For the first time in the history of the AFL, a formal women's competition has been established in 2017. Here's where to find the games this year, when they are being played, what to expect and why you should go.
The women's competition this year will run over the pre-season for the men's competition, starting on Friday 3 February and finishing, after seven rounds, with a grand final on Saturday 25 March. There are 8 teams in the competition this year, but hopefully that will grow to include all AFL teams in years to come. There are a range of game times, including day, night and twilight games.
Western Bulldogs inside midfielder Ellie Blackburn prepares to launch off half-back in pre-season training at Whitten Oval (Image courtesy of the Western Bulldogs, solely for use in this article)
Here are a few of the games that will be particularly interesting to watch:
- The season opener on Friday 3 February will be a blockbuster clash between traditional rivals Carlton and Collingwood at Olympic Park Oval. It wouldn't surprise me if supporters from these clubs, which didn't have much joy from the men's competition in 2016, come out in force for this new avenue of hope.
- The first game between interstate clubs on Saturday 4 February at Thebarton Oval in Adelaide, and at Whitten Oval in Melbourne's inner west. The AFL has taken a bold decision to create a national women's league by providing licences to teams based in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane, rather than opting for more Melbourne teams in the competition. Will there be enough support for the teams that are based outside of Melbourne's football heartland? These games may answer that question.
- The first game at Casey Fields in Cranbourne East, on Sunday 5 February, between Melbourne and the Brisbane Lions. Could this be a litmus test for whether AFL games should be played in Melbourne's south-east more generally? If you want to show the AFL that you are tired of travelling along the Monash Fwy to get to a game and want the AFL to come to you, then make sure you are at this game.
- Moana Hope's return to Whitten Oval on Saturday 25 February. What kind of reception will goal-kicking sensation, Moana Hope, receive at Whitten Oval? She starred for the Western Bulldogs in the 2016 exhibition game, but this time returns in black and white for the magpies. Western Bulldogs fans who were enraptured by her earlier performance may have trouble watching if she performs as well again in this game.
Western Bulldogs key forward Katie Brennan - Can she outgun Moana Hope on 25 February? (Image courtesy of the Western Bulldogs, solely for use in this article)
There are many reasons to go along to a game this season:
1. The standard is surprisingly high and entertaining to watch: I say surprisingly, because the 2016 exhibition match between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs was more free flowing than most men's games, and the skill level on display was incredibly high despite the fact that until this year, women's footy has been an amateur profession. In its infancy, the brand of footy promoted by clubs in the women's competition is likely to be exciting, with hopefully less of the defensive flooding that has bogged down some of the men's games. This is supported by only having 16 players on the field at any given time, rather than the usual 18 in the men's competition. The women's ball is also slightly smaller, which will help players to better control it.
2. It's high quality football available locally: Many of the games are being played on formerly abandoned AFL grounds around Melbourne, so if you are feeling nostalgic for those old suburban footy grounds, catch a game at Whitten Oval or at Ikon Park (aka Princes Park). For the south-east growth corridor of Melbourne, there is also an opportunity to see games at Casey Fields in Cranbourne East. Melbourne's Olympic Park Oval, which is usually Collingwood's training venue, will also be tested as a venue for AFL footy.
3. Support gender equality in sport: As a former local footballer and AFL supporter, and as the father of two young girls, I am very happy that they, along with other women, will now have the opportunity to play football at the highest level, if they choose to do so. Sure, there is still a long way to go to achieve gender pay equality in the AFL, and it's been a tough battle for the players so far, but this will only be improved if supporters get out and watch the games.
4. Make a cultural statement about our country. Football is one of Australia's greatest cultural experiences, and visitors from all over the world come to see our unique game. It's what we talk about at the water cooler and what we obsess about in the news, even in the off-season. By embracing the women's competition, I may be over-stating it, but in some ways I believe we are showing the world and re-affirming to ourselves that we are passionate about our game and the values that it promotes such as healthy, active lifestyles, team spirit, community, loyalty, passion, fierceness and inclusiveness.
I've always felt that playing a sport gives you a greater appreciation for the game. I truly hope that the women's league flourishes.