Aussie rules' international flavour
MELBOURNE'S western suburbs are as multicultural an area as you'll come across. And that incredible diversity is reflected in the local 'Aussie rules' clubs that bring the various ethnic groups together like nothing else can.
For instance, just up the road from the Prime Minister's pad in Altona you might find Riak Riak contesting a centre bounce for the Vikings, tapping the ball down to Anthony Chiu, who then drills a pass to Ziad Kadour.
Covering footy in and around Footscray throughout the 2000s was a unique experience. The area wasn't exactly a strong breeding ground for the AFL during that time, but it can lay claim to producing two genuine trailblazers of the competition.
Bachar Houli has played just 60 games in six seasons with Essendon and now Richmond, while Majak Daw hasn't played any after spending almost three years on North Melbourne's rookie list.
But, simply being drafted ensured they would both etch their name in the history books - Houli becoming the league's first devout Muslim footballer in 2006 and Daw the first Sudanese-born player in 2009.
They are now among the AFL's 10 multicultural ambassadors, but were poster boys for their respective communities long before making the top level.
Born to Lebanese parents who were concerned about their son being racially vilified on the field, Houli used to sneak out to play with the Spotswood under-12s. The jig was up when he was unable to hide all the trophies he was being awarded.
He was never one to hide his Islamic faith though and, showing incredible maturity as a 15-year-old, addressed the playing group at the Western Jets in the elite TAC Cup under-18 competition to explain his beliefs and why he prays five times a day.
As committed to making it as a footballer as he was to his religion, Houli decided to consult with his sheikh about breaking his Ramadan fast for three days so he could perform at his best at the AFL draft camp.
The 24-year-old now has an Aussie rules tournament played between Melbourne's eight Islamic schools named after him. Held yesterday, he was on hand to lead the prayers during a break between games.
Daw spent his early years in Sudan, before his parents fled the war-torn country for Egypt, only to finally settle in Australia. It was only by chance that they moved into a house across the road from the local footy club, which caught Daw's eye.
His incredible athleticism, not unlike West Coast's Fijian-born superstar Nic Naitanui - highlighted by an ability to kick goals on the run and leap tall packs in a single bound - was what always caught the eye of recruiters.
A cult favourite with a name made in sub-editors' heaven, Daw was the subject of fan Facebook pages and Youtube channels well before he was rookie-listed by the Roos.
Along with Houli and Daw, Naitanui, Leigh Montagna (St Kilda), Joel Wilkinson (Gold Coast), David Rodan (Port Adelaide), Harry O'Brien (Collingwood), Israel Folau (GWS), Karmichael Hunt (Gold Coast) and Ahmed Saad (St Kilda) make up the multicultural ambassador line-up.
While Naitanui was born in Sydney to Fijian parents, Rodan was actually born in Fiji; O'Brien was born in Brazil, Wilkinson in Nigeria and Hunt in New Zealand, to a dad from Samoa, and mum from the Cook Islands; Saad's parents are Egyptian; Folau is of Tongan descent, and Montagna Italian.
Aside from the handful of Irishmen currently running around in the AFL, other notable 'internationals' include Josh Gibson, whose father is from Barbados; Daniel Kerr, whose grandmother was Indian; Aaron Edwards, who was born in Western Samoa; Dustin Martin, whose father is Maori; Alipate Carlile, who was born in Fiji; James Gwilt, whose mother is from Papua New Guinea; and Tendai Mzungu, who is of Zimbabwean descent.
IT'S ironic that one of the most recognisable names in 'Aussie rules' football was born in Austria, to a Ukrainian father and a Russian mother.
"Jesaulenko! You beauty!" has become one of the most famous catchcries in the sport's history since commentator Mike Williamson let it rip as Carlton great Alex Jesaulenko took an absolute hanger in the memorable 1970 VFL Grand Final.
And he heads this team of 'Greatest Imports', VFL/AFL players actually born overseas:
B: Sean Wight (Ireland - Melb), Mal Michael (Papua New Guinea - BL), Harry O'Brien (Brazil - Coll).
HB: Mil Hanna (Lebannon - Carl), John Scarlett (England - Geel), Tadhg Kennelly (Ireland - SS)
C: Wayne Blackwell (England - Carl), Don Pyke (USA - WCE), Wayne Schwass (NZ - NM)
HF: John McCarthy (England - NM), Alex Jesaulenko (Austria - Carl), Jim Edmond (Scotland - Foots)
F: Jose Romero (Chile - NM), Trent Croad (NZ - Haw), David Rodan (Fiji - PA)
Foll: Jim Stynes (Ireland - Melb), Allan La Fontaine (France - Melb), Peter Bell (South Korea - Frem)
Int: Stuart Magee (Ireland - Foots), Val Perovic (Croatia - Carl), Alex Ishchenko (Ukraine - NM), Alipate Carlile (Fiji - PA), Brian Mynott (England - SK