On the weekend starting on Friday night, 3rd February, 2017 a new era in Australian Rules Football began, the WFL. We saw playing on the hallowed turf of Princess Park, now Ikon Park, Carlton FC’s home ground a virtual time honoured battle between two rivals, Carlton vs Collingwood. It was a match that was switched from Olympic Park to Ikon Park because of anticipated number of spectators. No-one predicted the actual number in attendance nor the unprecedented “lockout” of the ground those that arrived during the first quarter, due to the actual number who attended.
The game itself was everything that both the AFL, the WFL and its audience both at the ground and watching at home, could hope for. It was more. The atmosphere at the ground was electric, even if you weren’t at the ground, you still feel it emanate from the screens, which is what any game, of any sport can produce given the right circumstances, and this game had that in droves. This also carried onto the other matches over the weekend to firmly state without any qualms or questions, that WFL was now entrenched into the history books of this great Australian game, footy.
Besides the incredible feats of a snapshot at goals from Darcy Vescio of Carlton, amazing displays of skill from Adelaide’s Ebony Marinoff, and Western Bulldogs Bailey Hunt, to name just a few. It was and is an exciting time for this game that so many loved. So, I asked fans of the game why has the WFL been so successful, more than anticipated and on the whole, it has been unanimous.
Brent Thompson stated that “I think the timing (no footy for four months) was spot on…as this is our number 1 sport in the country” and most agree with this. While there are some who love cricket, while tennis this year was exciting, it was for only two weeks, but this game, this brilliant game is ours, it is as Australian as a Chicco Roll. Diane Grant stated that “girls for years have only really been allowed to play until a certain age and look into other sports…NOW everyone can play” and this is so true when you look at some of the players such as Erin Phillips of Adelaide who representing Australia in basketball and plays for Dallas in the WNBL, or Melbourne’s Harriet Cordner who started playing footy at a junior level, then due to nothing being available at a senior level, switched to athletics, basketball and soccer. There are many more, but the point is that they all came from other sports to play footy because now they can make it their career. Then, as Darren Townsend said, “probably first and foremost, they are aligned with pre-existing clubs” which if you look at Friday night’s game, the game was played by two clubs where the rivalry has been in existence for a long time. Yet as Perry Proeger said, “most die-hard AFL fans are just hanging for footy of any sort and the WFL provides some much-needed addiction relief.”
Now I agree with all these statements and more, but why has it been such a success that now, the AFL body is looking at making the WFL Grand Final to be held at the MCG? Would have the same result happened last year, the year before and so on? And what about the future of the WFL, will it be as successful? David Buck said, “would they have gotten the 24,500 fans if it wasn’t for the free entry?” and this does raise a great point which can only be solved when the AFL does place an entry fee. Also in the past five years, the AFL world has been tainted with the issues at Essendon and so really, I don’t think that the WFL would have been so successful as it is now. Also, some of the clubs involved now are on a road of great support and growth, Melbourne and Carlton; GWS who have become a top five side. Then there is the Western Bulldogs who have become the epitome of a downtrodden club rising to the occasion of winning a Premiership, so I think that right now, all the planets have lined up in the right way and the stars are aligned, enabling the blockbuster start of the WFL so incredible.
But the question does remain, will it be just as successful next weekend and in the future, just as it was at the beginning and so, this article will be in two parts, and a follow-up will be written after next weekend’s matches. I really hope that the momentum continues and the WFL carries the euphoria into the start of the AFL season, because this is really a great game which now, everyone can not only watch, but play as well. But watch out for part two next week.
(Names used in the article have approved to them being mentioned).