As the sole member of the Great Britain Swans squad based in Australia, Raffi Jones says that she’ll be feeling a lot of responsibility to represent the game as she makes the long journey to London.
“I do feel somewhat of a responsibility, given I’m the only person making the journey from Australia.
“Having played for the same team throughout my footballing life, I think one of the biggest challenges but most valuable learning experiences will be playing with a new group of people who all bring their own set of skills and experience to the team. I am really looking forward to that aspect of the competition!”
Having grown up in England playing soccer from an early age, Jones moved to Australia in 2009 and after graduating from Deakin University, was keen to get back involved in a team sport.
“Australian football caught my eye,” said Jones. “When I moved to Australia, I didn’t have much of an understanding of the sport and never saw myself ever being interested in it, let alone playing it!
“But I started taking more of an interest in the AFL and picked a team (Melbourne Demons) which made watching the games much more meaningful and interesting.”
However, as anyone will tell you, it takes a huge leap from watching the sport on television to actually picking up a Sherrin for the first time. But with a friend starting a coaching role at a local club, Jones headed down for her first training session with nothing to lose.
“I started at Bulleen Templestowe the year they started their first women’s team and have loved the journey. From the first few training sessions in 2016 with only a couple of players to our biggest squad yet. The club is like a second family to me now, despite the diversity amongst the people, we all share a love for the game which brings us together. I find myself lost when the season ends and seeking out time with my footy mates anyway!”
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Jones made an instant impression with the side, named fourth best and fairest in the inaugural women’s season and it wasn’t long until the Great Britain Swans setup came knocking.
“The president at the club, Russell Wallis, passed on an email that he had received looking for women playing footy who would be eligible to play for Swans. I was intrigued and didn’t want to let such an exciting and unique opportunity pass me by. I met with Alexandra Saulter, who was living in Melbourne at the time. She told me a little more about the team and the competition and I spoke of my (relatively young) football career.
“From that point [Head Coach] Ian Mitchell and I have been in touch and I expressed my eagerness to be involved. I was thrilled when I was told I had been selected. I am really looking forward to taking my skills and knowledge over, whilst embracing all the comp has to offer.”
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Now preparing for the European Championships, Jones says she has the full support of her teammates.
“When the squad was announced, my teammates and everyone around the club were all thrilled for me. I’m sure many of them would have loved to come along to cheer me on. Perhaps I’ll suggest we invest in a Bullants jet and fly them all over!
“It actually took many of my teammates a little while before they realised I was English actually! Having been here for 10 years now, I have pretty much lost my accent, so it took a bit of explaining. I don’t think they see me as any different to them – maybe they’re secretly impressed I’m not thrown off by the lack of roundness of the ball?!”
With the European Championships next month, and the International Cup less than a year away, Jones says she is relishing the opportunity to grow her young footballing career while recognising that she has lots of room for improvement.
“I have a lot to learn in the game. At the moment I am working on nailing the little things and learning what I can about my game from the season just gone. Being able to play at the at that next level would be phenomenal.
“For now, I am focussed on my goal of performing at my highest standard throughout the European Championships and will see what is beyond that when I get there.”