Moving to London, I envisioned weekends consisting of high teas, Sunday roasts and classy cocktails with my new British friends.
All of this changed quickly when I found the Wandsworth Demons.
Growing up in Melbourne with a brother and a fanatical Richmond supporter for a mother, I’ve been breathing AFL since 1991. But having played soccer growing up, not once did I consider lacing up my boots to step onto an oval shaped field.
My boyfriend Mitch and I were introduced to some people at the club soon after arriving in London. Friendly and persuading, our rubber arms were twisted and we went down for a kick at Clapham Common.
We were in; even with Mitch’s shoddy hamstrings and my strong dislike for being tackled, the Demons were just too good to resist.
We were swiftly introduced to Kate Grabowski (Crabs), founding member and driving force of the Demons’ first women’s team in 2015.
Crabs was and still is a keen, determined footballer with a great passion for women’s development in AFL.
Crabs and Mitch got talking and within days he volunteered to take on the role of women’s coach for the 2016 season, and continued in 2017. I got to know Crabs and the original girls, and was infected by their passion for Aussie Rules.
With Crabs heading back to Australia, I couldn’t help myself, I needed to get involved and ensure her legacy carried on. I took on the role of Co-Vice President to support and focus particularly on growing Aussie Rules for women.
Stepping into a world of football politics, rule changes and behind the scenes of AFL London, I was lost, but supported and encouraged by my friends; Demons veterans who also shared a passion for developing the women’s side.
Towards the end of 2016, we knew 2017 was going to be bigger and better for women’s football across London. Enquiries for the season started tipping in early, and when we estimated 50-60 girls to come down, it was clear: we needed 2 teams.
With the support of AFL London and the drive of the club as a whole, sure enough, 70 girls were registered at the Demons for round one.
We were given the go ahead by AFL London to enter a second women’s side, to play in the inaugural conference division, joining Putney Magpies, London Swans and West London Wildcats.
Starting the season off on icy Sunday afternoons, we were quick to mesh not only as one big women’s playing group, but also as one big family with our male counterparts.
During the colder months we worked on the basics: kicking and handballing. Some women had never heard of Aussie Rules, let alone seen a ball.
We moved on to ball movement and positions and then finally started developing our own style of play, what we like to call “Shedee Footy”.
With dedication and hard work from Mitch and the leadership team, on and off the field, both teams have been focused and committed throughout the season.
The hard work paid off. Our Premiership side lost only one game and our Conference women fought their way through a tough season, as both women’s sides reach their Grand Finals on Saturday, August 5.
We joined our three men’s teams to complete the DEE5 occasion. It was the first time an Aussie Rules club in London had seen all five of their teams qualify for Grand Finals in the same season.
Our Conference women played the West London Wildcats, and although we didn’t bring home the chocolates, it was a hard-fought game and we managed to hold the undefeated Wildcats ladies to only four goals.
Our Premiership women played against the South East London Giants in probably the most physical, exhausting game I have played to date.
The Giants came out and gave it their all; however (fortunately), we managed to take the win.
Prior to this game I was nervous. I had won premierships before in netball and soccer but something was different; this game meant something more.
I’m not sure if it was how hard we had worked all season or just the spirit of Aussie Rules but I wanted it more than anything else.
With two Grand Final appearances and one win for our women, this season has been less about the individual and more about working together as one club to be as successful as we can be on and off the field.
We are reminded every week by our President, Jimmy Perret, to each encompass our club values.
The Wandsworth Demons are a family and a true representation of ambition, tradition and respect, and we are all so grateful to be part of the Wandsworth Demons and to don the red and blue each Saturday.
I may not be able to afford high teas or cocktails in Chelsea, but at least now I have 100-odd new friends from all over the world to share a pint and Sunday roast with.
I hope sharing my experience of playing Aussie Rules encourages women to get involved in the game. Don’t think twice about playing footy, find your local club and get involved for the 2018 season – you won’t regret it!
Bianca Valenzisi is the Vice-President of the Wandsworth Demons in London. To get involved with the Demons, or any of the eight teams around London, follow this link.