Culture

A Big-Hearted, Full-Throated Love Letter To The AFLW

How bloody great was this weekend?

My undying love for the women’s AFL began when I watched the All-Stars match between the two original clubs, the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, last year. I’d only meant to tune in for a quarter, but was hooked at first sight. I ended up screaming full-throatedly in my apartment with tears in my eyes as the final siren went, watching Twitter light up.

I’d known about the league for just a week or two, but nothing could match the pride of watching it — feeling that burst in my chest when Moana Hope nailed her sixth goal.

This weekend marked the beginning of the AFLW proper and more and more women have now felt this for the first time. The first game, Collingwood v. Carlton, was a resounding success — a lockout, a bruiser of a match, a triumph! Over 24,000 hollering fans packed into Ikon Park to watch history being made with many more waiting outside the gates. 50,000 fans attended games throughout the weekend. This has resulted in debates about bigger venues for the rest of the competition, but it’s no real surprise. Last year’s All-Stars match drew 1.05 million viewers at its peak.

On Saturday, I went to the Bulldogs v. Dockers match at Whitten Oval (in a near-capacity crowd of over 10,000, thank you very much) with a friend who’d been to the occasional game, but had never been a footy person. By the end of the match, she and I had picked up matching Bulldogs scarves (sorry, Geelong — next year!) and had started plotting on how to attend their last scheduled match in Canberra.

Looking To The Future

I got a football for my seventh birthday. I was devastated at the time (I’d wanted rollerblades) but I grew to love the game. I was the girl who wanted to join the footy team at 14; who was told that I was too old, that it was too rough. I went off to play full-contact ice hockey instead. Go figure.

I remember asking, as a kid, “Do you think girls will ever play football with the boys?” Hoping, desperately, that we’d be able to share some of that glory. “It’ll never happen,” people told me. “Women play, but not in the big clubs.” I’d been crushed to hear it, but the emergence of the AFLW has given me a new hope.

Watching these strong, graceful, gutsy women is inspiring beyond measure. The fire and ferocity with which they play cracks my heart open and makes me soar. They tackle; they smash; they leap up for screamers and pump their fists after a goal. The physical courage alone is astounding (but also no surprise given the pedigree of the players). This weekend Olympic basketballer Erin Phillips ruled the ground for Adelaide alongside the mighty Sarah “Tex” Perkins. Superstar. Darcy Vescio booted 4.1 for Carlton to secure the win over Collingwood and Bulldog Emma Kearney — also a champion cricketer — racked up 23 disposals against Fremantle.

The experience of watching this over the weekend is something akin to the sheer, bombastic joy I felt at seeing Rey’s character dominate The Force Awakens alongside Leia (the General, no longer the princess). I cried when Rey lit up her lightsaber, standing determined and shivering in the snow. We’re slowly getting more and more of our own heroes.

This Is For Us

AFL is a sport that has found its way into the blood of nearly every Victorian, and anyone who follows the footy outside of its home state. I must have watched 1,000 hours of matches. But the game itself has always been just out of reach.

We know the players, can recite match stats reaching back from when we were born, and know every word of the club song; but footy has never been for us. Not really. We’ve had our local teams and our kick-to-kick when the boys let us play, but nothing like this. Not nationally televised games, women in club colours singing the song on-ground after a win. I say this as a Geelong supporter whose club doesn’t even have a team yet — this is magic.

I’m proud. Proud of the women who’ve played footy since the game began but always off the main stage. I’m proud of the people who have fought to make this happen. I’m proud of the players who are contesting marks and sprinting until their lungs give out and playing the ball. I think of what it must mean to the grandmothers who have supported their teams for 60 years and never missed a match. I think of what it means to their granddaughters, pulling on jumpers and asking for footballs for Christmas and meeting their heroes at club days.

I’ll be attending every match I can and cheering until my throat gives out, because this? This is for us.

Feature image: Western Bulldogs/Twitter.

Emma is a fiction writer and poet from Melbourne. She was once engaged in a bear-hug so epic in nature that both parties fell over. Her work can be found at Apex Magazine, Pseudopod and the Review of Australian Fiction. She tweets at @redscribe.