Like most football deprived fans in 2020, it has been a while since I had been to a football game.
As a Swans fan, I don’t have an AFLW team to support, so I’ve never actually made it down to an AFLW game before.
A week ago I found myself in Melbourne and decided to take the opportunity to do what all good footy fans should do, and that is head down to a football game.
I went to Ikon Park watch Carlton vs Geelong.
I’m not a religious watcher of AFLW, but I knew that I wanted to look out for the Carlton forward line. Tayla Harris, Maddy Prespakis, and Darcy Vescio. To my realization, as the Blues ran out to the song, Tayla Harris walked behind me, in street clothes, to find a seat with a view.
But that wouldn’t deter me.
The afternoon at Ikon Park was an absolute delight. It reminded me of all of the great things about footy, all the things that I’ve missed since I last attended a footy game back in 2019.
Some things stayed the same. The team songs as the players run out to the field. It was great to hear the songs, and the build of anticipation as the game neared.
I was sitting, with $6.00 chips and a bottle of water in the baking sun on the old wooden bench seating at Ikon Park. Reasonably (well, almost) priced food was a welcome change. I didn’t even mind the splinters that I was getting from sitting on the benches.
As soon as the siren went, I forgot all about both.
I was sitting with a friend, sitting behind a family, father, two daughters, and friends, all in a row. All of a sudden, instincts kick in and something came after me as Jess Hosking laid an early tackle, and all of a sudden, I let loose with an almighty roar.
BAAAAALLLLLLL!!!! The primal scream of a footy fan demanding the free-kick from an umpire.
I hadn’t even realised I’d done it until they turned around, and smiled, and agreed with me.
And so, the whole afternoon went the cheers, the groans, the sighs, and the thrills. Letting loose and enjoying ourselves again.
The game was relaxed (for us spectators at least, not the players). We sat, and for a moment, sitting on a splintering wooden bench and pondered. This might have been me down at a local park, down the road at the closest footy oval to my house in inner Sydney.
The atmosphere at Ikon Park was wonderful, and then someone would do something that reminded you that we were watching elite athletes go to work.
Whether it was Maddy Prespakis, unstoppable at every turn, putting on an absolute clinic, or Darcy Vescio making the Geelong defence look silly.
But what made it most fun was the fact that I was sitting there, with the joy of a family day out, on some wooden benches, watching the best go at it. Like I was actually just down the road from my house.
It took me all the way back to sitting at the ground after my u11s game, watching the u18s and the seniors go about it. It took me back to that atmosphere, of family fun, and plenty of parochial passion. It took me right back, all the way to that environment where I fell in love with footy, and I can’t wait to go again.
Sometimes when I sit in a full stadium, it used to feel like I was further from the game. I was one of the crowd, and I stopped feeling like I was part of the game. I’d feel just an observer, sitting my spot in the Berwongle stand in the SCG.
Rather than feel apart of the game, I’d watch as it unfolded, cheer for my side, have my voice drowned out, and feel miles away from the players.
On this day I could hear the contact of shoulders charging for the footy. I could feel like I was close to the action. I could share a laugh with all the families around me, and the quiet as everyone held their breath waiting for the ball to drop or sail across the line.
I didn’t know how much football needed this branch of the game. in the previous years I had watched it grow and evolve on the television, but seeing it in the flesh has made me realize that this is now a key and thriving piece that has been stitched into the fabric of our game.
A part of the game that everyone should proud of the fact that we now have.
I would recommend that every footy fan who loves the game, make a day of it. Get down to a suburban ground, and watch the AFLW go about it.
It may still be in its infancy but it has a certain mystique and has provided the game with a shot in the arm many didn’t think it needed but are glad it got it.
It has only reignited my passion for this great game and reminded me that I’m grateful that our great game is inclusive and highly professional.
It was a reminder that the elite of our game can go about it, and wow us with their skill and athleticism, all while we sit on a park bench with family, and soak up the atmosphere.