The success of the AFLW has been clear for all to see, but it’s important to get a handle on just how significant the push for women’s and girl’s football is at a grassroots level.
I wanted to get a handle on exactly how big was the push for female football is. Is it even real, or is it just AFL spin? By using ladders published on SportsTG, a website which details just about every result from each sporting body in Australia, I had a go at finding out.
I was involved, albeit very peripherally, in women’s football a number of years ago through my daughter, who began playing as a young adult with no background in the game except for a bit of kick to kick with family and friends at the oval. Her interest wasn’t sparked via anything I had done but through a Footy for Mums program that was designed for mums to better understand football. My daughter just happened to go along with my wife, and the local women’s club cunningly used the program as a type of recruiting tool.
In Perth around five or six years ago the women’s league was up and running and based primarily on WAFL teams. From memory there were only around eight women’s teams. Fast forward to today and there are 27 teams across the league, plus reserves and colts as well as 18 women’s teams playing in the WAAFL, which started just this year, in two divisions.
That’s without mentioning the hundreds of specific girls teams across the WAFL junior zones that did not exist even four or five years ago. Most of this growth has occurred after AFLW rather than before it.
In Adelaide in 2013 there were eight women’s teams; in 2018 there were 58 playing in the South Australian amateurs, not including the six women’s teams at SANFL level, a number which will become eight in 2019. At a junior level, as is the case in Perth, there would be hundreds of new girl’s teams.
In Sydney in 2014 there were 16 women’s teams. In 2018 there were 29 women’s teams across three divisions. There were only 12 girl’s teams in junior AFL in Sydney in 2014 across the under-14 and under-18 divisions, but by 2018 this had grown to 106 teams across the under-12s, under-14s, under-15s and under-18s and a further 17 specific under-10s teams, although at that age girls regularly play in mixed teams.
Newcastle and the Central Coast have 16 women’s teams in the Black Diamond league and over 30 junior girl’s teams in 2018. In 2014 they had no girl’s or women’s teams. Canberra is at a very similar level, though the national capital traditionally has a much stronger league at men’s level.
Brisbane and the Gold Coast had 31 women’s teams in 2018 across a number of divisions and a similar number of girl’s teams as Sydney. In 2014 they had just 12 women’s teams.
Melbourne in 2018 had 63 women’s teams playing in the VAAFL; in 2016 they had no women’s teams. There’s a 13-team women’s competition based primarily on the old VFL clubs, with a 12-team colts tournament attached. The Essendon District Football League had 13 women’s teams in 2018, The Northern Suburban Football League had 20 women’s teams, the Western Region Football League had nine women’s teams and the Southern Football Netball League had 17 women’s football teams.
Bar the VAAFL, every suburban league has under-18s and hundreds of lower age group teams for girls. Go back five years or so and basically none of this existed, so when people talk about quick growth, it has simply been amazing.
It’s also worth mentioning that many country leagues throughout Australia now have women’s competitions attached. Even Exmouth, one of the most isolated towns in the world – they undertake a 350-kilometre drive to Carnarvon to play footy on the weekend – runs a women’s night and games during the season.
If a country league doesn’t have a women’s competition attached, you can bet they are in the process of implementing it or seriously thinking about it. Albany in Western Australia will have a new women’s competition in 2019 for EX. There would be 100-plus leagues throughout county Australia and upwards of a thousand clubs.
So what do all these impressive numbers mean? They mean that AFLW was a case of build it and they will come rather than build a solid foundation underpinning the game at the highest level first. So in theory we should see the standard of AFLW rise pretty quickly as girls who have played the game most of their lives come through in far greater numbers.
The questions still remain. Is this a flash in the pan? Will the initial impetus, enthusiasm and fantastic numbers taper off? Is the game really a bit rough for women and perhaps needs to be a bit more sanitised Are injury concerns valid, and what can be done it?
But for now all we know is that women’s football is thriving.