“I’ve got goosebumps”.
My sister and I are standing on the hill at Blacktown International Sportspark. The GWS Giants have just drawn with Fremantle. Almost every player from both teams has sunk to the grass. Some of them are beating the ground with their fists. The temperature is in the 30s.
We’re on our feet because there seems to be no other thing to do. We clap our hands above our head and I can feel myself doing that smile I do when I don’t know whether I’m really happy or I want to cry. My sister shows me the bumps on her arms. I think I do actually want to cry.
I’ve thought a lot about what the Australia Football League Women’s (AFLW) has done for women since it started and no words I put together seem to work. It’s so huge.
So I’ll start with the stories.
We’ve been told some stories. The defiant weight loss, the fathers and daughters, the code hoppers, the gay players just going about their business, the hot pink headgear worn so a vision impaired mother can see her daughter, the Vietnamese parents who haven’t really seen what their daughter is doing. The older athletes rolling the dice because they’ve waited their whole lives for this.
While I sat in the chair getting my hair done last week, my hairdresser (a Crows fan transplanted to Sydney) said to me “I don’t know them yet but it’s going to be good to get to know the players.” We like the stories we’ve read and they are certainly part of the success of the AFLW but its success is also in making our own stories. For the first time we’ve been able to build our own stories around Australian football players who are just like us. Watching football together is about these stories, as much as the game itself. It’s about pouring shit on the opposition whilst secretly coveting their centre half forward. One reason the AFLW has worked is because women and girls have been finally allowed to see themselves on the field. We’ve also been given a licence to admire and disdain in equal measure.
Adelaide are full of stories so they’re as good a place as any to start.
There’s Holmes. The Avon Lady. (Is that, what do you call it, contouring? Whatever, it’s fucking amazing). She knows how to kick goals but seems to have taken a role closer to the ball. She gets in and under and I would sure as hell want her on my team.
Perkins. The girl who gives hope to fat girls everywhere. Her shorts are always on the verge of falling down and her kicking action is a thing of beauty. Perkins sticks the middle finger up: given her shape, the dominant narrative says she should be just happy to be there. She’s a big girl, she should put her head down and make way for others when required. Perkins kicks goals and she celebrates like a saviour, arms raised, still, her face full of triumph that doesn’t need your permission. As I am a lady of a certain size from a family inclined to tip the scales, she was always going to win.
Phillips. After round one I sent texts to my sister and father: “I think Phillips is going to be the one I love to hate”. They both concurred. They noted her drama skills (that coat hanger was actually around her chest) she hits the deck too easily. She’s a…diver. Come round two it was like someone had a word in her ear and she kept her feet. I’ve developed a secret admiration of her ever since. (Also: ARMS).
And that’s just Adelaide.
Then there’s Brennan. Don’t get me wrong I like Brennan, but there was something mildly amusing about her pursed lips in the coaches box as the Bulldogs lost to Collingwood, a team that had not won a game. She had been injured and had planned to return for that game. Her frustration was palpable. These people, she seemed to say, are just not fucking COMMITTED. (But seriously, check out her Instagram, the woman is a machine).
Filocamo. The niggler. I have to admit to not watching her closely in every game she’s played but from what I’ve seen she is the stocky chick who likes to get in your face and ruin your prima donna shit. I hesitate to compare her to Ballantyne or Crowley but I bet I’d be on report if I played on her. (Despite being a stocky chick myself who likes to…you get the picture).
Nguyen. I was heartbroken when she did her ACL. She is fantastic to watch.
Dal Pos. Short legs, fierce intent. Apparently requested to come to GWS. If she hangs around she’ll be a legend.
Brush. Plays W-League one week. AFLW the next.
Metcalfe. Adelaide ruck, acts like a nightclub bouncer (in a good way). Scares the living daylights out of me.
I am a Swans fan. I am not keen on Hawthorn, I love beating West Coast and of course, detest Collingwood (and GWS is fast rising as a serious contender for vicious thoughts) but I have not been able to bring myself to dislike any of the AFLW teams. The truth is, I don’t hate any team. How can you? When every team sings their song on the field close to the fans, how can you not feel their joy? When the players head to the sidelines after the game and celebrate with their families and friends who are holding hand-painted signs and beaming like clowns, how can you begrudge them? How can you not smile when you see little kids taking selfies with these women? How do you still post comments on Facebook and Twitter bemoaning their lack of skill, the clumsiness of their hits, the fact that they don’t play like Hawthorn? No fucking shit Sherlock. (I would like to see such armchair players in a contest with Talia Radan. Her eyes are always hard and focussed and her neck alone will break you).
These women have not had the benefit of whole competitions organised for them since they were five years old. They have not had school competitions, they have not had combines, skills camps or talent spotters. They have not been mollycoddled through academies where you’re plucked from hundreds of others at 10 years of age and told you’re better. In academies boys are part of a chosen group who are given special coaching and hot-housed. Not only are they given football opportunities unavailable to most, their right to be there, on account of their gender, is never questioned. They never struggle with permission: permission to be allowed to play without question, to make mistakes without it being blamed on your gender. Until academies (or similar) are built for girls, or existing ones opened to them, all arguments about a skill deficit are moot.
Kim Mickle, a former javelin thrower, was commentating on one of Fremantle’s matches. The Fremantle player was commentating because she was on crutches, courtesy of an ACL rupture suffered in round one. As one of her team mates lined up a shot at goal she said: “I will put my house that I do not own on this kick”.
And that there, is the AFLW.