Samuel Walon is yet another product of the Great Britain player factory that is the University of Birmingham. The University has ten graduates named across both the men’s and women’s squads for this year’s European Championships, with Walon one of five Bulldogs featured.
After picking up the sport in his first year of university after a recommendation from his Aussie housemate Joe, Walon said he fell in love with the combination of physicality, endurance and technique in the sport of Australian football.
That was the start of his five-year university career studying medicine, where he played, captained and ultimately coached the University of Birmingham side.
“I have played all over the field,” said Walon. “Backs, mids and occasionally the forward line working. In 18s, I primarily play as a winger. I love the opportunity to hunt the ball over longer distances, with that unique mix of defensive and offensive play.”
This year saw the first season of the National University League, with Walon helping his Birmingham side make it to the Grand Final, ultimately losing to the University of Oxford.
“Playing in the first season was great. It was brilliant to have a structured league we could work towards, alongside tournaments and friendlies against local sides. The NUL not only allows an easier route for university sides to set up but is a clear sign of the growth of Australian football in the UK.
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“You couldn’t get a more friendly, welcoming club than Birmingham. The difference from other sports I’ve played is in the positive energy around training and especially during game time.
“With this atmosphere, we take on (mostly) new players to the sport and grow them fast so they are able to compete against and beat native players to the sport within their few years at university!”
His NUL exploits didn’t get unnoticed, earning a call-up to the nine-a-side England side that headed to Sweden for the Euro Cup. Walon says it was a dream come true.
“It was simply phenomenal to play for England in Sweden at the Euro Cup. This has been my dream for years, the England callup and even first international tournament – this was a huge personal achievement.
“Over in Sweden, I slotted into the side well. I found myself learning lots from the more experienced players; being among good friends and winning a tournament of that calibre was an indescribable feeling. This is definitely something I cannot wait to replicate at the European Championships!”
After a solid season with England and a summer playing with the North London Lions, whispers of a GB call-up were being heavily hinted at during a GB training session. Walon was initially named as one of four Birmingham University players in the Great Britain 2019 training squad last November and was named again in the squad ahead of the European Championships.
Walon will be joined by former Birmingham Lions Ross Denton, Andy Walkden, George Dibble, Michael Sharp and Jack Coughlan. He says they’re all ecstatic ahead of the tournament
“It’s mental having so many boys in the setup which I have known since the start of my university career. It shows the success of the Birmingham university program!
“Through captaining the ship, training the boys and girls and being the longest playing member of the club, I can’t help but get attached. It’s safe to say I love that club and always will.”