For someone who is deeply passionate about championing women in sport, I’ll admit I’ve been pretty slack when it comes to watching the Women’s AFL this season.
Before yesterday I hadn’t seen a game live and I’d only watched snippets of the games on TV. To be fair, I have the shortest attention span of anyone I know so even watching snippets of anything is a bit of a miracle.
Although I haven’t been following every game and every team, I am ecstatic that we are finally investing time, energy and resources into women’s footy. And following the incredible reception the womens teams have received, that investment won’t be retracted any time soon.
Little girls who are growing up in footy-mad families and have aspirations to get out there on the field, can finally work towards being professional footy players. That’s not just a distant dream for them anymore. It’s a more tangible reality.
There’s still room to improve, I acknowledge that. The women’s season is only eight weeks long and the women aren’t paid nearly as much as the men. But more playing time and pay rises will come as the heavy hitters in positions of power see the interest in women’s footy grow. There’s momentum behind the movement. And that grows the incentive to increase investment.
So yesterday, I finally got off my butt and went to watch the Women’s game in Blacktown which was on before the men’s team clashed with the Swans. I sat on the hill in General Admission with my flimsy umbrella and my pink beach towel and I watched the GWS Women’s team achieve their first win this season.
And oh my God, it was so bloody inspiring.
When the buzzer went for full time and the theme song started blasting from the speakers, the hairs on my arms and neck stood up. I have never seen so much joy. Not just from the players but from their supporters. I watched as mothers, sisters, fathers and friends gathered to hug their heroes. The hours they had spent in training, the years they had spent playing local footy, the money they had forgone to represent their club- all of it had finally paid off.
The Captain, Amanda Farrugia, (who is my new favourite person in the world) sprinted over to the crowd, footy in hand, arms raised and shouting “we won!” The smile on her face, and the faces of her teammates, was nothing short of infectious. You couldn’t turn away.
But the most incredible moment happened just before the women left the field. They gathered in the centre of the field in a circle and started chanting their team song. And the crowd, who had turned up in thin and orange raincoats, sang along with them. There was so much pride in that crowd, it was almost tangible.
I could get into the negative attitudes some people hold about women playing footy. I could talk all about the barriers female sports stars experience. Challenging ancient and preconceived notions of sportswomen is important and it’s a conversation that needs to be had. But I want this article to focus on how amazing these athletes are. I want you to read this article and see in your mind what I witnessed on a mild Autumn evening.
I saw girls, still in primary school, with their faces painted orange and white. I saw the way they looked at their heroes when the players ran to the fence and embraced their family and their fans. These little girls may not go on to play footy. They may not be interested in playing. But the look on their faces, when they saw their heroes win their first game, was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
These women are amazing. They’re strong. They’re fit. They’re focused. They’re competitive. They’re skillful. They’re brutal. They’re everything and more. And I feel so lucky that I got to see them in action.
Also, Amanda Farrugia, please marry me.