People power overrules the Prez

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SAY WHAT you like about women’s footy, it’s putting bums on seats, says RON REED:

BIG Jack Elliott used to answer to The Prez during the 20 years he ruled the Carlton Football Club in dictatorial fashion. Maybe it’s time to give him another chairmanship – of the AAFLW, or the Anti-AFL Women, a body that does not formally exist but which certainly can claim a constituency among blokes of a certain age and attitude who still haven’t come to terms with the girl’s game being here to stay.

Elliott has never been everyone’s cup of tea let alone his favourite tipple, red wine, but even his many critics – and he used to have more by far than Eddie McGuire does now – had to admit he wasn’t afraid to say what he thinks, nor did he care what anybody thought of that.

That much hasn’t changed.

Other than McGuire’s unfortunate gaffe about disabled coin-tosser Cynthia Banham, Elliott, 76, took the prize for the most politically incorrect outburst of the footy week when he was asked whether he would be watching the girls team from his old club try to win the first premiership since the blokes in 1999, when he was still president.

“I know the sheilas are playing,” he said on his son Tom’s radio program. “I won’t watch it. I think the women’s game is pathetic.”

Nobody who has ever had anything to do with the crusty old business and political powerbroker would be remotely surprised by him saying that. When he was in power, women’s footy meant leggy dancing girls at half-time.

But presumably has at least cast an eye over it at some stage of the three seasons the AFLW has been going or he wouldn’t have any basis for that dismissive opinion.

In a sense he didn’t miss much on Sunday – the Blues were comfortably beaten by the hot favourites, the Adelaide Crows.

But he did miss what is being hailed as a footy landmark of great significance – the crowd of 53,034, a record for any stand-alone women’s sports event in Australia.

It was also bigger than seven of the nine men’s games at the weekend, only narrowly beaten by the 54,985 who watched Perth host the GWS Giants, while the Friday night blockbuster between Collingwood and Richmond attracted 70,699 to the only stadium that can hold that many, the MCG.

 Even Elliott would have to admit there was nothing pathetic about that.

Frankly, it’s astonishing – not just to casual observers such as this column (we didn’t see a ball kicked, having committed to attending the Sheffield Shield cricket final) but almost certainly to the insiders who are driving this steadily accelerating bus.

The Carlton coach Daniel Harford, while delighted, was honest enough to admit he had expected little more than half that number and he would have been far from alone there.  

It’s true that no-one paid a cent to go through the gate and neither of the Adelaide men’s teams were competing for attention even on TV, but that’s still a pretty resounding vote of confidence – and a considerable boost to the competition’s credibility.

It’s the second instance of the latter in a couple of weeks.

The first was the controversy over the superb photograph of Carlton’s Tanya Harris executing a powerful kick in much the manner of the late, great Ted Whitten.

That image demonstrated that the skills of the female footballers, while still a work in progress, should be taken more seriously than they were when the W league began.

This display of public acclamation and acceptance is heartening not only for the footballers but for the burgeoning women’s sport movement in general.

Until now, a lot of the conversation has sounded overly optimistic, seeking approval just a tad too urgently. Some of the media reporting has bordered on cheerleading.

We keep hearing that the cricketers are likely to pull 90,000 to the MCG if they make the final of the T20 world championship at the end of next summer, a message pumped out in public by Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts just last week.

This has always sounded wildly over the top but with the women’s Big Bash final being played before a capacity crowd at a suburban oval in Sydney and now this footy watershed showing what’s possible … who knows?

It will be interesting to see whether either sport now has the self-belief to start charging at the gate, which might provide another useful perspective on their popularity.

Or whether Channel 7 will treat it as a mainstream attraction.

There is still a lot tweaking to do and a lot of questions to be answered.

But so far so good – it would be churlish to do anything but applaud, and that goes for you too, Jack.

mm

Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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