AFLW Round 1 – Carlton v Collingwood: Unusual Crowds

The lines are already several hundred-long as I arrive at Princes Park at six o’clock. Queueing, it seems, is the thing to do. I have the chance to queue for tinnies, hot dogs, kebabs, pies, a seat, the stairs and the loo. A queue just for the right to queue doesn’t seem out of the question.

 

In the bowels of the ground, there’s one girl hobbling about in a moon boot, and several others with Vescio written on the back of their blue footy jumpers. Outside the men’s loo waits a man wearing brown boots, tight jeans, a denim jacket, and lots of hair on the top of his head but very little on the sides.

 

I find my way into a decent seat on the half-forward flank with an hour and a half still to kill. Many of the crowd, like Mr Ultra-Short-Back-And-Sides, appear to have wandered down from Melbourne University. They clamber in to seats clutching trios of tinnies. If they aren’t students, they’d certainly blend in just fine.

 

High-waisted pants are in fashion – extra points if they look like the sort thing of thing your unfashionable uncle might wear. Arm tattoos and nose rings are also in this season. On that count, I fit right in.

 

In the row behind me a girl with short curly black hair, partially covered by a blue cap, wears a plain white t-shirt bearing the word “feminist”. Her presence rams home the point – this is a footy game, and a social movement.

 

My nearest neighbour on the flank is here for both. She’s a mad, elderly Carlton fan, dressed in a purple shirt and jeans. Her black ASICS shoes have a hole in them. Between her feet sit three tins of Little Green Cider.

 

She came last year, to the lock-out, and found a seat at the top of the southern stand, right underneath where the pigeons usually nest. Four seats were covered in bird poo and were therefore unoccupied. She got hold an empty tin, scraped the shit off and sat herself down to watch women run out in the navy blue for the first time.

 

As our chat fades, Collingwood zip the ball around uncontested, making no errors for nearly ten minutes. New Pie Chloe Molloy eventually duffs a kick and pats the turf, perhaps in disgust, or perhaps to test its firmness. Lynden Dunn struggles to hit his targets as he warms the players up. Black dress shoes aren’t quite fit for the task.

 

Eventually, the players disappear and then reappear, borne onto the ground by familiar old tunes. Carlton’s Darcy Vescio toys with the young female mascot as they run on together. Vescio darts one way and then the next, pursued all the while by the girl, who finally has a hero to chase, and a dream to chase.

 

The sky is still blue when the umpire assumes her position in the middle and holds the ball aloft. Emma King and Alison Downie go at it. We’re away.

 

Collingwood go forward through their skipper Steph Chiocci. She’s flattened by Carlton’s Lauren Arnell after she kicks. A scuffle ensues.

 

As it peters out, Jazzy Garner finds herself lining up with a chance to kick the first of the season for the Pies. She makes no mistake and in doing so, becomes a trivia question – “Which player kicked the opening goal of AFLW seasons 1 and 2?”

 

Collisions are aplenty but the dull sound of shoulder meeting shoulder can barely be heard over the hum of evening chatter. In the rows behind me, a group of girls are discussing sorority initiations at American colleges. One example involves a girl listening to Barbie Girl by Aqua on repeat for twelve hours.

 

Tayla Harris, Carlton’s tall, blonde recruit, is proving to be anything but a barbie girl. She flies into a pack and smashes it open, before recovering quickly to the kick the Blues forward amidst the chaos she’s created.

 

It leads to Carlton’s opening goal. Kate Shierlaw’s kick is a good old fashion Kernaghan helicopter. Blues fans offer up wry smiles as it drifts well left before inexplicably bending back. Harris takes a terrific contested mark in the goal square moments later, leaning back a long way to grasp the ball before slotting the shot. The Blues are in front.

 

The newly introduced “last-touch” rule is proving to be anything but, with boundary throw-ins in abundance. Unless a clean disposal takes the ball out, no free kick is awarded. It doesn’t seem to be having any significant impact on where the players are choosing to kick the footy.

 

Collingwood have a case of the fumbles. The polish they showed in their warm-up has gone missing in the heat of the contest. Only Chiocci and Molloy look to have the poise to send them forward with any purpose.

 

Harris makes the third goal for the Blues in the second term, marking in the pocket and then centring. The Pies respond late in the term through Barden, but at half-time, they look to be in a bit of a pickle.

 

A goalless third-term is notable mainly for the struggles of Mo Hope, finally moved forward after a long day in the midfield. Collingwood needs goals. The crowd still hums in expectation when Hope nears the footy, yelling encouragement, but time and again she is outmuscled and worked away from the ball.

 

As the final stanza begins, a girl in the row behind me is still learning the rules, though she has a paisley-shirted, leather-jacketed male to help her through. The game has become a full-scale slog, rather than a classic. It doesn’t seem to bother most of the onlookers. Some are no longer looking on, but there’s a loud scream of “how far can she f%$#ing run umpire!”

 

Vescio, the people’s favourite, has been quiet for most of the night but bobs up on a half-back flank to settle her side with a strong grab. Harris changes her tune, digging in and tackling in the back fifty, sensing the need to cling on to her opponents, and to the lead.

 

The final siren brings elation for the Blues, though they never looked in huge danger of being overhauled in a goalless second half.

 

Underneath Princes Park, the queues are gone and the gates are thrown open. The colourful mob of social movers and footy tragics drifts out into the parklands to breath in the smell of freshly mown grass. The breeze is gentle, hardly bearing a chill. It’s the first Friday of February, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Jack Banister

Journalism student @ Melbourne Uni, Brunswick Hockey Club Men's Coach, tortured Tigers fan.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Nicely observed, Jack.

    I’m glad I’m not the only connoisseur of matters guano. It’s become a notable feature at Princes Park.

    Cheers

  2. Kasey Symons says:

    Great write up Jack – this really stood out to me:

    ‘Carlton’s Darcy Vescio toys with the young female mascot as they run on together. Vescio darts one way and then the next, pursued all the while by the girl, who finally has a hero to chase, and a dream to chase.’

    Beautiful writing, beautiful message.

    Well done.

  3. Thanks JB – glad someone else has done that! Good yarns.

    Thanks Kasey – possibly a bit harsh on saying D.Vescio was quiet. Her pressure around the ball was elite. But she’s is definitely the people’s champion.

  4. Dave Brown says:

    A good read, thanks, Jack. My feeling for the last disposal rule is that people won’t notice it after halfway through the season. It’s not designed to eliminate the boundary throw in, rather to eliminate the deliberate/insufficient intent rule while reducing the throw in and boundary play. Can’t wait for Round 2

  5. Yvette Wroby says:

    Hi Jack, loved your observations and your take. I thought Vescio and Hope were both well covered and it will be interesting to see what happens in Round 2. Bring it on.

  6. JBanister says:

    Thanks DB. I didn’t notice it at all to be honest. Other than on missed shots for goal. Interesting.

    I enjoyed the Sunday game a lot. A cracker. Hard to see the Pies challenging Freo next week.

    Thanks Yvette! Hopefully see you at one of these games soon!
    Mo Hope’s next step is going to be full of intrigue. On one hand, I feel for her.

    Much to watch unfold!

  7. Luke Reynolds says:

    Top report Jack.
    Barbie Girl by Aqua on repeat for 12 hours. That would break even the toughest of minds.

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