Fitzroy Football Club: Great football, Great community, Great culture.

Why Pride Rounds in amateur adult sport will always be important

27-May-2021

By Kirsty Marshall
 

On Sunday the 2nd of May, Fitzroy Football Club and Melbourne University Womens Football Club came together to compete in the first ever official Pride Game in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA). It was a symbolic and special occasion for many people, and for me, it gave me a sense of closure for both the internal and external struggles that I, and others have faced in gaining acceptance in amateur sport.


Photo credit: Hannah Knocker

Grassroots sport can be one of the most positive influences on a teenager growing up. It creates a sense of community and belonging that is often lacking in other areas of modern life. However, its no secret that these sports clubs can often directly, and indirectly exclude members of the LGBTQIA+ community, which for many kids can have a ripple effect for years. Up until participating in the Fitzroy and Melbourne Uni Pride Game, I never realised I too was one of them.

As a teenager, basketball was my passion. I was never going to go far with basketball, but I had some sort of training or game eight times a week, plus I reffed. I lived at the basketball stadium, and it was my happy place. In 2009 when I was fourteen; my sexuality dominated my thoughts. Being attracted to the same gender as yourself in a culture dominated by heteronormativity is well, confusing to say the least. And, when this pivotal experience just so happens to take place the same year that pop culture icon Katy Perry releases a song about kissing a girl and liking it, everything gets thrown into whack. This song completely normalised the concept of being attracted to women, all the while denying lesbianity. It was the outI had been looking for in my feverish teenage attempt to be normal When my classmate told me she wanted to experience kissing a girl and invited me round to her boyfriend's house to experiment, I was straightover there. Unfortunately, as quickly as the kiss happened, the news of it spread like wildfire through my school and then to my beloved basketball stadium to some disgruntled mums. This was the start of years of denying the accusations, followed by years of self-denial to make the facade easier to maintain.

In 2011 when a group of girls formed a school football team, I refused to join out of the fear that rumours about my sexuality would be spread again, and also, largely out of fear of admitting it to myself. At the time playing footy felt like a bold statement that I was masculine and therefore queer. Well, thats a sixteen year old brain for you with a sweet mix of the patriarchy and homophobia having some damaging influence.

The truth is, football is for everyone. The recent development of the AFLW and the increased participation of women at grassroots footy is something we should all be proud of. Its thanks to an incredible group of trailblazing women, many queer, many not; all to whom I am incredibly grateful.


Photo credit: Hannah Knocker

This year, two years into my living in Melbourne, the spiritual home of Aussie rules football, I finally decided to play some footy myself. Thanks to my good friend becoming the new head coach, and first woman senior coach in the clubs 136-year history, I joined the Fitzroy Football Club and my god, do I love it.

Truth be told, Im still learning many of the rules, and the level of fitness required to complete an 80-minute game is above any level of fitness Ive previously required?Xand am yet to acquire?Xbut the participation is about so much more than that. Its about allowing yourself to try something that you know you might not be good at, something far too many people will never do. Its about riding the wave of the growth of womens participation in sport and being a witness to the incredible levels of talent, skill and knowledge that are coming through. Its about knocking off work and having a run around with a group of people from all different sexual, cultural and economic backgrounds, all united b"he same goals.

It's about finally doing something you want, without the fear of what others may think.

As a 26-year old, running out onto the field with a rainbow jersey and rainbow socks, alongside a team full of pride, I could feel my inner-child's legs moving mine forward as she ran off the feeling of shame that was forced on her in that basketball stadium in 2009 that perhaps never really left.



Photo credit: Hannah Knocker

I've been out and proud for eight beautiful years now and I had no anticipation or expectation that participating in such a historic event would impact me so much. In a progressive city like Melbourne, the understanding of the importance of Pride games for amateur, adult sport is perhaps overlooked. Korra from Queerspace Youth, the events charity partner, knows just how important events like this are, 

Through fundraisers like these, we are able to continue delivering programs and make the programs that we have even better than before. It allows us to buy more materials, allows us to book in facilitators, go to cool spaces and just be able to connect young people with other young people. 

It is quite beautiful knowing that an event that had such a profound influence on my sense of belonging and self acceptance can also go towards supporting an organisation dedicated to stopping teenagers from feeling the same way so many athletes would have once felt. How I once felt. If only as teenagers, we knew how extraordinary it is to be different. If only we were empowered through our differences, rather than shamed by them. I hope that is now a thing of the past.

So far, this Fitzroy and Melbourne University Pride partnership is the only Pride Game that currently exists within the VAFA with Melbourne Universitys previous Pride Games being held

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