It has been 30 years since two Australians eager to recapture the spirit of Aussie Rules Football in south west London, set up base on Clapham Common and founded the Wandsworth Demons.
And despite humble origins, in the three decades since Sean Angle and Craig Stephens set it up, the club has developed into one of the biggest outside of Australia.
The Dees have won nine premiership titles in the AFL London league, the last coming in 2018, and have contributed more players to the Great British Bulldogs than any other London side.
Club president Xavier Holland joined in 2014 and is incredibly proud of how much the club has grown since then, with the formation of a successful women’s side five years ago a particular highlight for the Australian.
He said: “We were one of the first clubs to introduce the women’s game and that’s something we’re pretty proud of. That helped to grow the club far beyond the numbers we were getting prior to 2015.
“In the six years I’ve been involved with the club there’s been the most exponential growth.”
Holland also highlighted the significant part the Dees have played in growing the game outside of Australia over the past three decades.
He added: “To see the game grow not only in London but in England and now in Europe is special.
“A lot has changed in the 30 years we’ve been involved and we’re lucky to have been a part of it.”
This year was meant to be a huge celebration of Wandsworth Demons’ storied history but, much like most plans this year, this was scuppered by COVID-19.
The one exception to this proved to be the launch of a celebratory new kit (or guernsey) in February.
“We had our 30th anniversary guernsey designed by ex-president Jimmy Perrett. It encapsulated all the guernseys over the years,” explained Holland, who has been president of the club since 2017.
He added: “We had our unveiling of the guernsey in February and then a month later we were in lockdown, so we only got to celebrate a little bit.”
After losing to local rivals West London Wildcats in last year’s Grand Final, plans to go one step further and capture a tenth title were dashed when AFL London announced the league would be cancelled due to the pandemic.
Holland said: “A few people were optimistic back in March when we had a league meeting, but that optimism quickly died away.”
A sport and club known for its social factor, Holland and other members were unsurprisingly frustrated by the lack of AFL action during the height of lockdown, and had to wait until July before training could resume.
A sport not traditionally known for its regard to social distancing, the club has been abiding by the Government’s ‘Rule of Six’ in terms of training, splitting into small groups to practice ensuring regular sanitising of equipment.
Holland said that practice is going well despite the obstacles in place.
“Training has really been very positive. We’ve recruited a lot of people,” noted the Australian, who added that many have joined the club in recent months looking to keep themselves occupied and socialise, as London and the rest of the UK slowly eased its way out of full lockdown.
He added: “We’ve been been training twice a week, just to keep energy and momentum going at the club, and to have something to focus on. It’s all about preparation for 2021.”
The 2021 AFL London league is currently still set to begin at its usual starting time of late April, though a rising number of coronavirus cases and the recent announcement that London will be moved into Tier 2 of the Government’s restriction system means that could be in doubt.
The re-positioning of London into Tier 2 has not yet had any impact on how the Dees are allowed to train, but Holland expressed doubts as to whether the Wandsworth Demons will be back in action next spring.
He said: “Being a very amateur league, I think we’ll be on the very bottom of the pecking order in terms of a return to play happening.
“With a sense of trepidation I will say next season will go ahead next year but you just don’t know.”
For more from the Demons, visit their website.
Featured image credit: Wandsworth Demons