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Footy's first Elephant herd stomping in Laos

  • Friday, August 10 2007 @ 04:11 pm ACST
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About five months ago Mick Hassett and Marty Staples got together for a kick of the footy in Vientiane, capital of Laos. Since then, the "Lao Elephants" have grown to around 10-15 regular participants at weekly training sessions, with players from Laos, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Norway and the UK.

Armed with plans for a pink jumper featuring a grey elephant logo (an idea which some say may rival Sweden's Landskrona Bulldozers strip for original design), the Elephants are planning their debut international match against neighbours the Vietnam Swans later this year. The Swans played host to a few of the Elephants earlier this year, with seven Laos players joining the Vietnam team for last month's Asian Championships.

Sharples tells us, "the Lao Elephants are about five months old and to the best of my knowledge they are the first Aussie Rules club to have existed in the Lao People's Democratic Republic. The idea was first floated between myself and Mick Hassett in March this year and has gradually grown from that into a couple of kick-to-kick-see-who-can-take-the-biggest-grab sessions (followed by Beer Lao and talk of greatness), into organized training sessions twice a week (followed by Beer Lao and talk of awesomeness).

"We are based in Vientiane but welcome all comers from the provinces. We train on Sundays at 5pm at the National Stadium (yes… it really is THE national stadium) and on Wednesdays at 8pm at the spiritual home of Laotian footy - "the Sandpit". The Sandpit is an immaculately prepared sporting cauldron using some of the best mud management techniques around. Impossible in the wet and unusable in the dry it is truly the perfect surface for elephants.

"For the first couple of months we had between 2 and 8 at training as quite a few of us warmed up to represent our Indochinese cousins Vietnam at the Asian Champs in Bangkok in July. Seven of us from Lao had a run around with the Swans and it was an awesome day. Big thanks to the Swans for accommodating the Elephants - as (Vietnam Swans president) Phil asks "how can an elephant fit inside a swan?" Nowadays we are getting between 10 and 15 at training and recently have had to take the unprecedented step of using two footys at training.

"We hope to take on a Vietnamese side either in Hanoi or Saigon at year's end or early next year. Other goals include designing the perfect jumper that truly reflects the club's heritage and represents the pride of the nation. Presently the idea is to have a pink background with a grey elephant on the front. This design is unlikely to clash with the jumpers of other clubs.

"The major concern in terms of sustainability of the club is the transient nature of expatriate life. Therefore we would like to get more and more Lao players down – our Lao teammates so far have adapted remarkably well to the game given that they have never played or seen it in their life – there is a lot of natural talent. For anyone living in, or passing through Vientiane please feel free to come to a training session, all are welcome."

Very possibly the first Australian Rules club ever to carry the "Elephants" nickname, the Lao side will definitely add some colour to the Asian footy scene in coming years.

For more information about the Lao Elephants, contact Marty Sharples at marty.sharples@undp.org.