Girl Power at the G

Footy has come a long way since I was in grade six and girls were banned from a school footy clinic. I remember fuming that I wasn’t even allowed to watch, despite playing footy with my brothers and cousins in the street and the local park since I was knee-high to Neil Balme.

Dad placated me by nicking a leather footy from his school, but it wasn’t quite the same. In the end I grew up never having played an official game of footy, despite being the biggest tomboy in the street.

How things have changed.

On Sunday I stood on the MCG as coach of the girls’ Auskick team playing at half time in the Richmond-St Kilda game. Both teams were all-girl to celebrate Women’s Round, and my second daughter Rebecca was lucky enough to get a guernsey with her friends Emma, Ella and Grace.

Bec did Auskick until about grade four and if she wanted to, could have played in the new junior girls’ competition and then the Youth Girls’ teen league and on to the VWFL. For the first time, girls now have a full pathway into adult footy.

This showed during the game, which was no kick and giggle. The girls all knew what they were doing and understood my instructions about playing in their positions, manning up and keeping the game flowing.

Both sides read the play, kicked well and knew what to do at all times. It was great, despite our team losing to a team with several older and more experienced players. We now have girls coming through the footy system with skills and nouse comparable to the boys.

Women’s footy is also attracting more media coverage and the Saturday night female curtain raiser before the Melbourne-Bulldogs game was well received. But no female players at any level are paid a cent for their efforts, which will hopefully change before too long.

They don’t want a fortune, but women put in as much effort to their game as blokes playing at non-AFL level, many of whom are paid thousands of dollars by cashed up suburban clubs. Thanks to the recent exposure, let’s hope some serious sponsors get on board and give the VWFL the support it deserves.

I’ve attended several VWFL Grand Finals and the standard and commitment by all players, coaches and officials is first class. The atmosphere is also like VFL footy 30 years ago when it was still very much a people’s game. If you ever get the chance, give it a go and take the kids for a fun day out.

Back at the MCG, Bec and her buddies had a ball and felt like a genuine part of our great game. The crowd encouraged them and they got to form a guard of honour after half time as big boys ran back out.

The only problem was, after thinking we were going to wear Richmond jumpers all week we ended up in St Kilda colours. For a few short moments there I considered tanking, but thought better of it. We’d live. Ella and Grace were rapt though, as both follow the Saints.

Being out in the middle during a big AFL match was a memorable experience for all involved. Treading on the hallowed turf in front of 52,000 fans will stay with these girls forever. We even got the obligatory Melbourne winter drizzle. Perfect.

Special mention must also be made of all those who made it happen. Dozens of parents, umpires and Auskick marshals ensure these half time games all all go like clock work. The marshals usher players to their seats and then into the change rooms at quarter time, making sure everyone knows what they’re doing and no-one runs out before the half time siren.

These generous people are the ones who make footy tick at the grass roots. As an Auskick coach for seven years I attended a number of grid games, including the 2008 preliminary final between Hawthorn and St Kilda. Every time it went off without a hitch thanks to many dedicated volunteers.

To top off our half-time adventure this week, the Tigers coasted to a satisfying if messy 64 point win over the Saints. When we headed to the rooms early in the second quarter Richmond was two points up, but by the time we lined up in the race waiting for our turn in the hallowed turf, we were 40 odd points in front. Bliss!

When we made it around to our reserved seats at three quarter time, it was closer to 50 and all we had to do was enjoy – and throw our hands up at Jack Riewoldt as he missed three sitters in a row. What a great night of footy!

Comments

  1. Well done Cheryl. The times are, hopefully, a-changin’.

    Yet, as you point out, women – who train just as hard as men, are just as dedicated to the sport – play for no money. Women’s sport remains dreadfully underpaid and women’s achievements in sport are given thin coverage via the media.

    There are many women who were, like yourself, denied the chance to play footy and probably due to the same foolishness that once denied women the vote.

    Let’s hope women’s footy evolves past the point of something that women are “allowed” to do. And it will, thanks to determined and visionary people like yourself.

    Good onya.

  2. Kath Presdee says:

    Kudos to you Cheryl

    …and also to the Auskick volunteers on match day. Having the privilege of being the Goal Umpire in one of the games last year with my youngster, it’s an amazing task of herding very excited youngsters in and out.

    While I think it was great that there was also the curtain-raiser match, it would have been good for the score and some of the highlights to have been publicised.

  3. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Thanks Kath and Jen. There are plenty of women doing a lot more than me and they are the ones whose efforts should be recognised. Let’s hope the VWFL players and coaches start attracting enough sponsorship so those at the highest level can do it full time like the blokes.

  4. Peter_B says:

    Great stuff, Cheryl. Very impressive coaching skills: “understood my instructions about playing in their positions, manning up and keeping the game flowing.”
    If you are up for the challenge there is a permanent vacancy at Subiaco next season for a coach who can get the players to do that. I could put in a good word for you, but it will require you to permanently forsake the Black and Gold.

  5. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Thanks Peter
    I’m probably overqualified for the West Coast and Melbourne jobs :-)

  6. Haje Halabi says:

    Thanks Cheryl- The girls have got it- we have come a long way and thankfully so- girls love footy and should be able to play! I love it when I see girls in my PE classes playing footy. If you want a good read go to Nicole Hayes @nichmelbourne who has written a book about her experiences tweeted by harmise
    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/the-whole-of-my-world/
    I must say as boys growing up we never had this block- it would have killed me if I was a kid and was told I could not play footy? What else to do?

  7. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Thanks Haje, Nicole sounds great! Her post was great and I’m sure the book is too. I’ll have to look out for it.

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