Footy reaches the Windy City – Australian Rules in Chicago

chiswansIn this installment of the series on international footy i talk to Alistair MacGlashan, the co-coach of the Chicago Swans. This is part 3 of a sub series on the USAFL. We talked to the President of the USAFL here and the co-coach of the Austin Crows here.

Australian Rules took form in Chicago as early as 1998, with a club called The Mob formed by keen players from Milwaukee and Chicago. For some time two Chicago sides existed – the Sydney affiliated Swans and the Chicago Sharks before combining in 2004 to form the Chicago Australian Football Association with a single team representing chicago.

Alistair MacGlashan is currently the co-coach of the Swans, although like many in the overseas footy industry he’s held a wide variety of positions in his 14 years. Chicago is a fair distance from the Geelong District Football League he played in his early years.

Alistair says the difference between being involved at community level in Australia and in Chicago is that you are trying to grow a football culture that naturally exists in Australian local footy. He says that Chicago is probably one of the less Australian influenced areas in the USAFL.

Alistair says that the hard part is getting the Americans to take part in something that they know little about, but once you get them into it and involved, they love the game.

The Chicago area includes three metro footy sides and the representative side for intercity and USAFL games. Metro footy in Chicago is played on a small oval and is played as a 16 a side contact game – not full intensity but what Alistair describes as comparable to a scratch match.

The city’s representative side plays 18 on the field and forms part of the Mid American Australian Football League. (The MAAFL)

The club website notes that Queensland clubs Southport and Labrador have supported the Metro league and Labrador even sent a player over to help with the formation of the Metro system.  The Chicago Association and the Queensland clubs have also done some player exchanges. In addition Chicago enjoys a good affiliation with the Sydney Swans who donate jumpers and footballs and have a scholarship program.

Alistair says that there are around 40 players in the Chicago Association with players from the bye side filling in numbers for weekend matches if required.

The Oval the Association uses is marked out on the inside of 4 baseball diamonds on the Chicago waterfront.

Representative games are played approximately once a month, with the metro season generally taking place prior to June. The season as a whole generally mirrors the Australian season, kicking off at the end of April. Alistair says that the 2013 season was the first time that the season was really geared towards the October US Nationals.

At the US National Championships, Chicago defeated Boston for the first time, before being “fairly well touched up” by Los Angeles according to Alistair. Before being defeated by Fort Lauderdale in a game that he says was winnable in slippery conditions.

Alistair says that the number of new people coming into the game in Chicago has slowed in recent years, and the association is actively looking for ways to improve it. Alistair says getting into schools could be a key to this. Another could be mirroring what Rugby Union has done in the college system, where he says they receive a tremendous advantage when you can get scholarships to play Union at College and University, which is a big draw in a system where tertiary education costs a small fortune.

Alistair says Australian Rules also finds itself behind the 8 ball because unlike local rugby and netball sides, Australian footy relies almost exclusively on Australians and Americans where the other sports have access to a wide range of expats from across the globe.

If you’d like to be involved in footy in the Chicago area please visit the website at

You can listen to this interview with Alistair MacGlashan here or on youtube. Bigfooty Discussion thread is here. Other information in this article came from the Chicago Footy history page.