Who would have thought so far this decade Julia Gillard would be our first female prime minister, Chelsea Roffey the first AFL female goal umpire, Michelle Payne the first woman jockey to ride a Melbourne Cup winner, and women could be deployed to frontline combat positions in times of war.
Now we have the first-ever AFL women’s competition starting with traditional rivals Collingwood and Carlton clashing tomorrow night, Friday, February 3, followed by the Crows and Giants at Thebarton Oval on Saturday.
Locally, come Sunday, March 19 we will have our own first women’s football competition starting with a carnival involving Great Southern Football League clubs Encounter Bay, Strathalbyn, Victor Harbor and Willunga.
What next, Dame Edna taking over the stage from Barry Humphries? In 1964 Bob Dylan sang The Times They Are a-Changin’ – and obviously they still are.
Despite many other once male-only sports like soccer, cricket and hockey having highly successful women’s competitions for many years, there has been much scepticism about this historic AFL move with a rippling effect now along our south coast.
It represents a huge financial windfall for the eight AFL clubs involved because the expenditure is relatively low compared with the normal AFL competition, and corporations are falling over themselves to be seen as sponsoring women’s sport and having a back-door entry into the AFL.
Locally, Grant Levy, chair of a group of local GSFL clubs putting their own history in place, believes this new competition for U12, U15 and a combined U18-open levels played over nine weeks is simply a chance for girls across the Fleurieu Peninsula to follow that AFL pathway.
“It’s about girls having the opportunity to have fun playing a sport they have always loved,” Grant said.
“There is a lot of crossover from other traditional girls’ sports, but there are also a lot who haven’t been playing any sport. They’ve grown up with their dad, brothers and perhaps a partner and want to be part of this game. It is giving another opportunity for another mainstream for all of our clubs.”
The move to introduce women’s footy in the region started by the Victor Harbor Football Club, at which Grant has enjoyed a long and overall successful association, with fruitful discussions with Encounter Bay, Strathalbyn and Willunga. There has also been strong interest from Goolwa-Port Elliot and Mount Compass.
“We invited all clubs to have a chat, and the overall response was outstanding,” Grant said. “It’s about clubs working together for the betterment of football.
“When I was trying to run around having a game years ago the bar used to generate the income at footy clubs, and I think every club would have been the same.
“But in this day and age the guys don’t drink – maybe at a function or if it is organised. Nowadays they don’t stick around their footy club and drink and drive; they are far more responsible, and that is a great thing for them and the community.
“Every club encourages that good behaviour. Most would just have a glass of water at the club, so you need to generate income from somewhere else.
“We have prided ourselves on being family clubs for a long time. To have girls participating as well, and with them feeling more at home within a clubroom environment can only be good for local football.
“Some people may see it as a shock having women’s footy, but we have had other sports for both men and women for a long time and with great success. We have changed as a sporting society.”
The new local women’s competition will implement existing South Australian Women’s Football League rules for each grade, including the U12s not being allowed to soccer the ball – they have to pick it up so they can develop their skills and don’t start with a bad habit.
The U12s games will be on half an oval, possibly enabling two games at once; U15s on a full oval but if there are fewer than 15 players it will be on a three-quarter oval, and the U18-open grade will be a full oval. Clubs will adjust their changeroom situation accordingly.
“If we only get nine players per team we are happy to play with that,” Grant said. “It’s about kids playing sport.
“We have a lot to work through, but the problems aren’t so big they cannot be resolved. The real pleasing thing is that this is not being driven by one club, but a group of clubs. I can visualise that once we get this competition up and running the GSFL will take it over, which would be good – it is their branding. For this to succeed we need club people at the start to get it off the ground.”
Kaitlin Purcell, 20, a qualified Level 1 football sports trainer and coach, and has played football for five years at Port Noarlunga, Mount Barker and more recently as a playing coach at Strathalbyn, said the new local competition was exciting because it was a pathway for young girls to play at the new highest level, the AFL.
Women’s football has been very strong at metropolitan club level in Victoria and Western Australia for a long time – they would be 20 years ahead of SA – and generally the sport has long gone beyond the days of there being a connotation that if a girl plays football she is likely to be gay. Today’s society is far more tolerant whatever the situation may be, and there is also now a significant number of girls involved in men’s football as trainers, stewards and in administration.
Kaitlin said having a women’s team will make it even more comfortable for a girl to be accepted at a football club. “No one will think anything of a girl being there,” she said.
“As a girl, whether you gain respect from everyone else in the club depends largely on the way you conduct yourself.
“If you don’t make the right choices you are not going to gain the respect regardless,” she said. “It will be something I will be talking to my girls about. If we don’t retain our personal respect there is no way we will be looked at as a footballer.”
The GSFL clubs are working closely together in the best interests of the game, and are quite happy if girls want to start at one club and move back to their preferred club once it establishes its own women’s team. If you are interested in playing women’s football at U12, U15 or U18-open levels, please contact either:
Jamie Lang (Encounter Bay) 0433 879 580; Kaitlin Purcell (Strathalbyn) 0456 917 758; Greg East (Victor Harbor) 0428 847 792; or Terry Corcoran (Willunga) 0439 080 387.