How I accidentally fell in love with GWS

GWS Giants Phoebe Monahan and Jodie Hicks at training.

 

 

These days I start most mornings trawling mainstream and social media for news to post about women in sport.

 

A lot of my weekends (and weeknights, especially during the Aus Open tennis) are dedicated to live-tweeting sporting matches as @womeninsportau. But believe it or not, a year and a half ago, I did not consider myself a fan of any sport. In fact, when I started online dating a couple of years ago, I swiped left on anyone who posted a picture of themselves in supporter gear for any sport. I used to be a massive fan of AFL men’s, but we went through a bad breakup in 2008 (you can read more about that here) and I avoided pretty much anything to do with sport of any kind… except for writing about sexual violence in football, which is part of that same breakup story.

 

Fast forward to September 4, 2016, and the women’s exhibition match between the Bulldogs and Melbourne was on free to air TV. Women doing things they hadn’t been able to do before? Hell yeah! I’d check it out, and do my bit to support such an important achievement. But I had no personal investment in the game. Was I in for a surprise!

 

I don’t think I’d ever enjoyed a game of football so purely and thoroughly as I did that game. I don’t remember who took the marks and kicked the goals. Not a moment of that game stands out for me, except the one where I found myself in tears, with an overwhelming sense of coming home, of joy that this, this was what I had been waiting my whole life for.

 

And I never even knew it.

 

That’s the moment I became a sports fan again, and this time there would be nothing to compromise.

 

That first ‘date’ with what would become AFLW was incredible, but the start to the relationship wasn’t as straightfoward as I’d expected. I’d never followed sport without having a team before, and had no affinity for any of the eight inaugural clubs.

 

I picked the Bulldogs because they were they only Victorian team I didn’t hate. As I now live in Sydney, I picked GWS second, as I would get to see them play live, and had no opinion on them as they weren’t part of the league when I quit men’s footy. Brisbane evolved into my third team as I enjoyed watching them play and had a soft spot for the Lions after their men’s side beat Essendon and Collingwood in successive Grand Finals in the early 2000s.

 

I bought memberships for three clubs. I went to both the GWS home games in Sydney in 2017, dragging friends who knew nothing about Aussie rules with me, but my viewing was piecemeal. I watched a game or two on TV each round, but I didn’t structure my weekends around the footy like I did when I was a fan of the men’s league. I wasn’t invested in the outcomes the way I used to be. One side played well – I was happy. But the passion for a team that I associated with football fandom wasn’t there. Yet.

 

That first GWS game in Blacktown, things started to change. Seeing those women tough it out up close, determined, giving it everything; even though the result was a draw, it brought out the first stirrings of – not love, exactly, but something. The second game, when they fought it out during stormageddon, overcoming a team that went on to narrowly miss a grand final – what a high!! But I still wasn’t giving my heart away. I held back. I’d even forgotten to learn the Giants’ theme song!

 

It’s now past the halfway point of season 2018, and I’ve been much more invested in the outcomes of all of my teams’ games, but to my great surprise, I discovered I am now a die-hard Giants fan. I’m not sure exactly when it happened. Fandom is about the heart, not the head. Your rational mind can argue all it likes about who you should barrack for. But you can’t argue with that surge in your gut, with the elation of a win and the heartbreak of a loss, the rage against a dodgy call.

 

That said, my heart does have good reasons! There is a culture of care and inclusion at the Giants that I’ve never experienced as a fan before – from the players, club and the fans. You’ll never hear a GWS fan dissing their own players, and there’s none of the misogyny against AFLW you find on Carlton and Collingwood’s social media, for example. The established members welcome newcomers with open arms. The club organises events and special seating areas for the AFLW members, to make us feel more part of it. Coach Alan McConnell took time out to explain some of his approach and strategy to the fans, and everything I’ve heard suggests he invests in the players as individuals as well as athletes, and is working to get the very best out of them. It’s a good place to be.

 

When I live tweet a game, I like acknowledge when both sides do things well even when I’m barracking for one. In the first quarter of GWS’s round 3 game against Collingwood, after the Pies scored their first goal, I was so uptight I could barely watch, let alone tweet about it. That was the moment I knew.

 

So I clocked off Twitter and spent the next hour and a half yelling incoherently, on an emotional roller coaster I couldn’t begin to put into 280 characters. When the siren sounded, I belted out that theme song I’ve now learnt to sing like a pro – much to the surprise of the people around me, who’ve probably never heard of AFLW because they’re Sydneysiders waiting for a Neil Finn concert.

 

We’ve – and I can say ‘we’ now without reservation! – won our second-ever AFLW game, and had our second-ever draw. Our premiership chances this year aren’t the best – definitely there, and much better than they were at any point last year! But that’s beside the point. Win, lose or draw, premiership trophy or wooden spoon, I’m not going anywhere.

 

 

*  *  *

 

There is a small, qualifying postscript to this happily ever after. My dad, who passed away in 2009, was a lifelong Geelong supporter, and they were my second team when I followed the men’s competition. All along, I’ve been convinced that Geelong would take precedence over all my other teams when they entered the AFLW, and watching and listening to them in the VFLW all last year my passion for the blue and white hoops ignited. Now that I’ve become involved with GWS, though, I’m not so sure. There’s room in my heart for more than one club – and for every player in the whole damn league – but as to who will ultimately be first in my affections? Ask me when Geelong play GWS for the first time in 2019!

 

About Deb Waterhouse-Watson

Deb Waterhouse-Watson is a postdoctoral research fellow at Macquarie University, Sydney. The author of _Athletes, Sexual Assault and 'Trials by Media': Narrative Immunity (Routledge 2013), she is currently working on a second book on the process of court reporting on criminal sexual assault trials involving Australian footballers. A massive fan of women's sport, particularly AFLW, particularly GWS, and the Bulldogs, and Brisbane, and soon to be Geelong...

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says:

    I’m glad you and football have fallen in love again. GWS is a great team to follow . Like many Victorians now living north of the Murray , adopting a second team brings a connection and opportunity to follow the game we love. Despite following Essendon all my life I was a foundation member of GWS and have really enjoyed the experience of following the young players and the club. They have made the fans feel welcome and valued. I also found your article on sexual assault interesting and thought provoking. Thanks for the contribution, Enjoy the season! It’s just around the corner.

  2. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks for this Deb, amazing how AFLW can address some of the issues we have had historically with the men’s game as female fans. I still love following the men’s game and my West Coast Eagles, but there have have definitely been difficult times when I wonder what I’m doing supporting something that can, on occasion, be so damaging. The women’s game offers me a reprieve from that but I’m still in a constant battle in how to love something while still acknowledging it’s flaws and fighting to make it better.
    Thanks for writing.

  3. Georgina says:

    Great piece Deb, thank you. AFLW, and the Giants particularly, have made me re-assess my love for another Sydney team. Not that I would jump ship altogether but I’ve come to realise that it’s this team of women that I care about more. They’re not perfect and that’s the point.

    Looking forward to your next piece. Oh, and never surrender!

  4. Jarrod_L says:

    Thanks for this piece, Deb. As another “weirdo” who follows multiple teams, I totally get it. Oddly enough, I’ve been so enamoured with the way my Lions have gone about it that I feel more one-eyed in following the AFLW than any other leagues.

    The Giants’ song may not have the cadence or pathos of a Finn brother’s tune, but geez it’s fun!

  5. Welcome to Footy Almanac, Deb!

    It’s a good read and I am happy you found passions of supporting footy again.

    I used to follow baseball, but the slow pace and defensive game plan demotivated. I don’t think I will never follow Japanese number one favourite sport ever again.

    Rugby Union rellaced baseball while I was living in New Zealand, but footy is my favourite sport now. Even I play footy here in Japan.

    After starting following footy, I had not thought I would support St Kilda because of the schoolgirl scandal. But the club’s plan playing footy in Wellington changed my mind positively. I sensed the club would move and leave such scandal and departure of Ross Lyon behind.

    You have similar experiences to me, I think, on sports.

    Please keep informed us what your heart tells and I look forward to reading your match reports.

    Best wishes

    Yoshi

  6. Yvette Wroby says:

    This is great piece Deb and I am glad it’s selected for the book. I am just re-reading eveything. Love the passion. See you at the launch??

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