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Jane Ryan and Alexandra Almond loved footy, but playing it seemed out of reach — until the AFLW

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For women of a certain age, playing Aussie rules wasn’t an option when they were children. It wasn’t something girls did.

There was no infrastructure for it, no teams, no grounds, no acknowledgement that women might like to kick the ball, join a team or tackle an opponent. But this didn’t stop them loving the game.

Alexandra Almond and Jane Ryan have loved footy since childhood but did not get to play until they reached their 40s.

“I can’t get across to you how joyful it was to be able to pick up a footy and hand pass and kick to a teammate, practise it and be in that space where that’s what we were focused on,” Ryan, 48, said.

Almond, 50, a designer from Melbourne, played her first competitive game in 2021.

Alexandra Almond in her footy gear in the change room.
Alexandra Almond had loved footy for most of her life, but only got to play it competitively last year.(Supplied: Alexandra Almond)

The night before the game, a lifetime of waiting turned into anxiety.

“I rang one of my friends, who is not a football person, and said, ‘I actually don’t know what’s happening to me. I can’t sit down, I can’t think, I can’t do anything. I have to play football tomorrow. I’m terrified. Oh God, it’s going to be awful.'”

‘I grew up in Bendigo in the 1980s and girls didn’t play football’

Almond’s dream to play started decades earlier, when she was given a football for her 11th birthday.

“It was all I wanted, but it never did me any good,” she said.

Alexandra Almond and her brother at Punt Road.
Almond used to kick the ball around with her brother as kids.(Supplied: Alexandra Almond)

“I grew up in Bendigo in the 1980s and girls didn’t play football or cricket or soccer or anything [like that].”

Almond played netball in winter and tennis in summer because her parents told her she had to take up a sport but she gave them up as soon as she could.

She was, and remains, a mad keen Collingwood supporter, being a foundation AFLW member and a player sponsor.

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Ryan went to a Catholic primary school and “it was very clear that organised sport was girls doing netball, boys doing football”, she said.

Although Ryan’s participation was limited to sports considered acceptable for girls, she didn’t notice: She was too busy just playing it.

“I didn’t even know what my loss was, if that makes sense, because I was so consumed by sport, but I did the socially acceptable sport and it was very female-dominated,” she said.

“We had famous Essendon footballers come to our school and they presented me with my netball trophy. It didn’t clock in my 10-year-old brain that I really wanted to play football or anything.”

A tall man hands a primary school aged girl a trophy.
Jane Ryan receives a trophy for netball, from Essendon player Paul Salmon.(Supplied: Jane Ryan)

Like Almond, she kicked the ball around with her brothers and father and lived a life full of footy, but that of others’.

“I would go to my Dad’s games — he played in an amateur league — [and] a lot of my visceral memories are of the smells and the siren, going to Elsternwick Park. It’s just ingrained.



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