Members of the GWS Giants AFLW team
Members of the GWS Giants AFLW team, including UNSW alumnus Rebecca Beeson (second from right)

Last Saturday, me and three mates grabbed a couple of roadies, jumped in the car, and blasted “Pub Feed” by the Chats as we headed down the M2 towards Blacktown International Sports Park to watch the AFLW.

Inevitably, after about 45 minutes one of the guys had to go to the bathroom. Instead of pulling over we handed him one of the empty roadies and tried to take his mind off his at-capacity-bladder by belting out the GWS Giants “Big, Big Sound”. All your typical pre-footy antics.

Thankfully he held on until we reached a pub near the ground. Turns out we arrived at the Imperial Hotel in Rooty Hill just as their first happy hour of the day was starting (they have multiple happy hours). This was particularly pleasing for my friends who are all part of the “Reschs Appreciation Society”. Drink in hand they assured me that “it doesn’t get much better than a $4 Reschs”. We downed a drink, talked to some of the locals, then hit the road again destined for the Suns v Giants AFLW match.

After parking highly illegally on the curb of a McDonalds, the four of us walked through the front gates, grabbed some more drinks, then stood behind the goalposts proudly holding the sign we had made earlier that day, which read “The Main Barr”.

For those wondering, this is a play on words using Giants number 8 Nicola Barr’s name as a way to let everyone know that they were welcome to come and join us on the hill for a drink. Did I really need to explain that? Is it a good joke if it needs explaining? Probably not.

Anyway, when the rain threatened to destroy our beautiful sign, we made our way back to the grandstand where we sat for the rest of the game glued to the on-field action.

Sure, it was a low scoring game, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad game. I mean, if anyone in the crowd was fit to provide criticism of a game of Australian rules football then it’d probably be me and my mates – considering two are current AFL players, one is an AFL coach, and I myself can be found walking from stoppage to stoppage for the mighty UNSW Bulldogs in the AFL Sydney comp around the time where finals start.

The low score didn’t bother any of us because well, we know that footy isn’t all about the score. Sitting in hours of review meetings over the years, you develop a more nuanced appreciation of the game. So when I watched the Giants and the Suns, I didn’t care that there weren’t goals being scored. Instead I noticed things like Giants defender Pepa Randall yelling from the back, telling the players in front of her to jump on the other shoulder of their opponent to stop them from getting the outlet kick.

Sadly, not everyone sees it this way. Something I saw quite clearly on social media on the way home. Because I don’t really have the time or patience to reply to every “bro” who claims he loves footy, but doesn’t like the AFLW, yet insists that he isn’t sexist; or every young boy who saw the 9 to 8 score line and thought that a good way to gain the acceptance of fellow “bros” was to ridicule women’s sport online, I’ve decided to put some of my general responses to some common comments down below.

1. “Equal scores, equal pay”

This is a lovely exaggeration of the calls to increase the payment of female players in light of the significant pay gap that exists between them and their male counterparts.

I don’t think anyone’s actually saying that right now women’s players should be getting a salary cap the size of the men, but when you hear how much some women are earning, and realise how much money is generated by the organisations who run these competitions, then it’s pretty clear that the money could be distributed more evenly than it is (*Cough* AFLX *Cough*).

And if that’s really your angle then let’s make player (male and female) payments based upon the outcome of the game. Let’s pay each according to their direct statistical output and take it from them if they don’t reach certain performance markers. Heck, lets reduce the whole game down to the numbers. That’ll make it something worth emotionally investing in, won’t it?

I couldn’t tell you the score of any of the lopsided games I played in (and there were a few, particularly when you’re in a Swans reserves team loaded with listed players and playing against part-time students), because that’s not the memorable part. What I do remember is sitting in the change rooms after a close win, elated by the fact we had just snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Whether it’s 9 to 8 or 109 to 108, I couldn’t care less. It’s the margin that keeps me engaged. And the game I saw on Saturday had me well and truly gripped. “Equal scores equal pay” forgets that financial investment is both the result and the cause of emotional investment, and it seems the lack of emotional investment is stemming from something other than a dislike of the game you just watched. But I guess if you say you’re not a sexist, I’ll just have to take your word for it.

2. “I could’ve kicked that”

Part of me doesn’t want to acknowledge these comments, because they come from the same people who might say that Lance Franklin is overrated, and it’s like ummm, no, not really. That guy’s the best player I’ve ever seen, I mean, I often felt guilty that he had to waste his time training with the rest of the team because he was that much better than everyone else.

Anyway, Mr. “I could’ve kicked that”, I’m guessing you play a bit of local footy? Well if I ever want to see a cheap, lazy brand of footy getting played then I’ll come down and watch one of your games. I’m sure I wouldn’t see any off-ball shape, full team stoppage structures, or balance between inside-outside defence. Instead of the discipline and structure that I saw on the weekend, I’d probably see 44 blokes shaking their heads and waving their arms when they don’t get a cheap handball receive in their bid to fulfil some fleeting childhood dream. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, I’ve won two flags in two years doing it, but just don’t take it out on the women. Thanks.

3. “I have nothing against AFLW, but they’re just not as good as the men.”

Oh you mean they’re just not as good as the men who train all their lives in talent systems devised to create the best possible players, and who get paid so much that they don’t have to do anything else other than refine their craft all week?

Well, no shit. Let me use a metaphor, everyone likes metaphors don’t they? Say you plant a seed. You don’t just throw it in the ground and say “well, where the fuck is it” when a tree doesn’t sprout up instantly do you? You know it takes time to grow. So, you water it, make sure it gets the right amount of light and do whatever else is required (FYI: I don’t plant many trees). Then, if the trees growth is not meeting your unrealistic expectations, you wouldn’t stop watering it (or abuse it on social media) hoping that’ll make it grow faster would you?

This is the fourth season of the AFLW. The seed has literally just been planted. Comparing it to the big tall oak tree of the AFL, which has a hundred-odd years of development behind it is so unfair. Have you ever seen vintage footage of the early days of the AFL/VFL? It’s not that schmick.

Anyway, to sum up: on Saturday I got cheap beers in Rooty Hill then went and watched a game of footy. The final  score of the game was 9 to 8. I had a great day with my mates and thoroughly enjoyed the four-quarter contest, and I am kind of sick of people who act like their criticism of the AFLW isn’t rooted in some form of sexism.

And for anyone interested, The Main Barr will be open again in the future. Cheers.

Brandon Jack is a Sydney based writer, musician, and former Sydney Swans AFL player. This article was first published on Pedestrian