Today marks the day that so many of us have had marked on our calendars, highlighted with a red, Sherrin shaped circle as the day. Today is the day when women can finally take the field, finally be seen by the world the same way long-serving fans of women’s sport see them. To finally be included into something that for so long kept some of us on the periphery. AFLW is here.
(Melbourne captain, Daisy Pearce, preparing to lead her team out. PHOTO: Getty Images)
However today marks something so much more important than us getting to see some spectacular women play AFL football. Women have been playing footy for decades. In fact, according to sports historian Rob Hess in his, and Brunette Lenkic’s, excellently comprehensive history of female football ‘Play On’, the first record of the formation of a female football team goes all the way back to 1880 in Bendigo where, unfortunately the team did not go ahead as ‘the idea was… considered a little too advanced’
Throughout history women fought for their place on the footy field. There are records of strong women’s teams during the 1930’s, successful female round robin football competitions with representation of female counterparts to the VFL teams of the 1940’s and the inception of rural female teams across the state building towards the formation of the women’s VFL league in 1981, more than 100 years after those women in Bendigo tried to play the game.
These teams and competitions were the result of glorious and gutsy women who were relentless in giving themselves and their female friends a chance to play the game they loved. Some of these you will know, women like Susan Alberti, Jan Cooper, Debbie Lee, Peta Searle, Michelle Cowan and many others who were pushing this agenda when is wasn’t so supported by the mainstream.
There are of course countless others that we will never know about. Women who would have faced criticisms and road blocks in their communities during these one-hundred and thirty years. Women who just wanted to put their hand up to give it a go. Women who had to experience the constant and repetitive resistance to women’s footy as some still found the idea of a national women’s competition ‘too advanced’.
The same excuses echoing through generations. There isn’t enough money for our men’s teams let alone a women’s team, people won’t be interested in watching women, the women will get hurt. It isn’t proper.
Women have heard it all. Until now.
What we haven’t experienced before is the belief and buy in from the top down and the AFL has shown just that over the past year in developing this competition ahead of their original planning, and that is what makes today is so special. It may be over a hundred years overdue but it doesn’t matter, we finally have what we have wanted for so long, the world to not only say ‘yes’ but ‘why didn’t we do this sooner?’
Women playing footy – that’s great. But to me, that’s old news. I already know that women’s footy is exciting and I already follow a women’s team and have my favourite female players. What is the best part about today is having the resounding support and belief from a premier sporting organisation and its clubs, confirming to the world what we already knew - that this is worth it.
That women’s footy is worth being on primetime TV, worth the additional coverage in the media, worth the sponsorship deals and the additional resources.
While the messages it will give to younger generations of girls who can look up and see strong female athletes as role models is fantastic, for the women who are caught in the middle of life, who may have missed out on opportunities along the way or were made to feel that they didn’t belong, today is as much for them as it is for the future of female footy.
Today may not be Day. 1 for female footy. But it is Day. 1 for a whole new ball game.
Today is for everyone. Those who couldn’t, those who are, those that will and for those you just want to watch footy!