In further signs of growth for women’s Australian Rules Football, Wimbledon Hawks footballer Lisa Wilson has been appointed as AFL Europe’s Head of Women’s Development.
Wilson, who has held such roles as Coach, Team Manager and Digital Media Coordinator, along with her representative honours with the England Vixens and GB Swans, will now be responsible for encouraging the development of new women’s teams throughout the European continent.
Speaking on the Girls Play Footy Podcast, Wilson said she is excited by the task of developing footy in a region that’s still fairly new to the women’s game.
“I’ve been brought on to try and increase the participation of the women playing across the whole of Europe, as well as strengthening the current teams we have,” Wilson said.
“Mainly this year, I’m looking at getting Ireland, Great Britain and the European Crusaders teams over to Melbourne for the AFL International Cup in August.”
Although IC17 and fundraising for those teams will be high on Wilson’s agenda, a lot of work will also be done in growing women’s Aussie Rules at the grassroots levels, especially in those areas that don’t have an established local competition yet.
“Footy for women in Europe really hasn’t been around for that long,” Wilson explained.
“There’s been girls playing up in Scotland for around seven years, and obviously the girls have been playing in Ireland for while.
“But in mainland Europe, such as France and Scandinavia, it’s really sort of a new sport, and they’re jumping on with the men’s teams who’ve been around for a while.”
In the UK, the AFL London Women’s League is going from strength tor strength.
Just two seasons in, a fortnightly four-team, 18-a-side competition is in operation, with further plans to extend to eight teams off the back a ‘footy taster session’ this Saturday at Victoria Park, London.
With the proven track record of gaining new players through the sessions, Wilson hopes to hold some of these on the European mainland.
“One of the aims that I’ve set for this year is I want to get some taster sessions right across the continent.
“We’ve already pencilled one in [in the UK] which is going to be in Wales, because the Welsh chairman has contacted me saying he really wants to grow the sport over there, as he really wants a Wales team competing in the [nine-a-side] Euro Cup in October, in Toulouse, France.
“One of the other countries we’ve had girls get in contact is Germany, so I think they are going to be another one of our focuses.
“Of course the countries that have already got these pioneering girls go strong, so France, Denmark and Sweden, I’ll be looking to help them out with recruitment drives where I can.”
One tool that is sure to aid Wilson in attracting European-based females to the game is the ability to show them women playing the game at the top level in Australia, with all AFLW matches being streamed for free to countries outside of Australia through WatchAFL.com.
“It’s been so good to be able to share with anyone, to see these girls playing.”
“I work in a company [outside of AFL Europe] that’s dominated by women. I’ve shared it with them and they’re all amazed to see these girls playing at such a high level.”
“So it’s a real selling point.”
Wilson would have also been proud as punch that two [Australian born] footballers who had played at her club, Wimbledon Hawks, were recruited by AFLW teams, with Kate Shierlaw picked up by Carlton as a rookie signing and Lauren Spark returning to the Western Bulldogs after her exhibition match appearances for them in 2013 and 2014.
“If we saw Kate’s name on a team sheet, it would say she came from Wimbledon Hawks.
“Frustratingly for us, Lauren decided to put down Melbourne University, but we need someone to put down Wimbledon Hawks, because she’s one of our biggest stars we’ve had!
“Their recruitment makes it realistic that this could be a pathway for players.
“Kate only ever started it [playing Aussie Rules] over here; we put together that compilation video and she got drafted as a rookie.
“We’re really hoping at IC17 the AFLW teams are going to be sending scouts to the competition, because we’d love to have some of our girls taken on board.”
*The AFL London Women’s League taster session is on Saturday afternoon, February 11, from 1pm to 3pm at Victoria Park in London.
For further information about Aussie Rules in Europe, contact AFL Europe via phone or email. Details at: http://www.afleurope.org/contact/