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An open letter to Carlton

Game Changers Update | Round 1 Carlton Media's Grace Phillips brings you all the news from Ikon Park as the Blues prepare for Friday's inaugural NAB AFL Women's season opener against Collingwood.

Dear Game Changers,

I feel like I have been writing this letter for 20 years.  

It was about 20 years ago when I first asked my mother if I could join the local Under-10s footy team. After all, I was better than the boys. I hit my targets across the school oval and I could kick the footy further too. I had mastered the hand-pass, and all just by replicating what I saw on TV. 

Despite this, it was an unconsidered “no” from my mum, followed by “that’s a game for boys”, before I was swiftly signed up to netball.

Looking back on it now, it seems so strange. Brought up by a single mother, I was taught every single day that I could do anything, especially anything the boys could do - and that I could do it better. I was encouraged in every facet of life, but not in this unlikely endeavour. It was as though a little girl with blonde ringlets playing sports ‘for boys’ was the final frontier in the mind of a modern feminist woman.

Don’t get me wrong, Mum saw my passion for footy and let me run with it. She bought me my first Carlton branded Sherrin in grade one and a brand new woollen Carlton guernsey for my 10th birthday. She got me a signed David Parkin photo, and took me to as many games as she could - Better Homes and Garden magazine in her handbag to keep herself entertained, while I screamed madly for Anthony Koutoufides.

She even surprised me the day before the infamous 1999 preliminary final with tickets to the big match - the first (but far from the last) time I cried with joy at the hands of Carlton.           

Today, she still doesn’t quite understand my love for AFL, but I think she appreciates that footy provided me with a sense of family, community, and lessons on winning, and probably more importantly, on losing as well. 

I too often wonder how or why I came to love this game so much. I wasn’t forced into watching and attending by a dad still trying to live out his glory days. None of my friends - except the boys - were ever into it. Some days my love for the game made me feel like the world’s greatest outsider and as though I was doing something wrong.

But, at the same time, the beauty of our game is that it makes you feel a part of something so much bigger than anything you can explain. We all know that - it’s something that ticks in your heart without you even having to think about it. 

Nowadays Mum can’t understand why I haven’t signed up to one of the many local teams - it’s now common place of course - but that fearless 10-year-old bravado I once had, is now far gone. With a greater understanding and appreciation of the game now, I applaud the courage it takes for all of you to run out on the field, knowing that someone has their heart set on tackling you to the grass.  

On Friday, I will be flying down to Melbourne from Sydney to see you, the Game Changers, run out onto our home at Ikon Park for Round 1 of the inaugural AFL Women’s season. A dream come true for all of you, but also a dream come true for me, and for so many women across our country. Finally, we all get to see ourselves in this game we all love so much. 

I am so proud that my Club gets to be a part of this history-making moment. 

Best of luck, Bluebaggers. You have all of us - the members, the fans, and all of those 10-year-old girls who never thought it was possible - behind you. 




Caitlin Arnold, EA to the CEO of AFL NSW/ACT