AFLW: Great game, good game, so-what game, bad game … still game (Jay Z reference)

The final siren had barely sounded on the first game of the second season of AFLW and the knives were out. There were polite knives, considered knives, cruel knives, absurd knives … still knives.

 

The usual suspect arguments got a guernsey. Arguments about skill levels, shots on goal, defensive tactics, standard of the contest and quality came from the considered camp. That represented maybe a sliver of the commentary pie. Then it degenerated into a quagmire of, well, uninformed and thinly veiled, bigoted attacks. “A third division U15s suburban team would thrash both teams” and “who would pay to watch this crap?” were some of the higher level observations from the shadowy sidelines.

 

On Saturday night I was buttonholed at a party by a footy fan who was told I was a big AFLW fan. He felt the need to tell me in no uncertain terms what he thought of women, er, I mean this waste of money that the AFL was flushing down the gurgler when it could be spent on grassroots footy played by boys and men. I pointed out that maybe he wasn’t the audience (the fan base) in the same way I’m not the audience for horse racing or the America’s Cup and he looked like he would have conniptions. He assumed that because he was a mad keen footy fan, heavily involved in a very successful suburban club, he therefore automatically held a central role in where AFLW was at and where it should be heading.

 

I started this essay on Monday but I had to leave it be for a few days. In the meantime several significant things occurred. Respected footy journalist, Richard Hinds, took it upon himself to argue whether “we” (whoever that is) are allowed to constructively criticise AFLW games. It came across as a fairly condescending proposition to base an argument on but I’ll get to that in a minute. On Wednesday the AFL met with AFLW coaches to “suggest” improvements that would make the game a more appealing spectacle. There were newspaper opinion pieces positing the AFL should have acted sooner on the issue of the appeal of AFLW games.

 

In contrast, on the FB site, AFLW Fans Community, Josh Hartwig, a solid supporter of the rise of women’s footy posted a “devil’s advocate” thought, imaging the AFLW failing. Among the 39 comments was the philosophical reflection by Julie Woodward. She wrote, “In the end it’s a business. BUT footy is an emotional business. It’ll come down to how many people actually care and from there put their money where their mouths are”. Even more explicit was Ingrid McLanders. She wrote, “Then the patriarchy wins. Women have been fighting this type of shit for centuries”. Leesa Catto said, “It won’t happen”.

 

I watched the last ten minutes of the first game between the Pies and Blues. It wasn’t a great game but the intensity held me. The Pies had the run but couldn’t convert. The Blues held their nerve. This is footy raw.

 

Which brings me back to my central point. Who cares whether the opening game was the jewel in the crown? The same AFLM experts who were shocked at the standard of the Pies vs Blues game two days later extolled Katie Brennan’s goals. It made me wonder how much women’s footy they had watched prior to February 2017 and the inception of the AFLW. Because (and this will blow you away) I have watched plenty of crap women’s footy matches. Like I have watched plenty of crap Hawks games. And I have seen Katie Brennan kick brilliant goals many times. Live, without television broadcasts. Two years ago in the Grand Final she took the ball about 50m out on the boundary. People near us were yelling for her to centre it. We knew better. She loaded up and let rip. The ball cleared the throng at the top of the square and bounced through for a Buddy style defiant goal.

 

The uptake of women and girls playing footy in the last few years is one of the better societal (and community) developments all things considered. I hope and reckon it will continue to grow at a rate. I think the AFL were smart to get on board when they did (regardless of how much more I reckon they could actually do to promote it). In a speech just before Christmas Susan Alberti, a prominent and long standing advocate, thanked Gillion McLachlan, AFL’s CEO as the singular force of the AFL that made the national women’s footy competition happen. She indicated that he pushed against some serious internal obstructions.

 

The AFLW is merely the flagship of a revolution. Women and girls now make up 30% of the footy playing community. 30%! That is staggering. Only a fraction of those playing the game will ever don an AFLW jumper. And so what. The real point is that females are playing the game because they want to; spaces have finally opened up to exercise their agency.

 

Footy experts arguing whether on average AFLW players can kick 25m or 45m today are missing the point. It is so far down the chain of what is really of interest. Women’s footy fans aren’t bogged down by that. No. They are focussed and enjoying AFLW players’ presence, their profile, their muscles and tone, their determination. This is what women’s footy fans are watching and going wow at. We are concentrated on what might be. Skills will improve, the game will lift, and new stars will emerge. And the numbers of girls and women playing the game at community levels will grow and keep growing.

 

So in answer to footy experts, yes, please feel free to critically analyse games and players and strategies as you see fit. That is the baseline of watching something you love? But understand the context in which this revolution is taking place. Because that’s the story.

 

Check our extensive AFLW coverage which includes match reports, observation, comment, profiles – HERE

For a fun take on nicknames for Western Bulldogs AFLW players from Jackie Lynch, CLICK HERE.

 

About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin', out on the job Work like the devil for my pay But that lucky old sun has nothin' to do But roll around Heaven all day

Comments

  1. You make some very good points here old Trucker. Everything about the AFLW and women’s football in general needs to be viewed in context. This new brand of football is providing massive opportunity. I’ve seen it in my own daughter who is thriving in a club environment. Its providing a chance for women to get fit, to play at the level they want, to just enjoy the game. That is priceless.

    And here comes the but.

    Heaven forbid that I should defend the AFL, but they are walking a tight-rope. If they over hype the game it could turn people off, and a lot of the games across the last year or so have not been great spectacles. If they under-sell it they are accused of ignoring women’s football. It is a fine line.

    In my view this game should be given time to evolve and grow. Perhaps the desire to push the game in the media is not such a great idea, because all it does is bring in the leeches?. Those who will bleed it dry and move onto the next thing. Maybe, like a good red wine, we should nurture it more and open it up when its ready?. And it will be. It needs time to develop a culture, to establish a fan base, to develop a style, to build the fundamental skills and understanding. Image if a men’s netball team was established to take on a men’s NZ netball team? It wouldn’t hold a candle to the Australia v New Zealand women’s games we see. They are often brutal, brilliant affairs. The men’s would be comparatively awful. It would (quite rightly) be critiqued. But if enough people liked it, there might be an admiration. Over time it might even become good to watch.

    I wouldn’t be taking any notice of the AFL directive to kick more goals, but I would be putting energy into a game style that suits women. Simply transplanting the men’s game plan into a women’s game is fraught. It doesn’t work. It won’t work. I believe it is doing damage. But a coach will emerge. The penny will drop.

    This new game cannot demand respect, it must win respect. That takes time. The challenge, in this microwaved world where instant is not fast enough, is to keep women’s football thriving without wilting to the pressure to “make it better”( whatever that means). And that means that women need to be patient too; patient in how they respond to criticism,and patient in how they build their own history. Ignore the idiots, but take heed of the considered view.

    Meanwhile I still can’t yell out “Go H..ks!!” at a game of VFLW.

  2. Yvette Wroby says:

    Thank you Rick for this thoughtful piece, and Dips for you considered comment. Read Daisy Pearce’s piece in this mornings AGE. It’s great to listen from a players perspective and especially about the human habit of sliding towards negativity.
    I understand that the media needs to sell air time, ad’s etc, but the goodwill and publicity both Channel 7, Fox, newspapers and radio got last year, and the sales, should hold them steady for one scrappy game at the beginning of a very short season. And fans are want to be critical. Well, so far it’s mostly come from angry male fans as I haven’t seen a flood of such criticism coming from women.

    I think women (well at least me) see this as so much bigger than one scrappy game out of three. And perhaps we have the patience to see what will develop, as ones who have not had the history of development to get to a better ‘product’. I wonder how the men’s game would have developed under this intense scrutiny.

    It’s interesting too how insulting it seems to be that winning was more important on Friday night than how ‘nicely’ it was played. If the sponsors need more ads (read goals) then just take an ad and then replay if we missed anything. It’s not a solution but it’s a way of trying to make adjustments to keep the business side happy.

    Deep breathes I say to myself and everyone. Tt was only the first round and technically the 9th game of semi-professional footy.

  3. E.regnans says:

    G’day Trucker and all,
    That’s a timely and important contribution, I reckon.
    Casting my eye over the 2018 scene a few weeks ago, I thought this wave of critique would happen. And it would be dressed up as relevant, it would be shot-down, it would be divisive.
    (It’s probably worth considering the motives of anyone making public criticisms, too. Always back self-interest, as PJ Keating told us).

    Well done to everyone who has contributed to lifting the profile of women’s sport.
    I love that options are more visible for girls, women.
    And it seems that with a higher profile comes flak.
    But if your sense of self is not tied to someone else’s feedback, you should be OK.
    (Everyone has an opinion.)
    Enjoy the moment.
    It’s here.

    (my crystal ball of 2018 from last week: https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/aflflix-2018-the-year-in-review/)

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Terrific piece, Slim.
    Thoughtful and perspicacious.
    Context is key in this context. I’d like to see more commercial TV coverage of local leagues during the winter.
    AFLW has that festival feeling which is good in one way, yet also unfair to the women who bust their guts honing their skills in comparative anonymity during the year.

    Kind of ironic that the criticisms from some men border on ‘hysterical’.

  5. Matt Quartermaine says:

    Excellent piece Rick. It seems a lot of men are comparing the standard of games with men’s games not the last game of AFLW they watched. It’s for women by women but blokes want to mansplain on its very existence. Often feels very female Ghostbusters to me (“haven’t seen it but I hate the very idea”).

  6. Mark Giuliano says:

    Rick

    You make so many good points here………….. There were times reading it, that I actually thought that I may have written it myself. The overarching point for me in relation to, not only AFL, but all sports, is, who the hell determines what is aesthetically pleasing (beauty is in the eye of the beholder)……….. and more importantly, who cares !!??

    Sport does not exist to entertain. It is a contest. And in a most sporting contests, teams/players look to win the contest by (a) scoring as much as they can AND/OR (b) preventing/minimising the scores of the opposition. This can result in a 1-0 win or a 5 million to 4.9 million win. Who is to say which is preferable ???

    For those wanting higher scores, how about this for an idea. Let’s send each team out onto the ground for a half each, by themselves !!!

    For those wanting more aesthetically pleasing sport, let’s forget about appointing coaches, it’s choreographers you want. Note to self, give Tony Bartuccio a call.

  7. John Butler says:

    Trucker, in a week where a lot of hogwash has been uttered, not least by the AFL itself, this is a welcome dose of context and clarity.

    Dips raises the issue of respect, earned or otherwise. THE most basic question about any sporting contest, suburban or professional, is whether the contestants are honoring that contest by their efforts. All else falls away if you don’t have that. On that score, I defy anyone to fault what the players of AFLW have offered so far.

    It’s on that point that the AFL’s obsession with aesthetics does damage to its own competition, both men and women.

    Cheers

  8. Punxsa Peter says:

    You’re a great man, Trucker Slim

  9. Dave Brown says:

    Each winter weekend hundreds of thousands of people watch footy at their local club. Many more than ever set foot at an official AFL venue. Imagine walking in and telling them that they are fools for watching whatever they are watching because the players’ skills aren’t up to the standard of the AFLM. The vast majority of footy watchers go for the contest not the skills, the connection not the attractiveness, the culture not the colours. This is typical AFL elitist garbage, further demonstrating they have no understanding of the game they are charged with the responsibility of guarding.

    I fear that a culture that tells people ‘your opinion is valid even if it’s not relevant’ emboldens those who could just as easily shut up and change the channel.

  10. Trucker Slim good considered article my huge beef was the umpiring the lack of protection and sling tackles not paid was a disgrace the fact that it is v much a work in progress re females turning instinctively to protect themselves the game demands and needs to be umpired technically for the players safety

  11. Rick Kane says:

    Thanks one and all for the broad range of viewpoints and ideas as they relate to the development of women’s footy. Many interesting things to consider. One more thought to mull over. That is, this revolution is actually not being televised. It is as a few people in this thread have noted, occurring in homes and parks and clubs and suburbs and towns across Australia. It’s style and skills will develop out there. When our son Jackson was in U12s (he’s in Colts this year) one of the 5 best players was the only girl in the team. Then she had to give up playing or find a girl’s team somewhere, somehow because rules stated that girls could not continue playing in the boy’s team after U12s. That was only 4 years ago. Maeve and the thousands like her are no longer thwarted from playing a game they love and they can dream big dreams as most of her U12 team-mates did every time they got hold of the Sherrin.

  12. Can’t we all just enjoy the game for what it is – and what it can and will become.
    Why the constant need to compare it with mens’ game?

  13. Great piece, thank you! How many boring crap low scoring games do the men play, hey? Many great comments here too, about the importance of the contest, the culture, the value of these fit, strong magnificent women as role models. I watched the Carlton v Collingwood match on TV and marvelled at the toughness, the stamina, the amazing marking of Tayla Harris etc. Yes it was frustrating at times, but ain’t that footy? I went to the Western Bulldogs v Freo game and loved every minute. The skills are clearly improving all the time. I think the person who sardonically suggested getting in choreographers instead of coaches has hit the nail on the head. Anyone who truly loves sport, footy (and doesn’t hate women, like the loser who buttonholed you at the party) is barracking for the AFLW with everything they’ve got.

  14. Luke Reynolds says:

    As a season opener, i thought the Carlton v Collingwood AFLW game on the Friday night was more entertaining than most Carlton v Richmond AFL season openers we’ve been subjected to over a long period of time…..

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