In 2014, Australian Rules football celebrated 25 years of a sporting competition in the country of England. In 2015, Women’s Australian Rules football officially took off with an AFL London Women’s league comprising of four already established men’s clubs each becoming host to a Women’s team. Those founding clubs being: Wimbledon Hawks, Wandsworth Demons, North London Lions and the South East London Giants.
In previous years, only exhibition games had been held for females on AFL London Grand Final day or training sessions for those interested. The development of a women’s league in London only confirms the continual development and interest in the game away from Australia. Even more so with the recent implementation of Women’s AFL matches being played since 2013 between the Western Bulldogs and the Melbourne Demons.
Lauren Sparks, a current player for the Wimbledon Hawks, had previous experience playing Aussie Rules football back in Melbourne – 3 years for Melbourne University, representative football for Victoria at the National Championships and Vic Metro. Lauren was also a member of the first two Women’s AFL sanctioned exhibition matches, playing for the Western Bulldogs against the Melbourne Demons. When asked about her knowledge of the league (men or women’s); “before coming over here I didn’t know much at all about the league…I found out they were introducing the first women’s league and that 4 teams would be involved”. As most antipodeans tend to do when moving abroad, a sporting club or organisation is a safe house as a social network. Lauren attributes the Wimbledon Hawks as an accessible way to meet new people, especially with the correlation between the men’s and women’s teams at the club.
Coming from a different Australian Rules football background, Jessie Hayes was part of the Junior Development Program at the Fremantle Dockers and had grown up around the sport. Having minimal knowledge of the Women’s AFL London league before arriving in London, Jessie knew that she would eventually be drawn to a club in one way or another. “Before I came over I had an inkling I would get involved in a club in some way”. She thanks peer pressure from her friend, a North London Lions player, to ‘[encourage] me to get on the other side of the boundary line for once”.
Both players strongly condone the sport as a great way to socialise with other people, and not only at their specific club, but over all the clubs. Many clubs hold joint social occasions to encourage camaraderie between each other – North London Lions and the West London Wildcats jointly host a Thames River Cruise as part of the Wildcat’s Ladies’ Day celebrations. Ladies’ Day is quickly becoming more and more important for the AFL London clubs’ to ascertain their stance as a genuine supporter of further developing and creating awareness of women’s involvement in Australian Rules football.
Without a doubt, the social aspect of the league is a part that everyone enjoys – “It is brilliant to have found such a great family like the Lions. London life wouldn’t be anywhere near as good without the club” Jessie states. As most expats in London can agree, playing Aussie Rules football assists in avoiding a dosage of the ‘Heathrow Injection’ (the sudden weight gain from lack of physical activity when arriving into London).
But where to next for the Women’s AFL London league? The current teams participating in the league are looking to grow their participation numbers and clubs that have yet to field a team would ideally be looking at staking their presences in the league.
“It’s definitely got room to grow, the amount of foreigners that are exposed to it, never seen it before, and then are hooked the minute they try the game, it intrigues people” says Lauren in regards to further expansion of the women’s league. Women’s team are both represented at the Axios Euro Cup as well as the International Cup (World Cup for Aussie Rules football), however there is always the desire to continually expand the participation level for both genders in Europe.
For more information regarding the Women’s AFL London league or any local competitions please head to the Women’s AFL London website.