L-R Sam Lane, Peta Searle, Gary Ayres, Emma Mackie, Jess Cameron (Duffin), Stacey Livingstone. Photo by Jenny Tserkezidis
Opportunity was the theme of the night as the Port Melbourne Football Club (PMFC) formally launched its ‘Female Pathway’ which allows players from the Port Colts junior and senior women’s teams to have a pathway to the Borough and experience a higher level of competition.
The growth of the women’s game in the past year has been nothing short of remarkable; from the launch of the AFLW competition and the first game played on February 3rd to now giving suburban women’s footballers in Port Melbourne a pathway to their goal of playing AFLW.
PMFC director Kerry Ashbrook spoke about what the club hopes the pathway can achieve, stating that it will give “girls of any age whether it’s from Auskick to junior’s…then through to a senior women’s team” the opportunity to play whatever level of football they desire, including the PMFC VFL team in the future.
Sam Lane was the MC for the night and captured exactly why the women’s football boom is so important, not just those aspiring to play professionally but for women like herself.
She was invited to be the boundary rider on Channel 7’s coverage of the first AFLW match back in February which Lane said had given her “the most pleasure as a journalist” as it gave her the opportunity to tell the “stories that all the players, coaches, male and female told during those incredible months of February and March.”
The gravity of the new pathway was not lost on each person who was invited to speak as they all emphasised why the growth of women’s football is so important.
The Borough’s involvement with women’s football was arguably started back in 2011 when current VFL men’s coach Gary Ayres hired Peta Searle as one of his assistant coaches. Port Melbourne became the first VFL club to hire a female assistant coach, a ground-breaking move as coach positions had been only filled by men previously.
Both Ayres and Searle spoke about how proud they were that the club now gives suburban women footballers (and coaches) an opportunity to fulfil their football dreams.
While enthused about the progress, Searle knows that more needs to be to give women equal opportunity in both the AFL and the AFLW. Only two of the eight head coaches in the AFLW last season were women, a statistic that Searle believes needs to change.
More coaches and administrators need to have the same mindset as Gary Ayres, Searle stated. She believes him to be “ahead of his time” and someone that doesn’t discriminate as he “sees people and knows how to develop people.”
The night was bookended by a panel that featured Searle, as well as three current AFLW footballers; Stacey Livingstone, Jess Cameron and Emma Mackie, all who played senior football at the Colts.
The panel was thoroughly informative and was proof of what more resources being put into women’s football, particularly at the grassroots level, can do.
A former professional cyclist, Mackie played for the Box Hill Hawks women’s team during 2017 and was pick 27 by the Western Bulldogs in the 2017 AFLW Draft.
She believes what Port Melbourne “are creating here is amazing,” as one of the best ways for women to reach their goals is just “having the opportunity.”
Keeping the pathway in the “local area and the local community” is important, Mackie added.
“I would have stayed here if there was a VFL women’s club to go into.”
Women’s football is going from strength to strength and the launch of the Port Melbourne women’s pathway is just one way that the game will continue to grow.
The Colts and the Borough are separated by just a couple of hundred metres and this new pathway allows women to of all ages to follow their AFLW dreams in the Port Melbourne area.
Article by Connor Pain.