Anzac Day is a timely celebration to commemorate those men and women who have fallen in the heat of battle and those who have served our great country with enormous pride and dignity. Within the heartland of Asia during this time of year it provides us with a unique opportunity to observe, reflect, honour and embrace the Anzac spirit in our own backyard.

Prior to the global pandemic, Anzac Day commemorative games and tournaments were a highlight of the AFL Asia calendar, as it provided our clubs and players with a time for connection and reflection and more importantly learning more about the historical significance that serving Australia brings first-hand on our doorstep.

From the veterans or family members of those that have served and were situated at the Hellfire Pass in Kanchanaburi in Thailand in World War II or based in Vung Tau during the Vietnam War, the history, the destruction, the reality and significance of war can be a little too close to home, but for the Thailand Tigers and the Vietnam Swans it’s an opportunity to pay homage and respect in a far deeper, respectful and meaningful manner.

The Thailand Tigers were the first club in Asia in the modern era to come up with the initiative and the forthrightness to organise an Australian football game whilst paying the upmost respect to those that have served Australia in real time. Their annual Kanchanaburi Anzac Day game is entering its 17th year this year and is an outstanding legacy that their club should be extremely proud of.

An Anzac Day game invitation afforded to the Vietnam Swans back in 2008 to play in Kanchanaburi, may have initially deterred them as they got humiliated on the scoreboard whilst also encountering fierce 40 degree weather that day on away soil, but off the field it sparked and inspired the Vietnam Swans into action to organise an Anzac Day fixture of their own.

In doing so, the first ever Anzac Day Friendship Game in Vietnam was held between Hanoi and Saigon and was played in Vung Tau in 2009 and despite being unbeknown to the Swannies, it struck a chord with the local Vung Tau Australian and Anzac veteran community and has ultimately created a lasting legacy ever since, with almost every AFL Asia team featuring in their annual Anzac Day Friendship Game fixture at some point since.

Furthermore and without the Vietnam Swans knowledge at the time, the Vietnam Football League (VFL) had in fact been created in 1965 by those those that had been based in southern Vietnam for the Vietnam War and was played right up until 1972, often having two seasons per year depending on the annual rainy and dry seasons and their direct level of commitment within the war.

It’s amazing how fate would have it that Vietnam War veteran and official VFL historian Stan Middleton AOM explained shortly after their first ever Vietnam Swans Friendship Game that the Swannies were remarkably playing on the same ground in Vung Tau as those who served in the mid-1960’s and early-1970’s on what was known as the Lord Mayor’s Oval at the time.

This weekend a number of clubs have planned Anzac Day matches and tournaments and whether they are in a geographical place of significance or not, we’re sure the Anzac Day spirit will be alive and well.

The Beijing Bombers have grown significantly during the pandemic and it’s fantastic to see that their family friendly Anzac Day Event is going ahead after the recent restrictions in China. The Xiaowuji Sports Ground in the nation’s capital will be buzzing this Saturday from 11:00am to 2:00pm, with a junior boys and girls curtain raiser to kick off proceedings. The Australian Defence Attaché will toss the coin before the main game, which sees the Chaoyang Fuerdai take on the Dongcheng Derros in a mixed men’s and women’s game.

The Cambodian Eagles and Apsaras have a terrific relationship with the Cairde Khmer GAA, which has seen plenty of players represent Cambodia in both codes and creates a deeper sense of belonging within their community. This Saturday, the Eagles (Men) and Apsaras (Women) will take on the Cairde Khmer GAA at the Chbar Ampov School from 1:30-4:30pm and play Australian football after playing Gaelic football together as part of the St. Patrick’s day celebrations back in March.

Over to Japan and AFL Japan in conjunction with host club the Osaka Dingoes are playing a 3-team tournament at the Izumi Sports Village from 5:00-9:00pm. Local Japanese University-based team, the Senshu Powers will head into the tournament as early favourites as they’ve been a powerhouse of Japanese football, winning two premierships and featuring in five of the past six AFL Japan A.LEAGUE Grand Finals. A merged Tokyo team featuring players from the Tokyo Goannas, R246 Lions and Tokyo Bay Suns will also play in the Anzac Day Cup Tournament, which sees each team play each other twice.

As previously mentioned, the Thailand Tigers are hosting their 17th annual Australian Rules Commemorative Football Match at the Visuttharangsi School in Kanchanaburi. The Anzac Day clash is an attractive prospect for AFL Asia clubs given it’s historical significance, however it will be played between the Thailand Tigers ‘Yellow and Blacks’ domestic teams this year due to travel restrictions. The Thaigers will have an Anzac Ceremony at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery at 10:00am on Saturday, with the domestic match expected to start at 11:00am. A separate Anzac Day Dawn Service will be held for the first time in two years at the Hellfire Pass, which is brilliant to see. For more details check out the Australian Embassy Thailand website.

The Vietnam Swans will converge from the nation’s capital in Hanoi and Saigon in the south to Vung Tau, the traditional home of the Vietnam Football League (VFL). Hanoi AFL (HAFL) clubs and Saigon (SAFL) clubs will team up with their sister clubs and play for premiership points that goes toward their overall VFL standings. Two Gaelic exhibition games will also feature in the Vung Tau schedule, which highlights the Swannies strong relationship with the Viet Celts Hanoi GAA and the Saigon Gaels GAA Club. The biggest battles of the day will be men’s and women’s matches between the Crown Relocations Black and Al Fresco’s Gold, who are playing full 4-quarters games. Off the field the community-minded Swannies will also invest time, money and resources into a number of their club’s initiatives whilst down in Vung Tau. Click here for more details.

Although the pause button has been put on our regional Anzac Day commemorative fixtures somewhat over the past couple of years, one thing that has never wavered is the Anzac Day spirit, as it’s alive and well and will never be diminished on our soil in Asia.