It seems fitting that Brunette Lenkic should write a book about female football. Brunette’s name’s origin, like the hair colour ‘brunette’ means ‘dark’ but also means ‘little’. It’s ironic then that for a great part of its history women’s football has remained ‘little’ and in ‘the darkness’ until last year on September 3 when a Woman’s football exhibition match managed to garner 3 million viewers.
It may surprise some readers that in spite of the fanfare of this event as a first, women have been playing competitive football since 1915. A photo in Brunette’s book dated 1917 shows a female football team from Foy and Gibson department store pictured with their coach. Of course their football attire is quite a bit different to what we know today.
An interesting fact to note is that women footballers were the first to play a game under lights. This took place in Kalgoorlie in 1917. It could be said that these women symbolically turned on the lights in 1917 and between then and now in 2017 they may have been dimmed in but are now brighter than ever.
Playing football for women has been fraught with obstacles including social commentator and performer, Will Roger’s considering women’s sport in general as ‘powder puff’ or cosmetic. More practical hurdles women had to deal with included having to accept they could only play on days men didn’t need the ground which usually meant outside of the more suitable winter football season, instead having to play, as is presently the case in some of the hotter months of the year in February/March. Society and the church also had their input and judgement on women playing sport, usually discouraging women’s participation in sport on the grounds it was unfeminine and even dangerous and that a woman’s roles should be the gentler one of wife and mother.
When I spoke to Brunette she noted that women’s interest in competitive sport in general is surging with cricket, basketball and rugby also attracting many players. Perhaps one of the turning points getting the ball rolling (pardon the pun) was Australia’s women’s rugby sevens gold medal win in the Rio Olympics. These women came together from a number of different sporting disciplines proving that women can do anything they put their minds to.
Jess Weutschner (first Tasmanian player taken in the draft for the national women’s league)
Play on by Brunette Lenkic is out now published by Echo Publishing.