Aussie Rules in Singapore

The Singapore Australia Rules Football club started life as the Singapore Lions in 1993. It was somewhat of a false start, as the founders, in their eagerness to create a social sporting club for Aussie rules fans, neglected the fact that there was another football franchise in Singapore also called the Lions – the National soccer team! So, it was a letter from the Singapore Lions’ legal department that led to the birth of the Wombats. Why the Wombats? Every other iconic Australia animal was already claimed as a mascot, and the Wombat was an apt description of the early playing stock.

The Wombats purpose has always been primarily social, the football being a reason to gather on a Saturday and have a few beers. Like all things that have humble beginnings, the Club has grown over the years in tandem with similar clubs all around Asia.

In 1999, a quasi-Asian league was formed, and the inaugural Asian Championships were held in Bangkok, which Singapore won, defeating arch-rival Hong Kong in the final.

Singapore has gone on to be the most successful team in a league that now has thirteen teams. Notably, Singapore went undefeated from November 1996 to August 2002, a reign Kevin Sheedy say is the longest undefeated run he has encountered during his 50 years in the game as a player and coach.

In 1997, the Wombats represented Singapore at the biannual Arafura games in Darwin, and were the only Singapore team to win a medal (a bronze). This led to a televised game between Singapore and Malaysia in 1997 which attracted a large crowd of curious spectators. It is now part of Wombat folklore that the coach appeared on Singapore’s Sunday morning sports program to discuss the game, wearing his shirt inside out and looking slightly disheveled after a massive night out celebrating the win over the Malaysian Tigers, as they were then known.

Finding a space large enough to play our game has always presented a major challenge to the club’s survival. In the early days, a fax would go out each Friday at 3pm, specifying Saturday’s training venue. Over the years, games have been played at Sentosa, Sembawang, the field where the Marina Bay Sands currently sits, and various random fields in the heartlands. Much later, Turf City provided the club its first real home.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Wombats became famous for hosting large, Australian-style sportsman’s nights which would pack out entire hotel ball rooms and feature legendary Australian cricketers (Dennis Lillie was the first guest), and a procession of Aussie rules identities, ranging from Kevin Sheedy to Warrick Capper. The late David Hookes was one of the most popular. In 2002, the club raised $75,000 for the Bali bombing appeal at an event held at the Regent Hotel, where it is believed that’s the world’s highest price for a VB stubby ($7000) was paid in the charity auction. The grand final functions in the 1990s developed a reputation as the expat party of the year and the only place you could watch the AFL final, semi-live. The games were recorded via satellite at the Australian Naval Base and couriered to the function to be played back, with a ‘slight’ delay.

The demographic of the Wombats has changed somewhat over the years. In the early 1990s, the club was populated with young people looking to find opportunity overseas against the backdrop of Australia’s last recession and general economic gloom, with young engineers making up the majority. Now the club incorporates a broad cross-section of the expat community, with many long-term expats forming the foundation of a club that hopefully will be around for many years to come. To find out more email aussierules@anza.org.sg

This article was originally published in March 2013.