AFLW: A League of Their Own
I had been getting by alright without a women’s AFL. I was aware of a suburban league in Melbourne but had no particular interest. I had grown up with two sisters, my elder who always seemed to barrack for whoever was playing Carlton that week, and my younger whose football education I neglected and who ended up going out with a Richmond supporter and while they are no longer together, she still supports Richmond.
Only when I started teaching sports law and had some female footballers in my class did I start to see the need for a league as a matter of equality apart from anything else. My interest was heightened when it was announced that there would be a Carlton team in the first AFL season. I didn’t take much interest in the recruitment but thought how typical of the AFL to approach it like casting a movie rather than building teams.
I was able to attend the first match between Carlton and Collingwood at Princes Park. It was a beautiful summer evening and brought back the pleasure now so cruelly denied to us of walking through the suburb to the home ground to see our team play. Even better, it was free! I bought a Record, had a hot dog and a beer, and settled in. The atmosphere was great – like the old days only with a more female and family tinge.
There was a lot of fluff before the start including the national anthem. It was a historic occasion but this seemed like overkill.
The game, when it finally started, was scrappy. The skill level was not high. Players would try to pick up the ball, get tackled and there would be a ball up. Collingwood scored the first goal but scoring was difficult. It was reminiscent of schoolboy football with everyone following the ball. Several goals were scored by the ball going out the back and someone (like Carlton’s marquee signing Darcy Vescio) would run into an open goal.
I had to leave at half time to pick up my daughter from ballet. It was very hard to get out. It was a lockout and I had to fight through the crowd for a door where they would actually let me out. No passouts because of the lockout. The AFL had massively underestimated the appeal of the game and were woefully equipped for such an unexpected success. Imagine if they had held it at Olympic Park as originally planned!
The second game I was able to attend was Carlton v Bulldogs, also at Princes Park. This one started at 11.35am – the heat of the day. It was not free – because it was a double-header with something called the “JLT Community Series”, they wanted $20! I was only able to stay until half time (ballet collection again!) so I did not want to pay. Luckily my Carlton membership got me in for free, but it was a pain to have to go and sort that out to get in.
Once again it was a scrappy game, this time played in the heat. Again, Darcy Vescio did well. We were leading at half time when I had to leave, and went on to win. However, defeat in Adelaide and some other matches meant we did not make the Final Two. Still, they acquitted themselves well and have a firm base to build on for next year.
The Grand Final was a further opportunity for AFL contempt and farce. The game was to be a curtain raiser for the first home game of the cognate men’s team of the minor premiere, but the Brisbane men were playing away in Round 1 at Carrara. The logical thing was to play at the Gabba (MCG would have been best!) but apparently the Gabba turf had been spoiled by Adele. So the game was played at Carrara. They said they expected 10,000 but they got 15,000. Luckily there was plenty of room.
Adelaide had the better of the play but had trouble converting and the game went down to the wire, Adelaide winning by a goal – 4.11.35 to 4.5.29. It was moving to see both the delight of victory and tears of defeat. It was an upset that none of the Melbourne teams nor the fancied Freo made the final. Another highlight was the athletes from other sports, such as the Crows’ Erin Phillips, an Olympic basketballer, playing the great Australian game. Something to think about for the future is getting the players from other sports to make more use of their skills eg the soccer players could kick off the ground more.
They should expand the competition to 12 teams, play 11 rounds, and have a Final 4. Maybe play the Granny on ANZAC Day! They should charge for admission and pay the players more. This one has legs!