Let’s Get the Ladies on Board
Retrace: Back in 1980, I started work at Melbourne’s most up market and luxurious Health Club in South Yarra, The Ultimate Sporting club. The who’s who of society went there, from Barry Humphries to Sam Newman and from Andrew Peacock to visiting artists like James Taylor and Billy Joel.
But the most impressive person I ever met there was Sue Gooding. She worked with us for a while as a Gym Instructor. She was perhaps the most beautiful looking woman I had ever seen, was extremely kind, smart and gentle and was also a former Canadian Women’s Olympic Gymnast. But the thing that got me most was that she was also the Captain of the Canadian Women’s Rugby Union Team.
In 2001, I was living in Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula. That was perhaps one of the best places I had ever lived. Being a person who likes to get amongst the community, I joined the local football club and played a couple of seasons, and also joined the Management Board of the Red Hill Recreation Reserve. It was a big gig because we had lots of facilities, Senior and Junior Football Clubs, Senior and Junior Cricket Clubs, a Tennis Club, the Red Hill Market and the Red Hill Show as regular users.
At the time, a memo went out from the local football league, seeking to urge the football clubs to start Netball teams for the ladies in the area. The league thought this would be a good way to get more women involved in the football clubs and as a consequence, strengthen the clubs financially.
I read the email and sat dumbstruck for a few moments. Of course, all the Netball keen women in the area already had their teams. Why would they abandon those just to play for a team established by the football club? The delusion and arrogance in the memo was quite shocking.
But the message was clear. The clubs needed to find a way to get more of the local ladies involved. When you get more women at social functions and games, you get more men. The whole thing sprouts wings from there.
So this floated around in my mind. You see, I am a true believer that sports clubs are an essential part of a community. They bring people together. The nurture friendships, common interests and provide those who need it an opportunity to serve; to make a contribution. Along the way, young adults can learn values through their participation in the game and the club.
During that year, my youngest daughter Toneya, took an interest in Football. She had a male teacher who loved the game and he entered a girls’ team in a lightning premiership. 10 Primary schools on the Peninsula sent a girls football team to play in the event.
Toneya was sick all week with the flu, really sick, but she was determined to play. The team needs me to be there she lamented. So on Friday morning she dragged herself out of bed and we headed for the oval.
Now I knew Toneya was a good athlete. She is small, but loves to train and is a very good netballer. At 12 years of age, she was searching for a sport she could make her own. Something awesome was about to unfold.
Over the next 80 minutes, I watched these young ladies go at it with as much ferocity as the boys would. They ran, bumped, marked, kicked, crashed through packs and took to the game like ducks to water. And Toneya, well, in that period of time, she kicked 20 goals.
As I watched, I remembered the memo from the football league. “This is it” I thought, “I am watching the future of local football. If these young girls keep playing, and why wouldn’t they, in 8 years we will have a women’s team playing at the Red Hill Football Club, and the other clubs in the league.”
So I flipped open my phone and rang David Parkin. “David, let me tell you want I am looking at right now.” I went on and explained the scene. I then told him about the memo and my vision for the future.
David is a smart guy who loves football and is passionate about people. He said, “Give me 5 minutes and I will ring Laurie Woodman” who was heavily involved in Football Administration at community level for the AFL.
David rang back and said, “Laurie is arranging a meeting with Mick Daniher at The Victorian Metropolitan Football League. He wants to know if we can come in next Wednesday.”
When I got home I rang an old friend Julie Henry who worked at GP Bates Advertising. They had the AFL Account and I asked her if she could mock up some promotion for women’s football. My goal was to get an under 13 girls competition going for the next season.
The Victorian Metropolitan Football League meeting was great. They decided to fund a female field officer and all looked well. But then the bombshell dropped a few weeks later. They had decided in all their wisdom to establish an Under 17 competition up in the city.
Now this was the very same year 3 young girls had been told they had to stop playing in an under 13 competition because administrators thought they should no longer be matching it with the boys. Under 13 was the exact target age group. From there, start an Under 15’s next year and in 2 more years start under 17’s.
Not one of those young girls who played that day went on to play competition football.
An opportunity went begging. Football and community level could have been very different by now. Is it too late to resurrect the idea? I do not know.
But the one thing I do know, young girls love playing football. Rugby and soccer are wide open for women. What is wrong with AFL?