Gemma Bastiani, a life-long Sydney Swans fan and the co-founder of Siren- A Women in Sport Collective and AFLW statistics enthusiast penned her thoughts and emotions for sydneyswans.com.au as she looks ahead to cheering on a Sydney Swans AFLW team.
As a kid, I spent countless hours perfecting drawings of the Swans’ guernsey to get the Opera House flair just right, and writing lists of my favourite Swans players, with Paul Kelly regularly at the top. These memories are vivid, because footy, and more specifically, the Swans, was important to me. It was all I wanted to watch or do. Unlike my brother, however, I never even entertained the idea of playing for the team I love. It never even seemed like a remote possibility.
So instead I would go to Auskick, and not just be the only girl, but I was also always, always the only one in a Swans guernsey amongst a tidal wave of boys sporting Collingwood, Carlton, Hawthorn and Essendon colours. It didn’t matter, though, because I loved my team, and I relished the fact that I followed a side that was led by players like Adam Goodes and Brett Kirk and Ryan O’Keefe.
It didn’t matter that I didn’t see myself represented because the possibility that women could play footy at an elite level didn’t even enter my mind. It was just how it was. Girls played sports as a kid, aged out of it and sat on the sidelines as a fan after that. There was no world to me where women featured at the forefront of footy.
In 2017, however, something changed. An elite national women’s competition, the AFLW, was launched and women and girls everywhere suddenly saw themselves represented. Not just on the sidelines, but on the field, displaying their athletic prowess and footy smarts in a tangible way. Of those eight inaugural sides, however, the club I love was not included. The fact that this was for a good reason, a long term focus on the development of talent and facilities, didn’t ease the sting too much.
Over the five years since the historic lockout game I’ve become attached to different teams and players, but the want for women in red and white has not lessened. I’ve also found my niche in that time: AFLW statistics. Celebrating on-field feats when most other outlets were firmly focused on the stories off the field. Marvelling in what these women have been achieving on field has been joyous, but never being able to include ‘SYD’ in any of my stat tweets has been frustrating nonetheless.
Fast forward to May 13, 2021, when changes to the AFLW were publicised and the Swans promptly announced a desire to enter the competition in season seven—2022/2023. All of a sudden there was hope. A timeline.
We will apply for a licence to join the AFLW competition in Season Seven, commencing in late 2022.— Sydney Swans (@sydneyswans) May 13, 2021
To say I was sent different versions of this announcement from my friends and the wonderful women in sport community a few times would be an understatement. They knew what this meant to me. Finally, my two favourite things, AFLW and the Sydney Swans, are on the verge of coming together.
Not to mention, the prospect of the Swans finally having an AFLW side means we are one step closer to a fully fledged national competition, with every club represented, full time athletes and more women visible in every aspect of the game.
Now, seeing videos including the daughters of Swans premiership players excited for a team, and women who represent Australia in other sports backing the bid only ramps up the enthusiasm. But I can only imagine the joy that will come from seeing the club you’ve followed your whole life approved for a women’s team. Even moreso, the idea of the first player signed to the red and white, making it real.
All of these things have been on the distant horizon for the past six years, knowing it’s coming, but never knowing how soon. Now it’s becoming a reality. And with that reality, the dreams become tangible. Which marquee player will be the Swans’ inaugural captain? Who will become the coveted first goal kicker in the red and white? Will the Swans become the second side to sign a brother and sister duo? (Charlie Rowbottom, I’m looking at you).
I am hopeful that the Swans’ bid for 2022/23 will be approved, and inaugural signings can begin soon after. I am hopeful that I can excitedly organise to attend their first-ever AFLW game, no matter where it’s held. I am hopeful that I need to expand my statistical databases to include space for players in the red and white. I am hopeful that my club is represented in the competition that I love. I am hopeful that young girls who are perfecting their drawings of the famous Sydney Swans guernsey can draw them on female players and write lists of their favourite AFLW Swans and dream of becoming that one day.