ON that most Australian of days, in Villiers-Bretonneux where 1200 Australian soldiers lost their lives retaking the town from German forces in World War I, Ballarat expat Matt Hook donned a green and gold jersey and played the most Australian of games.
The 43-year-old and his Australian Spirit teammates were selected for this year’s Anzac Cup match for their familial links to Australia’s military history rather than their footy prowess. That did not stop them from putting the French national team to the sword with a 39.14 (248) to 2.7 (19) scoreline on Anzac Day.
But that was hardly the main purpose of the exercise, which was to honour Australians who had served in France and to promote Australian Rules football overseas.
“You had to apply for a place based on your link to Anzac Day or your link to the Somme region,” Mr Hook said. “Some of the guys have a link that goes back to their ancestors who fought at the Somme. My own link was my grandfather, Fred Henderson, who was a member of the 2/23rd Battalion and served during the Second World War in the siege of Tobruk and later in New Guinea.”
The day started with an Anzac Day dawn service at the Australian National Memorial in Villiers-Bretonneux, attended by both sides.
“It was very moving singing the national anthem in such a special place,” Mr Hook said.
The match itself had to be jerry-rigged for local conditions. The absence of an oval meant the match was played on a rugby pitch with nine players a side on the ground.
The French team was made up of players from six French clubs: the Paris Cockerels, Cergy-Pontoise Coyotes, Alfa Lions, Strasbourg Kangourous, Bordeaux Bombers and Toulouse Hawks. Many had previously travelled in Australia and fell in love with the Australian game and were keen to get involved when they returned home.
Mr Hook was born in Ballarat, attending school at Mt Clear Primary and Ballarat Clarendon College. His parents live in Lake Wendouree.
His own footy ‘career’ has largely developed since leaving Australia, though.
“I married an English girl and that brought me over here. I’ve been here 15 years now,” he said.
“Aussie rules has kept my link with Australia and helped me deal with homesickness.”
Mr Hook is playing coach for the Southampton Titans in the AFL England South League, which is also played on rugby pitches with nine players a side. Last season the Titans won the premiership.
The Australians were never headed against the French but Mr Hook’s Anzac Cup match ended prematurely when he had a head clash with a teammate. He was taken from the ground, bleeding, and had to have 17 stitches at the Amiens Hospital.
The victory squares the ledger at three wins apiece.