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Aussie wool, the fibre for Aussie Rules footy

Through its Fibre of Football campaign, AWI is once again highlighting the rich heritage connecting the Australian wool industry and Australian Football – the latest ambassador of the campaign is Carlton captain Patrick Cripps. The campaign also involves placing wool into AFL supporter gear.

Launched by AWI a decade ago, the campaign continues to highlight the strong and enduring connections between Australian Football and the wool industry.

During the past ten years, some of the best AFL players who have connections to the Australian wool industry have joined the campaign to help promote the fibre.

These include Tom Hawkins (Geelong Cats) who was raised on a property at Finley in NSW, Nat Fyfe (Fremantle Dockers) who is from Lake Grace in WA, Bernie Vince (Melbourne Demons, now retired) who grew up at Stansbury in South Australia, Shannon Hern (West Coast Eagles, now retired) who was raised in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, and Luke Breust (Hawthorn) who hails from Temora in NSW.

This year, Carlton captain and 2022 Brownlow Medal winner Patrick Cripps, who was raised on a family property at Northampton in WA, joined the campaign.

The idea for the sport of Australian football was sparked on a sheep station in the 1850s when the son of a pastoralist was thinking of how cricketers could stay fit over the winter. From Tom Wills’ idea grew a game now enjoyed by millions across Australia and the connection between the fibre and the football has stayed close.

AWI launched its Fibre of Football campaign in 2014 to celebrate this deep connection between the wool-growing community and football – and the campaign continues in 2024 with the promotion of 100% Australian wool AFL merchandise manufactured locally in Australia.

“The campaign highlights two Australian icons – wool and footy – that have supported each other throughout the evolution of our native game and our natural fibre. Both are central to the livelihoods and identities of many thousands of Australians,” said AWI CEO John Roberts.

“Australian Football is still played where wool is grown. The local football team is still the centre of many wool-growing communities with signs from agents, contractors, sheep studs, transport companies and merchandise outlets around the ground.”

“It has been a source of great pride to continue to support the inclusion of Australian wool into Australian Football where it belongs.”
John Roberts, AWI CEO

100% Australian wool footy merchandise

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Examples of the 100% Australian wool vintage jumper collection, for men, women and children.

AWI has worked with The Vintage Football Jumper Company to create 100% Australian Merino wool heritage jumpers for the AFL clubs, plus a special State Of Origin ‘The Big V’ jumper.

Available through the official store of the AFL and club stores nationally, the 19 micron supporter jumpers will keep you warm at the footy or on the farm.

As well as men’s and women’s long sleeve vintage jumpers, and men’s sleeveless vintage jumpers, also available are kids vintage jumpers which are perfect for the smallest of fans and ensure they look the part with the rest of the family.

This official AFL merchandise is made from 100% Merino wool grown in Australia and knitted in Australia. The Vintage Football Jumper Company uses the same knitting machines and production processes that were used to make footy jumpers more than 70 years ago, which provides an assurance of authenticity and quality.

Patrick Cripps joins the campaign

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Hugh Lyon of The Vintage Football Jumper Company with Carlton captain Patrick Cripps holding a special retro Northampton Rams wool jumper.

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Patrick Cripps helping to make a retro Carlton wool jumper and the end result.

Earlier this year, Carlton captain Patrick Cripps joined the Fibre of Football campaign as an ambassador. Patrick grew up on his family’s sheep and wheat farm at Northampton, 50 km north of Geraldton, in the Mid West region of WA.

“Life as an AFL player is very different to life back on the family farm at Northampton, but growing up there taught me a lot about hard work and resilience. It gives you a very good perspective on life,” Patrick said.

“I always reflect now on the lessons I learned on the farm, whether that was mustering the sheep or throwing the fleece over the wool table – and I reckon shearers are fitter than me, my respect for them is through the roof!”

Patrick played junior football with the Northampton Football Club, known as the Northampton Rams, which competes in the Great Northern Football League.

“The Northampton Rams give the locals a lot of pride. From a town of about 800 people, over the years we've had 10 AFL players come from the town and the only medal as a town we haven't won is the Norm Smith Medal,” Patrick said.

“I have really clear memories of the juniors on a Friday arvo training and then watching the older boys train. The club was sort of the heartbeat of the town. The older I get, the more I appreciate how special that environment was growing up.”

Earlier this year as part of the Fibre of Football campaign, Patrick visited The Vintage Football Jumper Company at Footscray in Melbourne to witness the high quality of craftsmanship that the company uses when manufacturing the vintage wool jumpers. Patrick even had the chance to help out with making the jumpers. The visit was filmed by AWI and is available to view at www.fibreoffootball.com.au.

“I know what it's like to experience wool in the shearing shed, so to visit The Vintage Football Jumper Company and actually see the fibre getting made into a footy jumper is pretty cool.”
- Patrick Cripps

“It's been great to come into the factory and see how wool is transformed into such a good end product – and to see the connection between where I grew up on the farm and what I now do on the oval at Carlton’s Ikon Park,” Patrick said.

“The cool thing about these knitting machines is that some of them are 70 years old, so the vintage and the heritage has lasted and stood the test of time.

“Footy jumpers back in the day were made from wool so to have that connection, to show that wool is a fibre of footy and that still lives on is pretty special.”

Tom Hawkins’ enduring support for the campaign

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Tom Hawkins with his wife Emma at Tom’s 350th game for Geelong in March, with their three children who are all wearing vintage wool jumpers. PHOTO: Emma Hawkins’ Instagram

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Tom and his son Henry wearing a wool top during the Geelong Cats’ Team Photo Day in February. This photo featured on the front page of the Geelong Advertiser. PHOTO: Brad Fleet

Geelong Cats’ legend Tom Hawkins was born an AFL player. Son of Geelong’s ‘Jumping Jack’ Hawkins there was never any doubt about Tom’s destiny. He also has a long association with Australian wool, having grown up on a wool, cropping and rice property at Finley in the Riverina of NSW.

Tom joined the Fibre of Football campaign at its inception in 2014 because he wished to promote the importance of farming and wool-growing, along with supporting country football given it is at the heart of many communities.

“I am very proud to have grown up on a farm that produces wool,” Tom said. “My fondest memories from my childhood are working with my father on the farm and playing junior football for my local Finley Football Club. So I feel very privileged to be involved in the Fibre of Football campaign that supports two of the industries that I am extremely passionate about.”

Tom’s wife, Emma, who was brought up in Deniliquin and is the granddaughter of legendary Boonoke studmaster Basil Clapham, is also a keen supporter of wool and the Fibre of Football campaign.

For Tom’s celebratory 350th game for the Geelong Cats in March, Emma was keen to dress their three children Arabella, Primrose and Henry in the club’s vintage wool jumpers.

“We have loved dressing out kids in the 100% wool Geelong jumpers. Every time the kids are wearing them, we always get asked about them,” she said.

More information:

www.fibreoffootball.com.au

www.theaflstore.com.au/pages/vintage-football-jumpers

 

This article appeared in the June 2024 edition of AWI’s Beyond the Bale magazine. Reproduction of the article is encouraged.