SPORT

At Last, Little Aussie Girls Can Dare To Chase Their Footy Dreams

This is the start of something big.

03/02/2017 10:43 AM AEDT | Updated 03/02/2017 4:20 PM AEDT

When traditional footballing rivals Collingwood and Carlton face off in the inaugural AFL Women's match on Friday night, all that will matter is this: That the footy is on.

Not the "women's footy". Just the footy, full stop. So pass the pies and fetch the scarf from the bag of winter woollies in the cupboard. Footy season starts in February this year.

But even though it's the earliest season bounce ever, it's not before time.

"Female sports fans have been waiting for this moment for a decade," says Sam Squiers, sports reporter and presenter at Channel Nine in Brisbane, who also runs the news and views website Sportette.

"It's a major social change for little boys and girls to see these powerful and admirable women. We won't know the full effect for another generation, but this is the start of a major shift in sporting culture."

Darrian Traynor via Getty Images
Here are two Collingwood people you're going to find it very hard to hate.

Over the past decade or so, women's sport has made major inroads into what some people still considered "male sports". Football (soccer), cricket and rugby (sevens) are all now played professionally by women in Australia. They're also often on TV.

Women's AFL has until now been a notable omission. Aussie Rules football is the nation's most popular game in terms of bums on seats, and our third most popular in terms of combined junior and senior participants. For years, women have been fans, club members, volunteers and more. Now it's their turn to kick some goals.

For now, AFL Women's will have an abbreviated eight week season with just eight teams. Players will receive wages that barely sustain a professional sporting lifestyle -- capped at $27,000 for marquee players and as low as $8,500 for lesser players.

The wages were even lower (a $5,000 base) when the new AFL Women's league was first announced. An outcry ensued, which resulted in a slight raise to the figures just mentioned.

The women's wages still lag a long way behind the average salary for a bloke in the AFL, which now tops $300,000. But the discrepancy reflects the fact that professional women's footy is new. The pathways to develop elite players have only just been born.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan sought to downplay some of the hype this week ahead of the league launch, saying "I will ask today that we give them time and space to grow into the elite footballers that we know they can be".

Women's sports advocate Danielle Warby also urged cautious optimism.

"We can't underestimate the importance of this. The AFL is a massive beast, so for them to get behind the women's game is fantastic.

"For me the worry is people might be expecting too much. I recently went back and watched some games of the first season of the the W-League [in 2008/09] and my goodness, the difference in quality was astounding.

"I want people to get excited by AFL Women's and get behind it, but they should also be a little realistic. Anyone looking at it comparing to men's games is making a mistake."

Quinn Rooney via Getty Images
These are Sydney's Auburn Giants, just one of the growing number of amateur women's footy teams around Australia.

Admission is free, so it's not yet known how many people will attend the Friday night AFL Women's season-opener at at Ikon Park -- better known as Princes Park, the old home ground of Carlton. But word on the street says the 20,000-capacity stadium could be almost full.

The game will also be televised live on Channel Seven, and it'll be interesting to see the ratings on a night when two over-the-hill, middle-aged Aussie boxing blokes are desperately slugging it out for attention in a fight struggling to capture interest. Our money's on the footy.

But the really smart money is on the future of women's footy and women's mainstream team sports in general. Squiers shares a great anecdote from the boundary of a WBBL match this year which gives you strong hope for the future of women's sport as a legitimate mainstream thing in this country.

"I was interviewing Holly Ferling at a Big Bash game and these little boys came up to her and wanted her autograph and to have their photos taken with her," she said.

"They haven't been exposed to the male dominated sports culture that the rest of us grew up in. These girls don't have to prove it to them."

Related: Our fun and occasionally cheeky chat with AFL Women's marquee player Moana Hope, who plays for Collingwood in the season-opener.

More On This Topic