By Kasey Symons
A much loved tradition has been born in the few short years of the AFLW competition: the AFLW Pride Game. It means so much to so many and this year the sentiment has grown to include more teams spreading the message of love and acceptance through football.
As part of the tradition that now adds to the celebration of the game, now games (and, as AFL Head of Women’s Football Nicole Livingstone alluded to on the JOYFM live broadcast of the Western Bulldogs v Carlton match, soon to be Pride round!), the revealing of the season’s Pride guernseys are met with much excitement from the league’s fans.
For the last three years, the redesigning of traditional club guernseys to incorporate the rainbow colours of the Pride flag have brought joy to many. They have provided fans a feeling of acceptance that has often been denied when it comes to occupying space within the culture of Australian rules football. These guernseys give visibility, they promote love and the sense of community that the AFLW has become known for.
Carlton have had their AFLW star and star designer, Darcy Vescio at the helm of their beautiful re-interpretations of the old navy blue. Vescio spoke with so much care and compassion this year when the 2020 guernsey was revealed which also incorporated the colours of the transgender flag.
With Vescio’s profile, it’s wonderful to learn more about her graphic design work and what she’s capable of off the field, but we wanted to introduce our readers to another exceptionally talented woman in sport and the designer behind the Western Bulldogs Pride guernsey.
Natalie Gills has been at the Western Bulldogs for five years, working as a graphic designer in the creative team and putting her creative flair and artistic talent across many of the club’s marketing campaigns. The club’s AFLW side has allowed her to take her creativity to a new level while promoting women in sport in the way she sees them.
“This year I worked on a campaign that was about shining the light back on our women’s players, as they are the leaders and barrier-breakers that are inspiring the next generation.
“Our club was one of the trailblazers in creating a space for women’s footy so we have to keep leading the conversation. We saw an opportunity to enhance our fan’s gameday experience by empowering women and girls to feel confident and ruthless in whatever they do.
“Through a tremendous amount of work, the team captured some really impactful imagery of the players and combined it with a powerful creative message to create ‘Fierce Women Play Here’. You’ll see a lot of it on street posters and flyers around the local community, around the ground at our home games, and even as giveaways at local community events.”
Gills has designed the Pride Guernsey for the past two seasons for the Bulldogs, an honour she cherishes.
“It’s huge for me personally, and something I take great pride in. I feel incredibly lucky that I could contribute to the Pride Game and help shed a light on the LGBTIQ+ community. Definitely a massive highlight of my career.”
Gills was bold in her 2020 Pride design, an approach she took a lot of time and consultation in creating.
“This year we wanted to go big, do something really bold and eye-catching. We kept the traditional elements of the guernsey quite obvious in the past so it was exciting to break the chain a little and design something different. After all, that’s what Pride is about. Being proud of your differences.
“The guernsey features the Bulldogs hoops in the Pride rainbow which grow out into a series of shapes and paths, symbolising the strong, interconnected links between the club’s diverse culture and the LGBTIQ+ community.”
“Both [the last two Pride guernseys] are very different, but they share similar rainbow features. I think that was my favourite part of the process, figuring out how to combine all the colours of the rainbow with our Bulldogs colours.
“It was a similar process for both years; exploring a few different concepts—some closely linked with the traditional elements of the Bulldogs guernsey and some that took on a real abstract approach. After narrowing down some ideas, I got the opportunity to ask some of the playing group for their feedback on which direction they liked the most.
“Once I got an indication of which path we were all comfortable with, I was able to refine the designs into what you see today.
“I’d say the 2019 design was a splash of rainbow, and the 2020 design was more a splash of Bulldogs.”
When it comes to game day, Gills’ cannot express just how thrilled she is to see her work represented in such a powerful way. She can see how much these guernseys mean to people. When she’s watching the athletes donning her work and taking to the field she says, “It’s surreal! Seeing any of my work out in the flesh is so rewarding, it’s why I love what I do.”
And it’s not just the AFLW athletes and the women in sport movement that is inspiring Gills’ design work. Being part of a club at the forefront of women’s football also inspired her to try her hand at the game herself.
“I always wanted to play footy as a kid but my mum didn’t let me. It wasn’t until I started working at the Bulldogs and got involved with the first women’s exhibition game that I thought, ‘actually yeah, why shouldn’t I give it a go?’
“I’ll always be thankful to the club for that, it has opened up so many possibilities for me both personally and professionally. Even after being at the club for 5 years, I have to pinch myself every now and again.”