AFLW Round 1 – Carlton v Collingwood: Changing the game

Carlton v Collingwood
7.45 pm, February 3rd
Ikon Park, Carlton

 

It’s 6:30pm on a Friday night. I have ended up in Bourke Street after marching to protest Donald Trump’s anti-immigration laws. Anxiously checking my watch, I ask my friends if they can hold onto my ‘No Ban, No Wall’ sign: “I’ve got to get to the footy”. They look at me oddly, as if this is incongruous with my politics. I clarify as if to appease them: “women’s footy”.

 

The Bourke Street tram stop is a sea of mostly navy blue hats, scarves and guernseys. Trams have been momentarily halted for the protest, but it seems that public transport providers have also underestimated the crowd for the footy. Scores of trams go past packed, some don’t even open their doors. Footy fans pace back and forth. I decide to Uber it – and put on my red, white and blue Bulldogs guernsey so that my driver can find me.

 

As I’m waiting I’m approached by a muscular woman with short dark hair, tatts adorning her biceps and calves. “How long does yours say?” she asks, looking over my shoulder at my phone. “He’s about to arrive, jump in if you like,” I respond. Within a minute I am on my way to Ikon Park, two strangers – both women – in tow.

 

Our driver tells us that ‘everyone’ is heading to the footy, and that he might not be able to take us directly to the ground. He’s right, so we end up jumping out at Cemetery Road and trekking on foot to the ground to avoid the traffic jam. A group of men struggle to play soccer amongst the scores walking swiftly past. The crowd is diverse in gender, sexuality, race and age – but they walk with the same sense of purpose. A friend texts me to hurry: “you wouldn’t believe the lines, we’ll never get a seat”.

 

We do eventually get a seat – after walking the length of the ground from Gate 5 to a dilapidated grandstand that covers our clothes in dust. The logistics of the event seem as rushed as my journey here: only two gates open, thousands milling outside. Beer runs out at quarter time. Word soon spreads that the game is a ‘lockout’. Gillon McLachlan jumps on the mike to apologise for turning fans away with the ‘unprecedented’ turnout. The game had originally been slated for Victoria Park – standing room only, capacity 15,000. 24,000 are crammed into Ikon Park, while still more linger. I can see boys’ faces squished between wire gates, while a group of teenagers sit on the aisle to my right.

 

We are transfixed.

 

The game itself is contested, competitive footy at its best. Bodies slide in with desperation: a Collingwood player pops her shoulder in one such contest. A woman in front of me outs herself as the mother of one of the players: thankfully it is not her Cecilia. “She’s number 20,” she tells me proudly. She isn’t hard to spot: short crew cut, tatts from knees to shorts which make her look as if she’s wearing a pair of dark Skins. “Looks like a Collingwood player,” I quip. Mum doesn’t seem too impressed. Perhaps she’s actually a Collingwood supporter.

 

To my right, my housemate, who has never attended a footy match before, asks why everyone keeps screaming “BALL”. I smile wryly; this is my least-favourite footy question. “Once someone gets the ball, they have to attempt to get rid of it. If they don’t, and get caught, it’s holding the ball.” I think I’ve done a reasonable job. She nods with faint recognition and doesn’t seem to mind too much anyway: she, like most of the crowd, is simply clapping good play on either side. She’s not a sports fan, but she is a fierce feminist, and is overjoyed to see so many out to support women’s sport.

 

After the game, I follow a large crowd down Sydney Road. None of the football crowd seem out of place in the Brunswick nightlife. As I turn down Hope Street, I hear a teenage girl raving excitedly to her male friend about her new favourite player, Darcy Vescio of Carlton: “did you see that snap goal on the run?” she asks rhetorically. “What a gun,” they say in unison.

 

The next morning I am still abuzz from the spectacle. I return to Hope Street to walk two pugs around the local park. A girl passes me with her family, clutching a yellow Sherrin. I feel the need to reinforce this rare sight: “nice footy,” I say. She looks at me as if this is a strange thing to comment on. I smile in the hope that I am now part of a bygone generation; that girls playing footy will soon be normalised.

 

Don’t tell me football isn’t political.

 

[Image: Claire Smiddy. Used with permission]

[Image: Claire Smiddy. Used with permission]

About Kate O'Halloran

Passionate about women's footy, gender equity and all forms of social justice. Mad Doggies fan and Supercoach aficionado.

Comments

  1. A beautiful piece! I went to the game too and it was so uplifting to see not only the huge crowd supporting, but the incredible talent on display. I’m definitely going to become a club member (for the first time in my life).

  2. kate_ohalloran says:

    Thanks Laura! So glad you enjoyed it! Agreed there was some amazing talent out there, as a Doggies fan I still like to think of all the exhibition players as ‘ours’ e.g. Vescio! Great to hear re: the membership, who do you follow? I signed up as a women’s ‘ambassador’ for the Doggies so I get my name on the wall at Whitten Oval as an inaugural member – pretty special!

  3. jan courtin says:

    It’s all political I reckon, Kate. Loved your write-up, especially the reference to going to the footy “being incongruous with my politics”.

    Enjoy the remainder of the season.

  4. kate_ohalloran says:

    Agreed re: it all being political, Jan! So lovely to read your positive feedback, thankyou :) Hopefully the introduction of the AFLW will mean that it becomes less incongruous with my politics ;)

    Enjoy the season also, hope the Swannies do you proud!

  5. Yvette Wroby says:

    Hi Kate,
    welcome aboard. Great article, completely understand the weird looks from your protesting mates. It has great meaning,, women being recognised and rewarded for playing footy. Women have been doing it for years, but it is out there now and can’t be put back in the bottle. Has so much meaning on so many levels.

  6. hipstermustdie says:

    Dreadful football. Too many elite runners and not enough footballers. And ladies, you do realise women have been playing AFL for years in their own state leagues? Or should i just add this to the other trendy prog-left hipster bullshit that permeates the air?

  7. hips
    You would not have wanted to be at the Whitten Oval on Saturday night then, no shortage of leftie hipsters there!

    You could have walked around the ground holding up your Trump poster to register your disgust!

    Just go do something else mate, let the rest of us enjoy it.

    Plenty of other sports to follow – you might like the polo,

  8. John Butler says:

    Mark Doyle, is that you?

  9. Welcome to you too Hipstermustdie. Here at the Almanac we’re like the Hakowie’s – peace-loving. Although, if the truth be known, we’re more like Randall P. MacMurphy’s bus. Feel free to climb aboard with us. [Got the bus in again JTH. It will work for you one day. Ed]

  10. Lisa Morgan says:

    Love your writing Kate, so evocative and passionate – thank you. I watched the game on tele and was abuzz with excitment, pride and footy fever. Stayed watching the ‘bios’ of the two captains, both wonderful role models for every gender.

  11. kate_ohalloran says:

    Thanks Lisa that’s so lovely!! There are some amazing stories amongst the women playing AFLW, very inspiring! Really nice to hear that you were swept along with the excitement of it all too – will you be heading to one of the games in person some time? :)

  12. jan courtin says:

    Just read your Guardian article, Kate.

    Spot on! And congratulations!

  13. kate_ohalloran says:

    Thanks Jan! Really appreciate your support! Glad you enjoyed it :)

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