The first time Clayton Holmes played Australian rules football he was hooked.
Holmes was living in Alberta in 2001 at the time when an Australian friend asked him to join the team. He admits from afar it looks like the team is just playing rugby, but Holmes likened it more to full contact soccer.
“I had no idea what I was doing, I was probably going the wrong way at first,” laughed Holmes, who plays on the back line or the wing.
“It was hard trying to understand how this oval ball rolls on the ground. A soccer ball will roll perfectly. This ball rolls all over the place, there’s no one direction it wants to go. You have to chase it and find it. It was pretty interesting.”
Australian rules football, which originated in the 1850s, is played over the length of two soccer or football fields. It’s an 18-aside sport where players, in positions ranging from forward to mid-field and backs, kick a ball, similar to a rugby ball that’s flat on the ends and smaller in size, up and down the field to score on the opposing team through multiple goal posts.
He continued to come back for more, playing every week. Unlike some sports, Australian rules football has many opportunities for local players to move up the ranks quickly.
Holmes played in Alberta for two years before he was selected to the national team to represent Canada in Melbourne, Australia in the international cup. Shortly after, he moved to Ontario because it had the largest league outside of Australia, where he played for roughly four years.
Eventually, Holmes settled in Victoria a year-and-a-half ago and is continuing his passion for the sport on the Island.
“The thing I like about Australian rules football is that it incorporates a lot of types of movements from different sports — volleyball, basketball, American football, rugby, and full contact like hockey,” said the 35-year-old Victoria resident. “It allows people who play other sports to integrate into that playing style.”
Holmes is part of the Victoria Sharks Australian Football Club, the only Australian rules football team on Vancouver Island, which started in the fall. The developmental club is the equivalent of the American Hockey League to the NHL. It helps recruit and train local players, some of whom move onto play for Team B.C. or Team Canada.
The team’s Facebook page has roughly 61 members, with practices once or twice a week in Victoria at Vic High, in Langford at Ruth King Elementary and in Sooke. The season runs from April to August.
According to club founder Shawn Brisch, Victoria has the right people and environment for the sport to flourish.
“It’s rapidly growing but is still in the early stages. Anyone who has any kind of interest in a sport, if they jump on this and focus on the skills, it’s really easy to get some cool opportunities,” Brisch said, adding they usually play nine aside instead of 18 because they can’t find the right size field to play.
Victorians interested in the sport will be learning from some of the best on the West Coast.
Most recently, Brisch, Holmes and fellow player Paul Barrett represented Team B.C., and helped lift the team to win the first Australian rules football national tournament in Burnaby.
For more information about the Victoria Sharks Australian Football Club visit the Facebook page, Victoria Sharks – Australian Rules Football Club.