On Footballs and Ribbons

 In Families, Gender equality

A Tale of Under 10 Girls Football

It must be twelve months ago now that I left my son’s final football game for the season and saw the girls pass by me. There were 12 of them jumping around, giggling, in their football uniforms getting ready for their match, but it all looked slightly weird, there they were with face paint on and ribbons in their hair.

My heart warmed to see girls taking to the football field. AFLW had not yet arrived but it was well on its way. I do remember thinking it felt a bit odd. They looked like cheer leaders and I implicitly questioned whether they were there to look good and muck around or to play footy? Now I’m not terribly proud of that, but that’s unconscious bias for you.

Well what a twelve month journey it has been.

We crowded around the radio to head the women’s AFL draft, to hear our long-time family friend Penny Cula-Reid fulfil her dream of playing for Collingwood (pick 103), and later that summer she came over to play kick to kick with the kids. That was the start of something special for my daughter. She had never showed more than a passing interest in football, but that session she had a great time competing with her brother for the ball. She was not as strong or fast or as skilful as her older brother but she had a good go, visibly improved and most importantly she enjoyed it. ‘I might like to be a professional footballer when I’m older’, I hear from the back seat. ‘Well we better find you a team’. I had a dose of scepticism about whether this would last, but she had turned her nose up at netball and the opportunity to find her a team sport was definitely worth a go.

Rather than play in the mixed team at her brother’s club she wanted to try the girl’s team, I clearly was not the only one who had spotted the ribbons.

They were welcoming, and she was not the only one who had been bitten by this football curiosity. The team of 12 girls had doubled, and they needed to field two sides. We were reassured that half of the girls had never played before, and it was fairly obvious in those first few matches. There was enthusiasm, particularly over this express permission to tackle other players, but when they ended up with the ball, they stood there looking rather bewildered, not knowing what to do with it. The general character of the game felt a little different behind play too. When the ball is at the other end of the ground, bored 8 year old boys tend to make fart jokes and wrestle. Bored 8 year old girls tend to chat and do hand stands.

I wondered how many of these girls would stick it out, these were not your stereotypical set of sporty girls. Yes there were some natural athletes among them, but there were just as many for whom their main experience of sport was being picked last. Yes some of them were interested in football, but many of them would not have watched a full game. In the cold, wet, muddy mornings to come would they still be turning up for games, let alone weekly training?

Oh yea of little faith. We are now at the end of the season and we have every girl still playing. That last match was a tough one, but our girls were defensively strong and they struggled to make an impact on the scoreboard but some of those passage of plays were delightful. We had a smother to turn over the ball, a crafty pick up out of the pack, breaking free, a run, a dodge a handball, tackle (too high), long kick, mark, line up for goal. It was exciting and beautiful to watch. These girls had become footballers over the season, from a group of bewildered, nervous, excitable girls, to a team who enjoyed their game and loved each others’ company. So enraptured by the game, the coach (an absolute gem of a man) had to remind the players at three quarter time that he was yet to see one handstand on the ground, and that needed to be remedied in the final quarter.

This weekend my daughter is off to play in the lightning carnival, a modified version of a finals series. And I thought back to the previous years’ team and I’ve volunteered myself to go and buy the girls face paint and ribbons. Because these girls love playing football, and they love dressing up and they love being part of a team. And this year, I don’t find that strange at all.


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