Short listed candidate for our first ever Emerging Sports Writer Program, Tahlia Sinclair, shares her very special contribution to Siren’s My Favourite Sporting Moment series.
How do you share your favourite sporting moment when that moment isn’t a moment so much as a feeling?
A photo helps.
In 2019 after the round one Geelong v Collingwood game, a photo was heavily circulated by the media. A group of young girls dressed head to toe in navy and white, were clamouring over each other, screaming towards Georgie Rankin. The photo oozes nothing but joy and excitement.
That now famous photo was taken just a few metres down from me. While the world got to giggle at the ferocity of the girls’ cheers, I got to watch them passionately screaming to their favourite players and arguing together over who would be their greatest star.
The girls were at the game early, they were prepared. They had seen other teams compete for years, and they knew it was finally their club’s time to shine. It was an energy so raw and overwhelming that it felt almost wrong to be there with them, as if I did not belong in these stands. Those seats belonged to those girls, and everyone else was merely a lucky guest at their personal football game.
It wasn’t the first time, nor the last, that I felt like I was a bystander at someone’s personal game. In fact, I’ve felt it three times.
In 2017, at the round 1 Western Bulldogs v Fremantle game at VU Whitten Oval.
In 2019, at the round 1 Geelong Cats v Collingwood game at GMHBA Stadium.
And finally, in 2020, at the round 1 St Kilda v Western Bulldogs game at RSEA Park.
These games specifically were no more or less important than other round one games in those years and honestly, they wouldn’t be overly memorable games if they weren’t the first for each of the home clubs.
The 2017 Western Bulldogs round 1 game will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first time I saw my team play in the women’s competition. It was my first time seeing a game played at my club’s traditional ground. It was the first-time seeing bodies and people who looked like me playing my favourite game at an elite level.
As an energetic and excited 19-year-old, I trotted on down to Whitten Oval with my partner to witness history. After being blessed with several years of seeing my club sporting a women’s side in exhibition matches against Melbourne, I was finally here to see them playing a real live home and away match. A feat that a few years earlier hadn’t even entered my mind as a possibility.
As excited and awe inspired as I was that night, I don’t remember much of the game. What I do remember is a name and a scrunchie.
Just down from where I was standing was a group of five girls, the eldest no older than 10. They had a huge homemade poster and scrunchies in their hair. And from the moment the first quarter began they screamed. For four quarters they screamed nothing but ‘Go Emma!’
These five girls clearly knew Emma Kearney, perhaps they were students of hers, or the children of a family friend. I don’t know—and really, I don’t care—all that matters was that they were there watching a professional Australian rules football game, played by women. Even better, they were watching a woman they knew. A woman they were clearly inspired by.
As the game ended, they hung themselves over the fence, begging any and every player that came past them for a selfie. All of them obliged.
The third, and most recent, time I caught this feeling was watching two toddlers at the St Kilda v Bulldogs game earlier this year.
Watching these young kids run back and forth from the fence, pointing at players and gleefully yelling at players on the field, I felt that familiar feeling rushing over me. They didn’t care who was playing the game—be it men or women—they just saw cool athletes kicking balls and doing cool football things. There was something about the lack of importance of the gender of the players to these kids that was just as awesome as those little girls I’d seen in seasons before.
The reality of going to as many football games as I have is that you’re not going to remember them all. No matter how many wonderful passages of play, unbelievable goals, or jaw clenching wins I see, it’s the feeling of being near those kids that sticks with me.
So maybe these events aren’t a moment, and perhaps if there was no photo no one would understand what I mean. I can’t even name the feeling, I’m not sure what you’d call it, but I know it’s important and I know I’m not the only one experiencing it.
You see, women’s football brings so much joy not only to lifetime supporters, but to children. The older girls I saw in 2017 and 2019 might remember the first AFLW game they went to, but most of the others, and those two little toddlers, they won’t, and that’s my favourite moment in women’s sport.