Women’s AFL: That stupid, stupid ceiling

Mirror, mirror on the wall why is that rich white, middle-aged man hogging the ball?

When I look at boys’ junior football I see what is, when I watch girls’ junior football I see what can be.

Well why don’t we step back and applaud ourselves. On this historic moment. Australian Rules football is going to run a national women’s football competition. This is huge. This is … sorry, I didn’t catch that. What did you say? By 1971 at least 35 countries were running national women’s soccer competitions. What? Yeah, but soccer isn’t really a contact sport. What about Rugby? Union started in real terms at the dawn of the ’80s. League? The International World Cup started in 2000. Even women’s Gridiron origins are decades ago.

So calm the back-slapping down.

Still it has arrived and that’s a good thing. A bloody good thing. However, if you have been around women’s footy then you know that this isn’t some earth-shattering moment, simply more cracks appearing in that stupid, stupid ceiling.

I’m a relative newbie to the game. A couple of years back our 13 year old, Mercedes, asked whether she could start playing footy. No problem was the reply. The challenge was actually finding a club. We scoured the internet and asked across our friendship groups. With no luck. Then, through vaguely recalling reading a newspaper article about the Darebin Falcons we stumbled upon them. What a find. Nestled (or hidden) away down where the Merri Creek runs under the Bell St bridge and through Thornbury. They have been a local sporting club for over 25 years. Local women’s footy has been going that long and longer still.

Mercedes has played for the Falcons in the Under 18s since 2013. This has included a broken bone in her ankle (after only three games). When we took her to the Austin the sage old doctor (actually it was Doogie Howser, M.D) lent back against the bed rail and said this type of injury makes up the biggest number of casualties of a Sunday through footy season. She has played in a losing GF and been part of a Premiership, in one of the most enthralling games of footy I have seen.

Everything about female footy is different from its male counterpart except for the game itself. The club vibe is more relaxed and dare I say more inclusive. The focus is more holistic. The player to player joshing is more relaxed. In a sense, there is more fun going on. But the game is just as intense. Just as determined. Just as purposeful.

Like any team, the skill levels range from sublime to developing. Over three to four years Mercedes, who was a very good sportsperson anyway has honed her best skills (marking, tackling, breaking packs, sprinting to free space and not backing down) and improved the core skills of this particular code. So have her team-mates. She has moved from a junior, in awe of the 17 year old legends to coming into her own. She is talking about trying out for the Academy next year.

Mercedes is just one of thousands of girls who play footy. Every week. Every year. Some stay the course for decades. Some only a while. Others will drift in and out of the game over their life. Women’s footy is very established in the suburbs and country towns across Australia. But in the last three years it has truly taken a step up and multiplied. Almost exponentially. While some of that feels organised the underlying force driving it is a sight to behold. Mothers and daughters looking at something as if they are looking at it for the very first time. What they are looking at is new opportunity. And it is tangible.

The opportunity to express themselves through a long held male domain of movement and fitness and challenges and friendships and new horizons. As well as the chance to take a screamer or kick that winning goal after the siren or meet Daisy Pearce! The opportunity to create a new paradigm and see where that takes us. What a ride it will be.

This is what lies at the heart of a national women’s footy comp. So, damn the doubters who wonder if we are starting too soon or if there’s too many teams or if the pool of good players is deep enough to sustain this level of comp. Damn all those stupid, stupid questions. The answer is maybe, could be and probably. What those doubters don’t reckon with is the force that is driving this. And I’m a mere bystander to this force. This force is young women championed by their mothers to go for it. The game will evolve, skills will improve (exponentially) and in ten years the only thing we will wonder is why it took so damn long to get it going in the first place.

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All welcome at lunch at the North Fitzroy Arms on June 17. We’ll be celebrating women’s footy.

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


  1. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Love it Slim,
    So glad to hear that Mercedes is kicking on and trying out for the Academy team. Wish her all the very best. Will never forget that incredible Grand Final in 2014 when the Falcons pinched it in extra time. Onward and upward. Not before time. Go Girls !!

  2. My heartfelt best wishes to Mercedes on her journey.

    Really well said, Rick. I’m looking forward to watching the new national Women’s League develop.
    And I must say that I’m disappointed that North did not get a team initially.

  3. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    As a female lover of footy and ‘best mum kick’ at training with the Under 9s, this actually rolled tears off the lids, Rick. And precious to hear the first hand experiences of the watchful Dad, testifying to what has been driven by young women like your daughter, and their mums, for much longer than the publicity moment accounts for. Thanks for giving the initiative credit back to the females.

  4. Rick Kane says

    Thanks Phil, it was a GF for the ages. This next stage in women’s footy is going to be one of the most exciting developments in Aussie Rules.

    Thanks Smokie, for me what teams got in at the ground floor isn’t that significant. As the League develops so will the teams. (Remember, your team and mine weren’t admitted into the VFL until 1925).

    Thanks Mathilde, it has been a great experience being part of the Darebin Falcons, or the Darebin Women’s Sports Club (they play footy, soccer, cricket, even darts for the women who have been with the Club since the 1990s). They play to win but they never lose sight that you’ve got to have fun, enjoy what you’re doing. A simple but deep message.

  5. Daniel Flesch says

    Right on Trucker Slim ! Apart from the other football codes ,women and girls have been playing basketball and hockey for ages . And swimming and tennis and golf etc etc. So why not The Game of Our Own ?
    I’m old enough to to remember Lou Richards doing commentary in the ’70’s and ’80’s .
    Often when there was a “tiggy touch wood” (sic) free kick awarded for rough play Lou would splutter “It’s not a girls’ game !” So glad to see it’s now very much a girls’ game.
    And now , T.S., your next mission is to get Hawthorn to field a women’s team.

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