You’re playing footy? Aren’t you scared of being hurt?

 by Brigid Ryan

 

Nearly 200 women registered this year to play in the inaugural AFL Masters Women’s comp. Joining one of the six clubs that sponsored the women’s teams has felt like a moment in time, a part of history.  Also described by Competition Co-ordinator Jill Chalmers, as like the most amazing women in the world all sharing their Saturdays together.

 

It is this communal admiration that has rippled through the league, borne from an incredible joy bubbling up to spend this winter with the inaugural modified age specific rules and agreement to play “footy for fun”.

 

This competition for me has been an amazing, unexpected invitation to the players’ party as I belong to a generation of women who were not given a chance to play footy, who never had the opportunity to do much more than kick to kick in the park.  A time when girls were not allowed to play competition in most clubs, and when women’s clubs and competitions were not widely known and not widely talked about.  My team mate remembers that, as a junior, she hung around the local country footy club looking for opportunities until they finally relented, and she was allowed to run the boundary, but only if the appointed boy didn’t turn up.  It was the long awaited AFLW that has shown exactly what is achievable and how women can get in there and play a fabulous game of footy.  For some, it was with a pang that we realised just what we had been missing out on.

 

For me, attending the Coburg ‘Come and Try’ session, I could not keep the smile off my face.  Having never learnt to kick or handball properly, it was such a joy to take part in structured skill development work with the most encouraging of team-mates.  The most exciting part of that first session however, was running out onto the field through the race.  Having watched players do this all my life, it was a surprisingly emotional experience to be on the other side.

 

It was also a joy to become a new team together, with new found, outrageous, courageous and marvellous team-mates. The historic 2018 Coburg Lions Super-rules Women’s list is distinctive, the relationships remarkable, inter-player support significant and the club culture impressively thoughtful.  Of the 35 women on the list, most found their way independently, with 65% of the list first season rookies, but peppered with seasoned campaigners to help keep the games from descending into the visuals of an AusKick under 8’s side.

 

Some of my team-mates found their way through attending AFLW games, being talent spotted in the crowd or finding a flyer on the windscreen advertising for masters footy that sparked interest.  One team mate described her first reaction to hearing about the comp chatting in the crowd at an AFLW game live.  Her first response: “I couldn’t possibly, I would be terrible, I’m way too old to start a new sport.” It was a beautifully written and persuasive follow-up email from her new friend from the crowd that day that convinced her to attend the ‘Come and Try’ sessions.

 

Another team-mate describes reading about our marquee signing Brenda ‘Junior’ Arnell in social media and realising that women’s masters footy genuinely was a chance for the player who always wanted to play, at all ages.  Reading the story on Monday, joining Coburg by the Wednesday, in awe and delight at whole-hearted acceptance into the Lion family for all players who were fearless enough to put themselves out on the field.

 

Because it was this challenge – to exhibit yourself as a beginner, as an older athlete, as a member of society that has been less than supportive of women’s sporting achievements, and overly cautious of the long overdue development of women’s footy.  My team-mates described those first training sessions at Coburg, from feeling incredibly scared and anxious, having never kicked or even really held a ball in her childhood, to meeting with a welcoming and respectful club that allowed players to learn without feeling foolish and patronised.

 

Many found this was an environment that brought out the best in us.  One of my team-mates found the first exhibition match such a rush that immediately after the game, she and other Coburgers ran back out again to provide sufficient players for the second exhibition match.  Another described feeling a bit star struck to be finally getting inside the sheds, and feeling such happiness when buying footy boots, and pulling on the jumper.

 

Our team definitely had one of the steepest learning curves for the inaugural season, but there was a spine of experienced, talented and skilled footballers that directed the game plays.  These were the women who played in the 80’s when the comp consisted of playing the other 3 teams in the comp at least 3 times each season, and then onwards in the 90’s and 2000’s playing through the changing of women’s football, as it became faster and more physical.  With excitement building, many Coburg locals with footy talent received the call to get the boots out again, to see if the body will hold up with the training sessions in the new masters comp.  It was described as a great fit for one of my team-mates where she was keen for a competitive game of footy by not keen to be pitted against 18 year olds.

 

Much, much needed technical and leadership skills were needed in this Coburg venture.  There are not many footy coaches who have worked with this much raw talent outside of the primary school sector.  And when older women approach the game with years of sideline enjoyment, with the enthusiasm and skills of young kids, but needing considerably more support with the strength and conditioning, it is a special kind of coaching approach needed.  As an answer to all the dilemmas, Lisa ‘Kiwi’ Roper initially coached at the ‘Come and Try’ sessions, and was training with Coburg after accepting the specialist coaching role with Darebin’s WVFL.  With a little arm twisting, ‘Kiwi’ was also persuaded to accept the Head Coach role.  Well known for her expertise pioneering and contributing to the sport’s exponential rise in participation in Sydney, ‘Kiwi’s’ ability to adapt sporting talents to the creativity of Australian football is epitomised in her talent for community engagement, founding the Bondi Shamrocks, with Irish Gaelic footballers, and coaching rock musicians, the Western Walers in Sydney’s Community Cup for the last six years.  ‘Kiwi’ brought her best to the Coburg Lions, including the PacMan game, a Rocky Horror Show themed warm-up, an Amazing Race which terrorised the kids at both the Coburg and Preston footy ovals, as well as so many cleverly co-ordinated drills that consistently got lots of laughter at training.

 

The club celebrated and ‘got around’ each new signing, and each training session was planned and conducted to ensure learning was mixed with freedom and delight.  As a new competition and brand new sport for many of us, there was a sense of no expectations.  That you can just run out, enjoy yourself and do the best you can. And it is a new experience to be congratulated for getting a super kick out that was miraculously marked by a team-mate, but that is doing it just like you trained.

 

With only six games in the competition, showtime was relatively brief.  Our supporters include our initially rather concerned families, our sometimes envious friends, our children and grandchildren lighting up when recognising the players, and even one team-mate’s Grandma getting out in the winter cold in her wheelchair and living the moment, willing on every kick and run for her granddaughter.  It is something quite fabulous to hear the young kids yelling out ‘Nice one Mum!’ at the crash of the pack in the goal square.  And not something that you see in every team, our Captain made an unusual move from dominating the midfield, to running water for the last 2 games as she will be welcoming her third child to the family later in the year.

 

For this writer, the 2018 footy season has been bugged with a rather pesky Achilles injury which kept me off the park.  As soon as it settles down, I’ll be looking to hang around packs again, trying to find something useful to do.  Turns out that you can’t really learn footy from just watching the game. It has been an immense challenge to understand the nuances and even the basics of the game including, apparently, how to keep a mouthguard in your mouth and run at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

Love women’s footy? Grab a copy of The Women’s Footy Almanac 2018.

 

Copies of The Women’s Footy Almanac 2018 are available for sale via our online store.

 

 

Read about The Women’s Footy Almanac 2018 HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Brigid, a great ‘insider’ story on something you’re clearly passionate about. Infectious! You and your team-mates have a lot of time to make up for. Get out there, give it everything and, most of all, continue to have fun.

  2. Yvette Wroby says:

    Brilliant Brigid. Fabulous report and keep them coming. Love the stories and the team spirit and never say die attitude of players.

    Well done

  3. We should Mick Malthouse for his views.

  4. What an amazing bunch of courageous women, living their dreams full of self determination, infectious comraderie passion infused fun-filled footy! This is humanity at its best!
    Big congrats to the Coburg lions masters team for unearthing so much talent in its first year. Many years of good footy to come and with each player a story to tell.
    More stories to tell Brigid?

  5. Peter warrington says:

    awesome. I am trying to get the B and F’s mother to put he hand up, she does great hand/eye, and is a natural kick, despite her protests. Newtown Breakaways,….?!

  6. Great insight into the enjoyment these new players are gaining and creating through this awesome, long-awaited comp.! More please. ..

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