February 3rd, 2017.
A date that will be forever remembered and recalled by every woman, man and child who calls themselves an avid AFL fan.
For those unaware, we witnessed history on Friday as Collingwood and Carlton’s women’s teams played in the first ever AFL Women’s League match. Thousands packed Ikon Park, as another thousand were turned away because the stadium was at full capacity. Just writing that sentence gives me goosebumps. The magnitude of the event cannot be explained in words, especially for us girls who have long loved playing a good game of footy. Whilst watching the game last night, I had a scroll through Twitter and Instagram and I was glad I wasn’t the only one who got emotional watching the game. At first, I was like “Jesus Monique, it’s a footy match” but then it struck a chord within me. It reminded me of how much footy meant to me, especially growing up. In a sense as I got older, I forgot about how much I loved it. Perhaps I was just following the wrong team or I was preoccupied with other things. However, that didn’t stop me from playing throughout high school on the equal opportunity sports days where girls could play footy and boys could play netball. The only year I didn’t play was in year 7, probably because I had no idea it was on. Then there was primary school where I would play lunch time and recess footy with all the boys. I was the only girl that was allowed to do so because: A. the other girls were annoying and B. they were just jealous of me because I could socialise with boys and they couldn’t. Primary school, aye.
More to the point, the AFLW is a huge deal no matter what anyone says and here’s why.
Girls finally have the opportunity to live out a dream that was once only for boys. Although there’s still a long way to go for women’s football in comparison to men’s, this is a flippin’ fantastic start. Girls can finally say they want to be a footy player without having no professional league to be drafted in. Girls won’t be given the judgemental side eye or scoffed at for wanting to be a footy player because there’s no professional league. So many other sports already have women’s leagues and the AFL took their time creating their own, forcing thousands of females- young and old- to endure the criticism and stigma against women playing footy despite records showing women have done so for over 100 years. From girls being told they were excluded after the age of 12 to now having a women’s league, it’s just phenomenal. Sure, there’s still a long way to go- but it’s a start.
The AFLW is an overwhelming and well-deserved result after decades of girls struggling to play a sport they love. For years, girls were told they couldn’t play footy for whatever reason. Women were stigmatised for playing the sport, many hiding it from their families because of the way it was perceived. The decades of sexism and stigma all seem to have been worth it now that we finally get our own league.
It’s a testament to the good ol’ days of footy where you got the sense that players played for the pride rather than for the money. I’m not saying the boys don’t play for the pride because I can list a countless number who do. What I am saying however, is that these women are not playing for the money because they’re hardly paid anything compared to the men’s players. Back in the day, footy players were paid peanuts to play professionally. But they didn’t care for the money, they just wanted to represent their team- from their mates to the supporters. It was about the pride. Although there are plenty of boys who play in the AFL for the pride and the money is just an added bonus, when the average player salary is $300,000 AUD, you can’t really blame people for being critical. Players generally play full-time, unlike in the 70s where those who played had regular jobs- which is like the majority of the women playing in the AFLW. An example is Western Bulldogs player, Courtney Clarkson, who is a cop. Yes, the times have changed and with sponsors and the profitable nature of the league, it’s understandable why so much money is thrown into the AFL. The women’s league doesn’t have this sort of financial advantage. Not yet anyway. Who knows what it’ll be like in thirty years. For now though, it reminds Aussies of the way footy used to be. It’s nostalgic. The play is raw and pure. Sure, the skills aren’t “up to par” with the boys, but I’d like to see them try if they didn’t have access to the training they had in their development years. Give it time and an increase in the number of pathways for girls to enter the AFLW and I can assure you the skill will improve immensely- just like they have in the men’s game.
I think one of the major things about the AFLW is that it’s a gargantuan up yours to those who didn’t believe in it and who constantly criticised it. It’s an up yours to the people who said women can’t play footy. It’s an up yours to the people who have judged and stigmatised women and girls who wanted to play the game professionally. From the exhibition games during war times and where women played wearing skirts, jackets and heels, to now filling up stadiums- the AFLW have proven its critics wrong. Yeah sure, there’s a long way to go in range of areas- but it’s a start. We all have to start somewhere. But one thing nobody can deny is the dedication and tenacity of everyone involved, from the initial efforts of the Melbourne Demons and Western Bulldogs to every single player of the past, present and future. The AFLW has inspired so many people and has given young girls the opportunities they thought at some stage they would never get.
10 years ago, I had to listen to all the boys say how they wanted to be a professional footy player whilst I stood there, thinking of what it would be like to be a footy player but never said anything for fear of being ridiculed or put down. Now, I’m trying to pass the time as I wait for the Western Bulldogs game that’s on tonight and thinking of perhaps doing a Karmichael Hunt or Israel Folau and making the switch from rugby to AFL after 2020. Not saying I will, it’s just a thought that’s come across my mind and all I have to say is “why not?”. To think now that by the time my daughters are born, they will only know of a world where both women and men play in professional AFL leagues- I have to say, it does make me smile and it does make me a little teary at the thought. We’ve come an unbelievably long way and all the credit goes to those women (and men) who have worked their backsides off and persisted despite everything that was thrown at them.
Women’s AFL is here, and it’s here to stay.