Almanac Footy History: A chronological history of women’s Australian Football
by Bring Back the Torp
I have been reading about women’s footy in which I have always had an interest. Most of this information comes from the book Play On by Brunette Lenkic and Rob Hess, 2016,Echo Publishing Richmond Victoria www.echopublishing.com.au
Up until 2012, unlike other sports, Australian Football authorities had been extremely poor in promoting female football. From 1919, it can be argued women should have been more encouraged to play proper, full contact Australian Football.
During WW1, many women did jobs in factories previously performed by men, some reasonably physical – and a level of freedom and changing expectations commenced. Hemlines went from the ankle to below the knee, young women often preferred much shorter hairstyles, women started wearing lipstick, era of the flappers and vamps!
Soccer began to be played in the 1890s in Britain, and was flourishing by 1921; in 1921, women’s soccer began in Brisbane. In 1921, women in Sydney began playing Rugby League enthusiastically; in 1921, women’s Rugby Union, Rugby League, and soccer began in New Zealand.
Women’s cricket began, in an organised sense, in 1887, with a game at the SCG; first organised cricket league began in Tasmania in 1894; Vic. Women’s Cricket Association began in 1905; 1930 matches against England began –also in the 30s, history books state that women’s cricket in Australia was booming, Australia wide!
From the first games in 1858, the press have been commenting favourably on the large numbers of women attending football matches. Australian Football attracts a higher percentage of female spectators than any of the world’s other football codes. Some commentators ascribe this to the usually svelte and muscular bodies of Australian Football male players, bit more flesh on show.
1876. Melb. PLC schoolgirl wrote in the sec. school magazine, suggesting “a girls’ football club be established at the school, citing how much fun, enjoyment and excitement boys seemed to have in the game”.
1886. Williamstown (Melb.) local paper reports a group of women, with skirts tucked up, kicking a football to each other.
1892. A woman was charged in the Bendigo (Vic. ) Police Court with kicking a football in the street, with two other men (nuisance).
Mid-1915. First, organised proper Australian Football match played by women at Loton Park, Perth. The match was played between two teams from Foy & Gibson employees – factory workers v. shop girls.
Other proper matches were organised for workplace women in Perth to 1918. All similar matches around various areas of Australia were to raise funds for the injured troops, as a display of patriotic fervour. Similar matches occurred during WW11. Several matches also occurred in the WA Goldfields – two women’s teams played in 1917 in Kalgoorlie under lights.
From 1915 to the 1970s, probably 150+ games of women’s football matches occurred spasmodically around Australia. The women were often criticised, mocked, ignored, and/or patronised. The main reason, then and now, women said they wanted to play Australian Football was because it was fun to play.
1918 July, first game in SA, at Gawler.
1918 August, first game in NSW, at Broken Hill.
1918 Sept., first game in Vic., at Ballarat Eastern Oval –Melb. Khaki Girls v. Lucas Factory Girls, 6000 spectators.
First ever game in Melb., 1921 (two factory teams, one using a uniform provided by St Kilda FC in its then colours of red, yellow and black –WW1 adopted colours.) The “sight of women in shorts, some daring to show their knees,caused a sensation”.
1921 -29 Many games being played in WA, on an irregular basis.
1923 & 1928 Tasmania’s first two games.
1929 SANFL women’s match at Adelaide Oval, part of a SANFL bye weekend. Charity Carnival held, ball dropped by a gypsy moth biplane onto the Oval to start the match. The crowd of 41,000 is still a record in Australia for a women’s football match (and per capita, cf Adelaide’s population, will probably never be surpassed).
The 1930s began a decline for women’s football in Aust. Some highlights:-
1933 Richmond v. Carlton teams VFL bye weekend charity women’s match -10,000 crowd. Oldest surviving film of a women’s football match – cinema newsreel.
Many sporty women wanted to play Australian Football, but female officials of other female sports argued strongly against women’s Australian Football, due to the dangerous , unavoidable physical contact”.
1940-45 Numerous women’s matches to raise funds for the troops.
Women’s football exploded around Australia after WW11. There were many public appeals, however, for women to start families – to replenish the population following the deaths that happened in the war. Many comments were raised against women playing football.
1947 Sth Melb. FC Secretary Frank Hay organised a women’s football charity match, and called for volunteers. He said “enough women volunteered to play in the charity match to form a football competition”. 25,000 attended the match, raised 650 pounds for the “Food For Britain” appeal.
1947 August, Sth Melb. St Kilda Footscray Hawthorn and Carlton organised a charity round robin.
Jack Dyer, Richmond Legend, wrote that “football injuries to women might easily rob women of the chance to be mothers, and over time, the required exercise for the game would harden women’s muscles, spoil the shape of their legs, and probably coarsen their whole appearance”.
Later in 1947, he umpired a women’s game between Sth Melb. V Nth Melb. – crowd 9000.
1951 NT Darwin, first women’s game –and the biggest crowd to ever watch a football match in Darwin up to that time.
1955 First women’s game in Brisbane. 2000 spectators.
In the 1950s, many women around Australia attempted to set up a regular women’s competition. Numerous attempts ended after a few games, or a season. In Perth, a breakthrough comp emerged, which had no links to fundraising, but was football for the fun of football – it lasted five years.
1959 Footscray Women’s V. Nth. Tas. “State Game” Devonport. Highpoint for the code.
Women’s football during the 60s & 70s continued to sprout and occasionally flourish. There was a downturn, however, in support and interest from elite male teams.
The ACT’s first women’s match was in 1967.
In 1966, in Wonthaggi (Vic.), there was a women’s lightning premiership, featuring 8 teams, 160 players, & 3000 crowd.
1979 SA Norwood HS and Kadina HS called for expressions of interest to form girls’ football teams – 150 girls said they were interested.
1981 The VWFL are the first regular fortnightly women’s competition formed, with a season fixture outlined, and final. Four Melbourne teams “committed” to the fixture and participated in full. The Rules followed the VFL, with some amendments eg pushing in the chest was not permitted, three interchange, and females from 14 yo could compete.
The first President and co-founder, Gemma Griffiths, said in 2016 “…Around that time (ie late 70s, my words), feminism was practically all we talked about…Why was it that men got to play footy but not women when it was so much fun? Why was it that men’s lives seemed to be so much more fun than women’s lives…”.
Apart from the fun of football for males and females, there is an alternative explanation for its popularity for females. Girls and women have always enjoyed testing their physical potential – faster, higher, stronger –as much as any other aspect of their being. While girls may be socialised to be docile, many do not start that way. The adventurous girl, who loves running, climbing, jumping , and catching, throwing, kicking or hitting a ball, is not an anomaly.
Also, apart from the complex skillset of Australian Football – high marking and hangers, long kicking, using both hands and feet, mastering left and right kicking/handballing, no offside, run where ever you wish on a huge oval, tackling/bumping, all the time needing much courage due to the physicality – there is another reason AF may be popular with females.
It has been reported many females like Australian Football because one is expected to do a defensive block/take a defensive hit from an opponent – just to protect your team mate from being “cleaned up” by that opponent. And you know your team mate will also put herself in harm’s way to protect you (This reason is virtually never given by males as to why they like Australian Football!)
1988 WAWFL founded.
1999 NSW State league founded. Yvette Andrews, a founding Secretary, said “… back in 2000, there were still feminists saying ‘Why do you want to do those stupid things that men do, like playing football?”. To which she would reply: “Footy’s not stupid. It’s fun…”.
2000-2010 NT, Qld, and Tas. Set up official women’s state leagues. In 1991, SA established their State league – SA, however, has been very disappointing until recent times in its development of female football.
From 1981, the next 20 years were difficult for adult women’s football –extremely little interest and financial support from the AFL & State leagues. Susan Alberti was a significant supporter of the VWFL. In 1991, there were only about 120 players in the VWFL –but by 2001, there were 21 teams over three divisions.
But the tremors from an earthquake were starting to be felt in 2006, organic growth with virtually no input from the AFL – SECONDARY SCHOOL GIRL football; ALL -GIRL Auskick clinics; & jnr girls CLUB comps. The latter was FORCED on Football Victoria by legal action from three angry 12 yo girls & their parents, to allow girls to keep playing football after 12 yo.