A Voice from the Stands: Building a community

He’s maybe ten, if that. He sits in front of me, between his dad and older brother, on the wing at Princes Park.

He’s wearing a Carlton guernsey and alternates between shouting “C’mon blue girls” and yelling “Chewy on your boot” every time Brisbane lines up for a shot at goal.

Image: Kirby Fenwick

His enthusiasm is infectious and I can’t help grinning at him.

Later, after the final siren has sounded and Carlton has lost I say to him, “You’ll get ‘em next week, mate”. He nods.

Then I remember that next week the Blues play my Bulldogs so I call out, “No you won’t, you’re playing us next week,” and point to my Doggies jumper. He shakes his head, “You’re going down,” he says. I laugh as he walks away.

We might be on opposite teams; our hearts may belong to different shades of blue, but we’re still a part of a community.

We are social creatures, us humans. Community is something we crave, and we build it in the most unlikely of places sometimes.

Footy and community are so entwined it seems impossible to have one without the other. In fact, I think it is.

You’ll know this if you’ve ever been a part of a local club, if you’ve sat amongst your fellow fans at the MCG or shared a smile and nod with a stranger similarly draped in your team’s colours.

For many fans of AFLW, the community around women’s football is new to us. And yet, only a few weeks into the second ever season, it feels comfortable and safe and welcoming and warm in the most beautiful of ways.

This year, I’ve made a concerted effort to bring friends along to games who haven’t been before.

I entice them with my company but also with the promise of a fast and ferocious contest, one you can’t help but fall in love with.

I draw them into this community we’re building and help them see that there is a place for them.

That community extends beyond those who sit alongside me in the stands each week to include the clubs themselves and especially the players.

On Saturday afternoon, I sat on the edge of my seat in front of the television watching the Crows come from behind to snatch victory from my Bulldogs in a thrilling contest.

As much as Erin Phillips four goals hurt, I loved seeing Phillips back on the park doing all those Erin Phillips things that made us fall in love with her last year.

Only minutes after the final siren of that bittersweet game, I boarded a train bound for Princes Park to see the Blues take on the Lions.

Heralded as the round’s grudge match given Tayla Harris’ move to Carlton and Nat Exon and Bella Ayre’s move north, it was a scrappy affair early on but the Lions managed to wear down the Carlton defence to get themselves back on the winners list.

In the group sitting alongside me at Princes Park were two friends: one a long time footy fan and the other not. Neither had been to an AFLW game.

I think it’s safe to say they are converted. New additions into this community of ours.

The next afternoon, I made my way to Olympic Park to see the Magpies battle the Giants. In a game that saw the lead change multiple times, it was the Giants who walked away with the four points.

Beside me at the fence were a couple of American tourists catching their first live game of Aussie Rules and what a spectacle they were treated to. The icing on the cake being that ripper of a mark and beautiful goal from Phoebe McWilliams in the fourth quarter.

Out west on Sunday, the Demons were favourites and expected to beat Fremantle easily. But it wasn’t to be.

Some hard and impressive work from the likes of Kara Donnellan, Lisa Webb and Evangeline Gooch as well as two classy goals from debutant and round three rising star, Emily McGuire helped the Dockers to hold on to a five-point win.

Their second win for the season puts Freo on equal footing with Melbourne, Carlton, the Bulldogs and the Lions, throwing open the entire competition in the race for a grand final spot.

After the games wrapped up for the round, chat continued online about the goals and grabs and dimmed lights.

It was another reminder of the community that spins around the AFLW, equally as committed online as off.

It was a reminder of how invested we all are and what this competition means to us. What it means for equality, for this great game we call Aussie Rules, and for those of us looking for a space.

A space we can find in the stands at an AFLW game.

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