A Voice from the Stands: No stands but always pure joy

We’ve passed the halfway mark of the season and with that comes that familiar bittersweet feeling.

On the one hand, a thrilling race to the Grand Final looms but on the other, this competition that we adore so much will shortly come to an end for this year.

Image: Michael Willson/AFL Media

It’s more than simply an end to the season this year though. Because next year everything changes. With the addition of two new teams in Geelong and North Melbourne, we’ll have a longer season and ideally a finals series.

We’ll also have a bunch of new players, new grounds and the beginnings of new rivalries.

All of this is exciting. The growth of women’s footy is exciting, and round five gave us plenty to be excited about too.

But for this football enthusiast, round five was also the first time in AFLW history that I didn’t see a game live. The first time I didn’t find myself pushed up against the fence at Casey Fields or sitting on the edge of my seat at Whitten Oval or squinting in the fading light at Ikon Park or trying to find shade under a cheer squad flag at the South Pine Sports Complex or…. well, you get the picture.

Was it general soreness that forced me to be rested this weekend or was it the footy gods testing me? Perhaps we’ll never know. Still, my perch on the couch was hardly the stuff of nightmares.

On Friday night, Melbourne and Brisbane took to Casey Fields. Last year, the meeting of these two teams gave us our first game of wet weather footy and the first game stopped for lightning.

The weather was far kinder this time around and despite some wayward kicking for goal and a surging Brisbane outfit, Melbourne managed to hang onto the win and keep themselves in the race for a Grand Final spot.

Over west at Fremantle Oval, the Giants downed the Dockers and in a reflection of how open this season is – how even it is – and gave themselves a chance to make it to that second last Saturday in March.

Adelaide did the same on Saturday night, beating Carlton by 35 points as Erin Phillips warmed the bench for most of the game, leaving the goal kicking to exciting young recruit Ruth Wallace.

Much has been made about the AFLW being far more community minded than its older counterpart. Singing the song on the ground, meeting fans at the boundary fence and playing games in unexpected venues. And that’s exactly what my Bulldogs and Collingwood did on Sunday.

Some 130km east from Melbourne’s CBD, gold was discovered in what would become Moe in 1852. Ten years later a Post Office was opened and the rest is history. History too was made at the Ted Summerton Oval in Moe with the fieriest game of AFLW I’ve seen to date.

Hardly surprising given what both teams were playing for: a game clear on top of the ladder for the Bulldogs and any hope at making the finals for the Pies.

I ‘watched’ this game via Twitter before racing home for the replay and while the Bulldogs led at every break, a late surge from Collingwood had me hurriedly refreshing my feed and hanging for the final siren. When it came, that eight-point win was just as sweet as last week’s.

Seeing your team do well leaves you feeling good. There’s no two ways about it. It puts a smile on your face and puts narratives of Grand Finals and premierships in your dreams.

There’s been a bit of talk lately about what the AFLW means to those of us who have struggled to reconcile our love of the game with the sexism, racism, violence and homophobia that is so often present at nearly every level of the sport.

I describe it as a juggling act, a constant negotiation and renegotiation. For every win, for every long hope for a premiership cup, for every smile on your face, there is a niggling feeling that you can never quite leave behind.

For me, this is one of the reasons why the AFLW is so exciting. Because there is no niggling feeling. It is pure joy. On the fence, in the stands or at home on the couch, we can revel in this game we love being played by an incredible group of pioneers and ground breakers whose names will long linger in the history books.

I can’t wait to get back to out there this weekend. I can’t wait to find my seat in the stands, to hang over the boundary fence, to cheer every goal, every mark, every bump.

I can’t wait to feel that joy.

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