I can’t believe today, February 3rd 2017, has finally arrived. Today marks the first match of the Inaugural AFL Women’s competition and a moment I am so thankful to be a part of. The lead up to this day has absolutely flown by. From the official announcement in June 2016, to the October draft and the gruelling preseason. Every step has been as exciting and positive as the previous, and the support we have received has been overwhelming. As unreal as this point in time feels, it’s nothing compared to reflecting on how far football has come.
I look back on my journey through sport and football in particular and I often wonder how different it could have been if I were a boy. As a young lass I grew up mucking around with my brother and sister in the backyard, but as they were much older than me, 8 and 11.5 years respectively, I was never directly influenced by their current sports until much later in my childhood. I had a strong creative interests and like my sister loved drawing, music and all things that involved me inventing or innovating including imaginary friends. Although mum had me swimming from a young age and I was out kicking the ball and playing games in the front yard, it wasn’t until 8-9 years of age that mum registered me into surf life saving and my athletic ability started to progress. Already having two children mum never wanted to force me into anything, so much of my erratic sporting past was crafted by myself.
After I got the idea of running, swimming and competing it was like a switch flicked and suddenly I wanted to do everything! I started playing softball first, netball, soccer, volleyball and even tried my hand at lacrosse and hockey. Soccer, softball and volleyball were the sports that stuck the longest, but when finally given the opportunity to play AFL in year 8 at high school my life was seemingly changed forever. I fell in love instantly! The freedom, the high flying marks and the physicality drew me in like no other sport I had experienced. I loved watching football for my beloved Adelaide Crows but now I could finally enjoy it myself. Although, I relished the time with the oval ball I was left thinking, “why did I not know girl’s could play sooner?”.
Football continued to be the highlight of my school calendar and I often found myself kicking the footy at recess, lunch and on my weekends with my guy friends. One in particular, Ben Kennedy, now plays for the Melbourne Demons. It was great to see him chase his dreams, and until recently I felt quite a bit of envy towards him and all young men at the opportunities they are afforded. I remember coming home from playing a school football match and telling mum, “if only I was a boy I would have been great at sport”. Instead, I was a girl who was great at sport and although it was a strong passion of mine, I could never make a career out of it.
I know I am not the only female to ever feel like this. Among the many messages of support and positivity come the comments from those women who just missed out, who excelled at football but never thought they would see a women’s AFL in their lifetime. My sister was one of many young girls that was extremely athletic and easily out played the boys, but unfortunately had to give up football with no real opportunities to play outside of junior level or school competitions. It is when I hear or read those comments that I am unbelievably grateful for the opportunity that comes this weekend. I may have missed 13 or so years of my life where I wasn’t playing our great game, but I am more than making up for lost time. Luckily we have some women who persisted through Auskick, junior boys football and into the women’s leagues when they were old enough, that our game has developed. Hopefully now girls, like their brothers, will be able to play football as their first choice which will only see the women’s game grow.
AFL is an integral part of Australian culture and just over 100 years after the first recorded women’s match was played we are finally seeing an elite pathway develop. With time, and finally the opportunity for girls to grow up with the footy in their hands, to play alongside other girls and have powerful role models to strive to embody, this league will flourish even further. As I prepare myself to be a unique part of history tomorrow night with the inaugural Adelaide Crows Women’s team, I think back to all the trailblazers, volunteers and hard working women who have made this moment possible. I hope my part of history will change the minds of all Australians. Most of all I hope the path we are forging will change the mind of little girls who don’t have to wish to be any one but themselves to chase their dreams.
Peace, Love and Food,