Amid celebrations of the recently concluded inaugural AFL Women’s season, it’s easy to forget that the Western Australian Women’s Football League is this year marking its 30th anniversary.
In 2017 all nine clubs in the WAWFL are for the first time fielding teams in the three divisions – league, reserves and Rogers Cup.
The WAWFL kicked off in 1987, with just four teams competing from clubs based at Innaloo, Mount Lawley, Melville and Carlisle.
Round one of this year’s 30th competition began this month and WAWFL President Carolyn Hills put the growth in teams this year down to the success of the recently concluded inaugural AFLW season.
“The inaugural season of AFLW has been a significant driver in exposing females to the sport of female football,” Hills said.
Perth Angels Women’s Football Club president Sam Ballantyne said her club expanded rapidly this year.
“At least 60 per cent of our players are new and I think a lot of it is from the growth of the AFLW,” Ballantyne said.
Peel Thunderbirds Women’s Football Club head coach Mark Fenton said local clubs were seeing an increase in young girls playing football, which was crucial to the growth of the league.
“I know that in other districts there has been a higher uptake in youth girls,” he said.
“WAWFL is going to evolve very quickly and it’s coming from the bottom up.”
Fenton said that across the league teams, the highest grade in WAWFL, there were higher expectations.
“This year our players are a lot more professional in regards to taking holidays out of season, more strength and conditioning and better nutrition,” he said.
“There are a lot of girls who think they have a shot at playing in the AFLW and are improving because of it.”
Charmaine Rogers, a life member of Claremont Tigers Women’s Football Club, said that popularity of local women’s football has fluctuated over the years, but this year is different.
“The success is off the back of the AFLW and the pathways that are now available,” Rogers said.
“Previously, juniors and youth had no pathways.
“Now girls of any age can play.”
Women Sport Australia board director Fleta Page said the success of the AFLW demonstrated the potential in all women’s sports.
“For too long there has been a perception that audiences aren’t interested in women’s sport,” Ms Page said.
“It is a massively untapped market – the AFLW really highlighted that it is marketable.”
She said a disparity remained between the pay, media coverage and access to facilities, resources and administrative support between male and female sports.
“While the national gender wage gap is 17 per cent, it is over 50 per cent in the category of sport, recreation and entertainment.” she said.
Despite the recent success, the WAWFL is still evolving and does not have a separate amateur and state league.
Ballantyne says it is difficult to balance the pressures of having a professional league team with the players who are just there for fun.
“There is more pressure on clubs to step up, and one of the things that is spoken about is getting a community league,” she said.
“A lot of the girls are just here to have fun and aren’t professional athletes.”