Almanac Book Review: Roar by Samantha Lane

As the second AFL Women’s season now sits some months in the past, it is striking how much remains unknown regarding the season ahead. We don’t know how long that season will run, or in what format. With no TV broadcast deal as yet in place, we don’t know the basis on which players will be paid next season. We don’t know if they will be compensated enough to make up for the salaries many have otherwise sacrificed thus far. Nor do we have any idea of the extent to which the rules they will play under will be modified by AFL bureaucrats seeking to manufacture a commercial ‘product’ from a part-time semi-professional competition.

 

 

We do know that two additional teams are joining the competition. They are currently assembling playing lists, taking advantage of the uncontracted status of almost all the AFL’s female players. A draft order, of sorts, has been recently announced. We also know that the only two female coaches to have been employed in the competition are now departed, in circumstances still generating much debate.

 

 

In this context, Samantha Lane’s Roar remains a compellingly relevant book. Written in the aftermath of the inaugural AFLW season, it raises many questions that still await substantive answer.

 

 

In an opening section entitled State of Origins, Lane sets the scene for that first AFLW season. She provides an abbreviated history of how some of the many women who have always followed the sport attempted to create their own space in which to play it. Often ridiculed, almost perpetually condescended to, a variety of pioneers have persisted, developing  grass-roots community competitions which formed the basis upon which the AFL could build their own league.

 

 

Lane also explains how an AFL hierarchy historically indifferent to the idea of women’s football changed its mind, then suddenly accelerated its timetable for implementation. She paints a picture of individual efforts and enthusiasms gaining critical traction at key moments amidst wider inertia. It is a context that helps explain the often mixed messaging the organisation has subsequently produced.

 

 

The majority of Roar consists of a series of vivid profiles of women (and one man) who played a role in that opening season. One of the most attractive features of AFLW are the colourful back stories the players bring to the game. Ranging in age from 18-40, many debuted in AFLW as already formed characters with diverse life experiences. This makes for a refreshing contrast with the increasingly homogenised men’s game, where so many participants appear to know little beyond school and football until their careers are well advanced.

 

 

Lane picks her targets well. Kirby Bentley’s story reminds that real-world adversity outweighs football adversity. The contrasting personalities of Tayla Harris and Katie Brennan demonstrate that there is no hard and fast template for sporting achievement. Through their relationship, Penny Cula-Reid and Mia-Rae Clifford personify the more enlightened and mature view of diversity AFLW has maintained from day one. As the sole man in this group, AFL lifer Craig Starcevich impresses as one who has embraced a whole new football world to the one he thought he knew. Amanda Farrugia’s story highlights the different challenges the Sydney environment  presents.

 

 

Bec Goddard’s tale presents now as a poignant afterword. Faced with the challenge of coaching a playing group split between state and territory, Goddard achieved a major coup in claiming the first AFLW premiership cup. Yet she has now left the competition, declining to settle for the limited options the AFL system was prepared to offer her as an alternative to her day job as a Federal Police officer. Her disappointing situation reinforces one of the telling questions raised in this book: has the AFL simply “…created a women’s competition for women to play in and men to manage”.

 

 

By putting its commercial and marketing clout behind a women’s competition, the AFL greatly accelerated a social movement that was already bubbling away. Increasingly, women wanted to be participants in football, not just spectators or consumers. For whatever good it has recently done, the AFL’s long history as previous impediment to the women’s game means it can hardly complain if its motivations are still viewed sceptically. Its public messaging has supported equality, but its actions have sent more mixed signals.  AFLW potentially represents the most socially significant project the AFL has undertaken since the formation of the national competition. It remains to be seen if the organisation is comfortable with the implications of its own actions.

 

 

Sam Lane has written a book that will remain timely, for it addresses some fundamental societal issues through the prism of football. It also profiles an group of individuals who have pursued their individual passions in the face of general indifference, and seen that passion become the vehicle for potentially life changing opportunities. Collectively and individually, these are stories with a long way to run.

 

 

 

Roar, by Samantha Lane
Penguin Books
RRP $34.99

 

 

And you may be interested in this event tonight (May 30): Pie Night at the Fitzroy Bowls Club!
All Welcome – Tickets still available to purchase as well as for sale on the door.
Read more about it here

 

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

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