Women’s Footy: The Inaugural Whitewashing of History

 

 

My son Ainslie and I caught the train into Southern Cross from Macedon to watch the women’s state game.  He is a 12 year old grub who consumes all things footy and puts up with my rants about women’s footy, which he likes to point out come from a dinosaur of the game.

 

We were early, really early. The lock out at Princes Park was haunting me, and I was leaving nothing to chance, (not that we were even locked out of Princes Park, we watched the game on TV.)  The first inkling I had that numbers for the women’s state game would not be nearly as many as I hoped was the lack of crowd on the concourse above the tracks at Southern Cross, but I told myself there was still two hours to go.

 

No, actually the first inkling I had, which I ignored, was in the media leading up the event.  The legends game was built up in the media over weeks of banter between the coaches. The women’s game was presented as an interesting aside in an otherwise weekend bereft of football.

 

The next sign that the crowd would be small was the Footy Record. This publication half the size of a normal record, symbolically told me the AFL weren’t serious about talking this game up. The record was a chance to showcase women’s football, talk about the history of the interstate clash and excite interest and conversations, but the emaciated brochure I bought for $3 was clearly not aimed at any of these things. The writing was so small I had to don reading glasses to see the team lists, thus drawing more ire and ageism from said 12 year old.

 

We watched the U18’s game and as my attention wandered, I reflected on how a crowd, familiarity with players and media build up around a match, sweep you up, get you excited and get you to pay attention to the game.

 

We moved seats a few times, just for the hell of it. I was trying to find where the Outer Sanctum mob were, with no luck. We finally settled near the north eastern pocket where we watched at close range Sarah Perkins’ brilliant, backwards-over-the-top handballs.

 

I contemplated going for the Allies but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to and was thrilled with the Vics’ brilliant performance.

 

The first half of the first quarter looked like it might be the Allies who would dominate, but it was simply the time the Vics took to find their groove, and then they played like a Top of the Charts new release, with their music getting better and better as the match wore on.  For three quarters we were treated to some magnificent displays of football skill and teamwork.

 

It was a joy to watch Daisy Pearce, as the public face of AFLW, I feel like I know her. Daisy’s football prowess always seems to me at odds with her build, and I love that about her playing.  She surprises with her toughness but she also shows how football is about brain as much as brawn. I watched her for a few minutes off the ball, as she moved across the mid field, at right angles and away from the pack, and suddenly, through magic or a trained eye, the ball moved into her lane, they moved together for a short distance before she sent it on its way.

 

It was a satisfying game for a Victorian supporter, but I felt for the Allies. They were not playing for state pride, they were not even playing for their state of origin, they did not have a possible lifetime of playing with or against their teammates in the birthplace of football, and they were not playing before a home crowd.

 

But what has me foaming at the mouth, still, is the mantle the AFL have adopted for the game as the ‘inaugural women’s state of origin match’.  Their denialism of the nearly 30 year history of women playing interstate football is extraordinary.

 

Anyone who has been around women’s football knows that for nearly 30 years this was the pinnacle of women’s footy, the highest level women could play.  It was a big deal to find the money and time to train and travel, it was a highlight in the women’s football calendar. And for all but one year the pride of Victoria was a smashing, unrelenting force against the other states.

 

In general, sports history is deeply appreciated and respected and the AFL is no exception. The Australian rules sesquicentennial was celebrated with a full length DVD and a large coffee table book. The Australian Sports Museum dedicates a significant parcel of display real estate to a history of the game and every year past players and participants are celebrated in AFL Hall of Fame.

 

So why didn’t the AFL honour, build on and celebrate the long standing competition between women playing interstate football?

 

Wikipedia defines denialism as when a person, or in this case an organisation, chooses to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth. It is a traditional means by which the white men’s club disempowers and marginalises those on the outside. It is an uncomfortable truth for the AFL, that for nearly 30 years they ignored, denied, neglected and failed to support women’s interstate football and now, in their discomfort they pretend they have created this opportunity for everyone.

 

You might argue the ‘inaugural’ tag was a marketing ploy, but marketing is not valueless, and I’d suggest it can make just as much mileage out of a long and historical rivalry as it can out of novelty. And besides, the AFL’s marketing of the event was lacklustre at best.

 

You might say those other state clashes weren’t ‘state of origin’, but neither was this, the Allies were not playing for their state of origin, but a team defined by not being Victorian. It is a barely meaningful title, seemingly used here to justify the modifier ‘inaugural’. Any approach that sought to respect the history of women’s state football would have been different.

 

There is no doubt women’s football is benefiting from the support of the AFL, and there has been much gratitude expressed for this, but the AFL needs to stop dining out on the notion that they are knights in shining armour, simply because they’ve stopped doing what was wrong.

 

Humility is a rare but deeply valued quality, even in the football world, and the AFL would do well to approach women’s football with humility, with admiration and respect for what women have done in the struggling and ignored margins of community, and hold a deep bow to the pioneers, the history and the existing relationships of women’s football clubs, culture and competitions.

 

On the train ride home Ainslie took great pleasure in saying things like:

 

‘It was a great inaugural women’s state game’ and

 

‘Do you think they’ll play a state game again? I mean it was the first one so hopefully they’ll do it again”

 

And then laughing his head off as I slather and spit and writhe in fury.

 

Comments

  1. I identify strongly with this, Kate. AFLW has indeed been a game changer for women’s footy, but the AFL didn’t invent it or women’s sport. Has more than hint of paternalism to it.

    From the perspective of a non Victorian the game was merely a novelty not worthy of the tag State of Origin. The Allies have no resonance, but then again they weren’t intended to, merely the best chance that someone could give Victoria a run for their money. And so it was for fifteen minutes, before they looked like more Washington Generals than anything else. The reality is Victoria will almost always be far too strong to make State of Origin footy interesting. Would much rather see a well marketed All Star game, not sure how it would be constituted though.

  2. Thanks Kate for an important observation/contribution to the record and history of women’s football.

    “The AFL needs to stop dining out on the notion that they are knights in shining armour, simply because they’ve stopped doing what was wrong” – indeed!

    Cheers

  3. Kate Lawrence says:

    Thanks Rick and Dave, great to have positive feedback when you stick your neck out!

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Spot on Kate,
    You can’t just airbrush 30 years out of the picture and claim the kudos. Poor form AFL,but not surprising either. Good on you for calling them out on it.

  5. Kate,
    An excellent summation, and I agree with much of what you said.
    The AFL must be diligent.
    I could not get to the game, but was very disappointed with the crowd numbers.
    I cannot help thinking that Etihad was a big part of the problem.

  6. Yvette Wroby says:

    Brilliant Kate, well said. I thought the advertising and TV and radio lead up was poor, I was there and loved seeing the women play and seeing them do what they love made it worthwhile going out in the middle of a cold winter. I would have liked to have the game on radio to, to get to know the women. The wonderful Girls Play Footy were broadcasting but I found it impossible to find it on my AM footy radio (RSN).

    And as we say in The Women’s Footy Almanac 2017, and ‘Play On’ women’s footy has been played for 100 years and not when the AFL finally got it together (after a boot up the backside from Susan Alberti).

    Broadly speaking, I hope the people make a statement in 2018 and continue to support the competition and its growth the year after. If you come on Sunday to the VWFL Grand Final, I will be there with one of our other writers Kate, so text us on 0412 030 467 so we can meet up. That goes for any Almanac people who want to get behind this game.

  7. Kasey Symons says:

    Excellent piece Kate – the collective forgetting from the VFL/AFL in regards to the womens game is astounding. We need more writing like this to keep reminding them of the important history and place women have in the game.

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