Women are taking to football like tigers, with ex-AFL players coaching and women coaching at VFL level. Brad McGrath talks to those driving the changes.
ZOE Lechte always watched on enviously while her brothers took the football field — and so in 2006 was delighted to hear about the Victorian Women’s Football League when the South Mornington Tigerettes were formed.
‘‘I guess I did love the game as a kid and I used to watch my two brothers play. I heard the [women’s] team was starting off from a family friend.’’
Since then, Lechte has become a premiership player with the Tigerettes and seen the club move into the Victorian Women’s Football League Premier division, although this season they’ve shifted back into the South East Division — ‘‘we lost some key players and I don’t think we could compete in Premier without them’’.
The Tigerettes are coached by South Mornington player Matt King, who has put his own playing aspirations on hold to lead the girls. He has been stunned by the skills. ‘‘It has been really good — it has been a bit of a challenge, in the first couple of training sessions I didn’t know what I had got myself into.’’ King says the women had the skills but as a relatively obscure sport for the fairer sex it was matter of teaching them how to train.
‘‘The men have been playing for many years and know what they’re doing when they get to training. The girls know their football but I guess you just need to teach them the drills. They are better than half the guys I played with.’’
Shaun Smith, the Melbourne footballer best known for his towering ‘mark of the century’, is another who has taken the plunge into the VWFL, signing up as coach of the Berwick Hawks in Premier division.
‘‘I was coaching Newlands and was on the footy trip up at Echuca and ran into these girls at the races and they wanted me to coach them. I didn’t think much of it and then I got a call.’’
Smith, who played 109 games for North Melbourne and the Demons, says the latest challenge in his football career has reinvigorated him. ‘‘I have copped a fair bit of flak from my mates,’’ he says. ‘‘There is absolutely a perception of women’s football but when you’re involved in it you realise how good they are. Hopefully, I have taught them a few things.’’
There are all sorts of outside perceptions of women footballers, but Jade Galliott certainly breaks the mould. The Berwick Hawks captain has blonde hair and describes herself as a ‘‘girly girl who is always wearing dresses’’.
The Cranbourne resident says opinions from outside people varied but there was generally a lot of questions and curiousity. ‘‘People become interested in things that aren’t common,’’ Galliott says. ‘‘They seem to really like it and when you go out and talk to a guy they are interested in it.’’
The VWFL is no ‘kick and giggle’ and Galliott says the professionalism of all clubs across the competition is getting higher and higher. ‘‘It is going to be hard to win this year because everyone is striving to be the fittest.’’
Perhaps the biggest name in women’s football is trailblazer Peta Searle, who coached Darebin in the VWFL to five premiership in six seasons. She then made the transition to the men’s game as an assistant coach to TAC Cup team Western Ranges under-16 team, working under the likes of ex-Western Bulldog Steve Kretiuk and Shane Sexton.
Then as fate would have it, Searle was doing the same coaching course as former Geelong and Adelaide coach Gary Ayres, who encouraged the mother of four to apply for an assistant coaching role under him at VFL club Port Melbourne. It was no token gesture and since joining the Borough after their premiership win, Searle has taken over as defensive coach.
‘‘Good clubs will surround themselves with different types of personalities,’’ Searle says. ‘‘I think it is more about different people.’’
Searle is also playing a large role in the establishment of the AFL Victoria VWFL Academy, a joint initiative between the AFL and the VWFL, which aims to fast-track the progress of female footballers with Searle as its head mentor. ‘‘It’s just getting up and running this year, ’’ she says. ‘‘The program will help develop the girls over a two-year period.’’
The ultimate goal for the girls in the academy is to represent the VWFL at the women’s national championships next year, with the Victorians the reigning champs after beating Western Australia in the final last year.
There are no restrictions on what women can achieve in football, says Searle — ‘‘I definitely think there is a role for women at AFL clubs in a development role’’.
For more information about the VWFL, visit vwfl.com.au.