AFL Asia Advisory Board member Rob “Spearsy” Spurr shares his recollections from the inaugural Asian Championships of 2000

Q. What happens if you combine an eccentric Kiwi, a Javanese silversmith, a Brunei ruckman and a lost goat?

A. A highlights package from the inaugural AFL Asian Championships of 2000.

1. Prelude

By 1999, a number of foundation AFL Asia clubs were beginning to prosper and spread their wings regionally most notably HK, Singapore, Jakarta and Thailand. Malaysia and Bali were also growing quickly and playing regular local fixtures.

With the code thriving and more countries evolving, the Jakarta Bintangs AFC committee led by their progressive President Tim Hakfoort were keen to execute their bold vision for an annual Asian Championships tournament.

Unfortunately for the organising committee, Indonesia at that time was struggling to digest a complex transition to democracy following the ousting of the military Suharto regime compounded by the continued fallout from the ‘98 Asian economic crisis. Large scale protests and rallies were crippling the capital and adding to matters, Australian forces had entered East Timor.

With Australian Government warnings on travel to Indonesia ratcheted up, plans for a ’99 launch were ruefully mothballed with the Thailand Tigers stepping up to host a wonderful 4 Nations Cup as a bridging tournament. Singapore, Jakarta and HK joined the hosts for that one.

By 2000, with the political situation calming ever so slightly, the Asian Championships were finally launched albeit with a smaller field than originally planned.

2. The driving force

The Asian Championships concept was thrown around regionally over the years with Julian “Rooster” Clarke, Tim Hakfoort and passionate Kiwi AFL convert Robert “Baldy” Baldwin driving the vision on the local front. It’s certainly no coincidence that Julian was living in Jakarta at the time the concept crystalised through to an execution phase.

The eccentric Kiwi

Robert ‘Baldy’ Baldwin is a sports mad Kiwi whose first love of cricket saw him cross paths with Jakarta’s footy crowd on the shared spaces of Cibubur. A late convert to Aussie Rules, he pulled on the boots in ’98 and then set about converting a large part of his property in the stunning plantation hills of Bogor into a cricket/footy park for his grateful (but perplexed) local Pancawati community.

Over the years, Pancawati was the venue for some memorable pre-tournament training weekends for the Bintangs, combined with local development clinics that produced the first generation of indigenous Indonesian players. The ‘Pancawati boys’ would eventually be bused down weekly from the volcanic hills to Cibubur to train and play with the expatriate Bintangs.

Baldy with the original Pancawati boys

Baldy’s uniquely local ”Graham Yallop Oval” in the hills above Bogor has continued to thrive and has been visited by a vast array of international cricketers over the years.

For the 2000 launch, President Hakfoort rewarded Baldy’s enthusiasm by appointing him Committee Chair for the inaugural Championships. Baldy led an impressive organising committee that included Kenny Allan, Shane ‘Swooper’ Volk, Cam Fidler, Mick Harman and Greg Parham amongst others.

3. The format

Tim’s direction to the organising committee was to run a professional foundation tournament such that a sustainable blueprint could be taken around the region going forward. Accordingly, many of the concepts implemented by the foundation committee remain recognisable twenty years later;

  • One day format
  • An umpiring pool (13 in the first tournament) and dedicated tournament referee
  • Doctors and Medical support on site
  • Marquees and team liaison for each country
  • A formal awards function
  • All Asian team
  • Asian Championship Cup
  • Individual best player trophies

The Javanese silversmith

Enigmatic Jakarta committee member Micky Harman was given the important task of ‘commissioning” the Cup trophies. With a significant (and ultimately rubbery) budget at his disposal, Mick engaged a renowned silver artisan from the Javanese royal city of Yogjakarta with a brief to broadly replicate the AFL premiership cup.

The artisan’s first effort was delivered on time but bore no resemblance to anything but a silver fruit dish with handles. Mick then sent his trusted assistant Suhud on the 8-hour train journey to supervise and retrieve a remake. With stress levels rising by the day, the inaugural Asian Cup arrived on the train from Yogja on the morning of the tournament (with hours to spare according to Mick).

President Tim Hakfoort (second from left) with the newly arrived Cup

The best player trophies were based on a simple action profile that Mick had sketched. Upon creation, the limbs, head, attire and ball became largely indistinguishable, with the trophies resembling a grotesquely malformed Silver Logie. Made from solid pewter they were too heavy to deliver by post, causing much speculation as to how Suhud had managed to get them off the train, or indeed how the train had actually made it back to Jakarta on time.

Mick’s trophy procurement effort for the inaugural Champs remains Jakarta folklore.

4. The tournament

With ongoing political tensions ruling a number of clubs out, the foundation Championships saw Indonesia joined by Brunei, HK and the highly fancied Singapore in a simple format whereby each team played each other once to gain points for a final’s berth.

The host nation with representation from Jakarta and Bali surprised their more established rivals by working their way seamlessly through its three qualifiers undefeated. Whilst Tony Boatman’s Singapore were keen to repeat their ’99 4 Nations Cup win, their tournament was cut short by long-time rivals HK in a bruising decisive qualifier, losing by just 3 points. Newcomers Brunei, whilst highly competitive all day finished fourth on the table and went home with an injury to their key big man Geoff Bilney.

The Brunei ruckman

Whilst the organising committee had arranged sophisticated medical support for the tournament duration, the major injury for the day was an unfortunate leg fracture to Brunei’s popular ruckman Geoff ‘Goffy’ Bilney.

As Indonesia’s ambulance fleet was not structured for AFL sized ruckmen, Goffy was last seen driving slowly from Cibubur with red light flashing, back door open and legs protruding from the rear of the vehicle.

His medivac home was decidedly more comfortable and Goffy’s impressive on-field performances saw him rewarded with inaugural All-Asian selection.

With Indonesia benefiting from a more comfortable run into the final, they surprised HK early with a tenacious scoring onslaught in the opening minutes. Under pugnacious new Coach Sam Modica, they were able to steady in the second half, win the final comfortably by 28 points and claim the title in its foundation year.

The goat

By mutual agreement, after a gruelling tournament in the Javanese humidity, the playoff for 3rd and 4th was decided by boat race. With the final between HK and Indonesia then in full flight, a goat had made its way onto the field in front of a now rowdy Singaporean marquee in the forward pocket of the decider. With the goat feeding quietly and avoiding detection by match officials, a memorable boundary throw-in saw Indonesian forward Chad Paull rove and then dodge the unwitting animal before it was safely returned to greener pastures.

4. The legacy

The following year saw the tournament move to Bangkok where a pump primed Singapore took down the reigning champions from Indo before hosting the tournament themselves on Sentosa in 2002 where the result was reversed. HK took the title at home in 2003 with the newly named Malaysian Warriors hosting a rain drenched event in 2004. Each tournament saw incremental organisational improvement and new participant teams.

From humble beginnings in the outer confines of a strife torn capital, the annual event now hosts more than 600 male and female footballers from 20 Nations.

The victorious 2000 Indonesian team posing with sponsors at Cibubur.

Tournament details (courtesy of Ken Allan).

Asian Champions Indonesia
Runners Up Hong Kong
Score in the final 6.5.41 to 1.7.13
All Asian Team Simon Walsh (Singapore)

Hamish Stuart (HK)

Tony Boatman (Singapore)

Nathan McCullough (Indonesia)

Bruce Webber (Brunei)

Rob Spurr (Indonesia)

Stuart Nation (HK)

Justin Kennedy (Brunei)

Billy Barker (Singapore)

Paul Sroka (HK)

Hamish Sutherland (Indonesia)

Geoff Bilney (Brunei)

Nick Hyland (HK)

Sam Modica (Indonesia)

Tristan Fusinato (Singapore)

Spider Horne (Brunei)

Steve Webb (HK)

Matt Stephens (Indonesia)

Kevin Morgan (Singapore)

Renato Rainone (Brunei)

Best Players Indonesia: Hamish Sutherland

Singapore: Billy Barker

Hong Kong: Hamish Stuart

Brunei: Justin Kennedy

Player of the tournament Rob Spurr Indonesia
Leading goalkicker Nathan McCullough Indonesia
Tournament Director Robert Baldwin
Tournament Referee Ken Allan
Umpires Coordinator Chris Huon
Tournament Doctor Dr Richard Tomlins
Sponsors Arafura Games, Fosters, adidas, Deloitte, CGU, Kontrol Ragam Indonesia, Coca-Cola, Hotel Atlet Century Park