footwork on the line from Ian Kafka. The score after 20 minutes was 14-8 in favour of the visiting side.
The second 20 minutes of the match proceeded in a similar fashion to the first. The ball was sent end-to-end down the long field continuously, but the experience of Birmingham’s own Aussie Steve Ingham and Tim Smith was enough to keep Cambridge from goal-scoring opportunities. Intense running from midfielders Ed Clampit and Andrew Mawson swept the ball forwards, presenting the goal to the visitors several times. Achieving more accuracy in their shots than in the first quarter, Birmingham went into the half-time break leading 34-15.
The pace and endurance of the younger Birmingham squad finally began to become apparently throughout the second half of the game. The large oval field favoured them, with kicks into space usually being chased down by one of the visiting players. Cambridge were denied any points; instead having to deal with resolved man-to-man marking. One chance resulted in a scrap on the goal-line, but the ball was eventually cleared by defenders Seb Goodwin and Ollie Di-Lieto.
Starting the final quarter with a considerable deficit of points, Cambridge put in one last effort but were no match for Birmingham’s unyielding midfielders. The ball found itself being sent out of bounds frequently by exhausted players, yet ruckman Matt Godfrey stepped up to win nearly all the throw-ins, as he had done all game. A tired Cambridge defence began opening up, with a final goal coming from a long distance shot from Birmingham’s powerful attacking midfielder Ben Massey, to put the final score Birmingham 57 -21 Cambridge.
Visiting Australian spectator Nathan Scott was particularly impressed with the Sharks performance. ‘General attack on the ball was really good’, he said. ‘The team move the ball surprisingly quickly considering [their] inexperience.’ Having now beaten all University clubs in England, Birmingham’s footy team is gaining significant respect throughout the country, with a final remark from Scott saying, ‘players would walk straight into my side back in Australia.’