The footy season started like no other before it. The first round saw capacity crowds and lockouts, players ordered off the ground because of lightning, and lots of ponytails.
Last month, the inaugural AFLW game between Collingwood and Carlton, with its jam-packed ground and carnival atmosphere, ushered in a new season in our national game’s history. The women had arrived.
And it’s been a long time coming, if you ask Susan Alberti, former Western Bulldogs vice-president and strong advocate for women’s football.
The long-time supporter of the Victorian Women’s Football League, after whom the league’s premier division cup is named, has often told how she loved playing footy as a girl but, of course, had to stop as a young woman because there was no league for her to play in.
So what a triumph for her, then, to see her Bulldogs take the game from Fremantle with a convincing 32-point win during the first round of the new women’s league.
It was a great occasion, too, for Sam Mostyn, the first woman appointed as an AFL commissioner (recently retired), who also lobbied relentlessly to establish a national women’s league.
Mostyn, who travelled the country to watch women play in regional leagues during her term, recognised the groundswell of passion for the idea. So did AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan when last year more than one million people tuned in to watch an exhibition match between the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne live on the Seven Network.
Apart from the finals, it was the largest overall average television audience in Melbourne of any game during 2016. That interest translated into the enthusiastic attendance at round one games—more than 50,000 fans, in fact—a great result for the emerging league.
McLachlan believes the league will continue to grow and hopes that eventually every AFL club will have a women’s team.
Eight teams—Collingwood, Carlton, Adelaide Crows, GWS Giants, Fremantle, Melbourne, Brisbane Lions and Western Bulldogs—are in the running to compete for the first title at the grand final on 25 March.
It’s interesting how things change. No doubt many fans and long-time members of the AFL hierarchy would have never have thought they’d see ‘their’ game being played by women at a national level. It’s the same with life; events happen that we never expected and sometimes never wanted. Change occurs—good, bad, difficult, delightful—and often we have no control over it.
Ecclesiastes chapter 3 has a well-known passage that talks about change and “a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to plant and a time to harvest” and so on.
In a world that is sometimes uncertain and ever-changing, the Bible also assures us there is one constant—Jesus. He doesn’t change, he is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 8).