AFLW Round 1 – Carlton v Collingwood: Footy is about struggle
If I had any doubt that sport is about more than just sport, if I had any doubt that sport is about meaning, if I had any doubt that sport is enhanced by the meaning which is wrapped up in it, which is contained in it, which is represented and expressed by it, the first weekend of the national Australian Football competition for women extinguished those doubts.
Crowds flocked to the grounds because the moment meant something to them. And not just the moment; the history that has led to the moment.
I was at Princes Park on Friday. The night was, at once, a moment of triumph and lament: triumph for women’s footy amid the lament that this could have happened years ago; triumph of returning to a special place – Princes Park – amid the lament that the ground and its social significance was diluted over a decade ago; triumph of seeing your club represented amid the lament that not every club has a team (yet).
It was like any moment of triumph, that in the joy of the victory, the fight of those who have worked so hard was not forgotten. History matters. People’s struggle matters.
Friday, February 3, 2017.
The kids are home from school. The first week. We’re continuing to plan the year. Anna and Evie have both been doing Auskick in recent years and now they’re going to try basketball and soccer. Evie loves dance. Theo has just signed up for the Under 10-S side at Fitzroy. They all swim. They all go to school where they are learning respect for all people. They get cross with me when I bring the shopping home from Coles in plastic bags. There is no cadet unit at their school.
We’re getting ready to head to Carlton. We do our footy tips – our AFL Women’s Footy Tips. Anna and Theo note the lack of exposed form. (“How are we supposed to work it out Dad?”)
Then we’re off to Il Corretto in Nicholson Street. We’ll have some pizza and maybe walk the rest of the way to the ground.
The pizza is delicious. We’re early enough that we think we’ll drive a little closer and jag a park. Heading down Pigdon Street, people are walking to the ground. A lot of people. Coming from the side streets to join the throng. Immediately we are transported back in time to the grand days of suburban footy – albeit blokes’ suburban footy. We park near the primary school and join the streams of people before we cross Bowen Terrace. We squeeze through the gridlock of cars.
It’s a stunning night. Stunning for being the purist of summer evenings. Stunning for the feeling the occasion is generating. In me? I feel emotional. Is it just me? Can I ever know what is in the hearts of those around me? Are we thinking, feeling, being the same thing. It’s football.
Football is struggle. We all know struggle.
Football is also unfair. We all know injustice.
But should football be institutionally unfair? Should it be systemically unfair? Surely footy’s injustice should be limited to those vagaries which come from the shape of the ball, the weather, the chaos of interaction. Chance. The things beyond control. Sprint past the contest and the ball is 50 meters away before you can turn around.
In the park, kids are kicking footies. Families are having picnics. We don’t stop because it feels like we better get inside and get a seat. This is enormous. This is brilliant. Now we are slowed to a dodging walk and then a shuffle as we get near the southern gate. We join the queue. There is one (flustered) security guard. But this crowd has a great feel. There’s no hint of aggro. It’s happy. Celebratory.
There are lots of Carlton supporters. Lots of Collingwood supporters. It’s another layer of meaning. One I hadn’t, until then, paid such attention to. There are Carlton supporters, coming home, to support their own. The Blues. Since 1864. And Pies supporters ready to support their own. It’s a match for premiership points, not some curiosity, or as one of the Almanac’s first reporters Kasey Symons noted, “No exhibition match.”
We find seats at the back of the Legends Stand. Soon after they look the gates. That’s a message. The kids are observing it all. The ground. The people. Lots of women. Women from footy teams sitting together. Families. Students. Friends. Carlton crews. We’re surrounded by Pies. Diverse.
We’re in the Inner North, just up the road from Melbourne Uni, but not everyone in the crowd has read Simone de Beauvoir or is discussing whether the bursting of the Collingwood players through the virginal banner should be seen in sexual terms, or as a birth motif – from the cosy darkness of the womb to the light of day (where scrutiny will prevail).
Football is about struggle. I can feel the challenge being relished.
“Here comes Carlton,” I hear as the murmurs turn to cheers, initially in the section that first sees them, and then around the ground.
“Da, Da-da. Da-dah.”
Carlton. Their women’s team. For the first time.
Collingwood. Their women’s team. For the first time.
Tears around us, as we mouth the songs.
It’s a massive night.
It’s a night of immense good will.
The ball is thrown up and in a classic ruck contest both Emma King and Alison Downie climb high. Scrimmage after scrimmage. Bodies thrown in. Crashes and clashes. Early desperation. (Desperation all night) Trying to get a chance. Trying to break clear.
The match doesn’t look like getting any less willing.
And it doesn’t.
Footy is about struggle.