When I originally wrote this article, there was one sleep to go until AFLW Season 2 commences. (I’ve never quite got over my childhood habit of countdowns in sleeps.)
Amongst all the hype surrounding AFLW season 2, such as the debate about will people turn up in droves again or should the AFL charge entry for games and the disparity between what male and female players are paid, I reflected on AFLW season 1 and what a profoundly important, joyous and inclusive period it was in my life.
I had three moments during AFLW season 1 that defined what it means for women to have their own nationally recognised, endorsed and elite footy competition.
Its opening night of AFLW. Where am I? Not at Ikon Park with the 25,000 people who were lucky enough to get into the ground before the lockout. Not outside grumbling and groaning because I missed out then hailing Gill McLachlan as a hero for getting out amongst people to apologise for the unexpected demand. No, I was at a city restaurant attending a pre-booked business dinner.
I was very annoyed with myself. How could I have double booked myself? There I was excusing myself on the pretence of going to the loo, to nick into the front bar and watch the game on the TV along with the many enthusiastic women and enthusiastic men watching. I did this enough times for my dinner companions to rightly wonder if I had some sort of gastrointestinal disorder! I cared not! Because I belonged in that front bar with all those other footy fans.
It was a Saturday afternoon. There was an AFLW game on at Ikon Park. As I live in the Melbourne CBD, the journey to The Blues HQ is a very easy 10 minute walk and 15 minute Number 19 tram ride. I asked my partner if she wanted to go to the footy. Lukewarm response. So I headed off to the game. On. My. Own.
To provide context, I have been following footy since I was a kid growing up in mid-west Western Australia. I lived 200 metres from the local footy ground. But I have never attended a footy match on my own ever. Because you just don’t.
As I sat in my seat at Ikon Park, with my traditional beer and pie, chatting to a couple of the blokes near me, I had a moment of profound joy and, a little tear. This was MY game. I could be here safely, on my own. Because I belonged at that ground.
I’m on the #19 tram back from another AFLW game. Two young women jump out of their seat to let me sit down (the tram is packed with fellow female footy fans.) We get talking as they are both wearing footy jumpers. I ask them about the interest in footy. Both of them are here in Melbourne from regional Victoria for uni. They have been casual watchers and fans of AFL, but haven’t played since Auskick days.
The women tell me they were lucky enough to get into the opening match and saw Darcy Vescio playing, then high-fived her after the game, (Darcy is fabulous at engaging with fans on the boundary line after games) and completely identified with her. They said “she’s just like us” and decided on the spot to start playing. These two young women went down to their local footy club the next morning and signed up to play in the local women’s team. Because they knew they belonged.
“Sport has been typically considered a male pursuit for as long as men have been playing with their balls.”
Angela Pippos: Breaking The Mould
I have been a woman nipping at the edge of sport all my life. Unlike Angela, I came into sport as a career late in life, but have always been an enthusiastic player (sadly not very talented), fan, supporter, member, volunteer, coach, umpire, water woman, administrator and now Director.
But because of the AFLW, I now belong. Because of AFLW, women belong. Because of AFLW, patriarchal structures in sport are crumbling (not fast enough for me mind you!) And that’s what matters.
It matters to the Dads of the little girls who told me proudly who their daughters favourite female player is. It matters to the young women who don’t have to stop playing a game they love at the age of 13. It matters to women like me, who hankered to play more than back yard, front yard footy or kick to kick on the oval in between quarters.