A Voice from the Stands: The encore

Footy is theatre as much as it’s sport. A Shakespearean drama of epic proportions played out on a lush, green oval with a cast of heroes and villains.

The tough tackles, the hard-fought goals, the joy, the heartbreak – if you’re a footy fan, it’s what you live for.

Image: Kirby Fenwick

Sitting in the stands you ride waves of emotion, from the exhilaration of a stunning mark or a fast running goal to the agony of a scoreboard that isn’t going your way.

The first round of the AFLW competition delivered all that in spades. And the second round? It felt tougher and faster, more settled – the expected nerves of the inaugural round seeming to have disappeared.

It was more competitive – Saturday afternoon’s tussle at Princes Park between Carlton and the Giants case in point – and rippling with that unpredictability that is a hallmark of footy.

I was pinching myself again this weekend, still not quite believing it, even as it played out in front of me, that a national women’s footy competition was not just a reality but a magnificent one at that.

My week had been filled with writing and reading and talking about the AFLW, I’d re-watched games and listened to podcast after podcast and loved every second.

‘Pure happiness’ a friend said to me, and she was right.

On Friday night, I was back at Whitten Oval to see my Bulldogs take on the Crows. I sat in the grandstand this time, and as I took my seat my eyes drifted to the names stamped across the front of the stand, names like Charlie Sutton and John Schultz, Footscray legends whose place in the history books is assured.

I’m already looking forward to the day names like Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney will be up there.

The inevitability of such a thought, the knowledge that these women will soon, if not already, be household names – how wonderful is that?

Still, I can’t pretend my joy wasn’t tempered on Friday night when my Doggies fell to an impressive Crows outfit.

Lacking composure and inaccurate in front of goal, we were outplayed. That said, I couldn’t help but smile as the images of the jubilant Crows filled my social media feed the next morning.

These women haven’t had an easy road. They’ve struggled with a lack of opportunities, with second-rate facilities and grounds, and yet the passion they take to the field with is contagious.

My heart will always belong to the Bulldogs, but I do feel a glorious mix of admiration and affection for every player on every team.

In the stands at Carlton, I sat next to a young Blues fan who was far from impressed when I clapped and cheered when the Giants picked up their first goal.

“I’m actually a Bulldog,” I said. They seemed surprised and wondered why I was there.

“I just love women’s footy,” I explained. And I’m not the only one. Attendance across round two was again fantastic; an impressive 10,000 packed the stands at Fremantle Oval on Sunday afternoon.

And while the crowd of mainly Dockers would have been disappointed not to come away with the four points, they were treated to a cracking game and some superb play from the superstar that is Brisbane’s Tayla Harris.

At Whitten Oval, I sat beside a couple of Bulldogs supporters and revelled in sharing the story of Adelaide’s Sarah ‘Tex’ Perkins.

I told them about the work she put in to get herself ready for the draft, about the gut-wrenching disappointment she must have felt when she wasn’t drafted and about the joy she must have felt at being picked up as a free agent by the Crows.

She starred on Friday night, kicking two goals.

It’s players like Perkins, and like Carlton’s Kate Shierlaw, who was drafted from the London-based Wimbledon Hawks and debuted impressively on Saturday afternoon, and Melbourne’s Cat Phillips, an ultimate Frisbee champion whose third quarter running goal was instrumental in the Demon’s mighty come from behind win on Saturday night.

It’s players like them, and so many others whose stories we’re quickly and eagerly learning, that set this competition apart.

I’ll be back in my usual place this weekend, in the stands at Whitten Oval for the only Melbourne game on Saturday night.

But I’ll be keeping a close eye on what happens in Adelaide this Sunday, where a top of the table clash will see the Crows take on the Blues.

I’ll be looking out for the Giants as well; I’m quietly confident that they’ll repeat their impressive efforts against Carlton when they take on the Dockers in their first home game.

And I’ll look to Brisbane, for their first home game against Collingwood, and hope for some more magic from Sarah D’Arcy and Emma Grant, and Sabrina Frederick-Traub and Jessica Wuetschner.

Do you know those names? Don’t worry, you will soon.

 

Kirby Fenwick is a passionate Western Bulldogs supporter who will be watching her side from the outer during the 2017 season, sharing weekly thoughts and experiences from a fan’s-eye view.