Women's football marking a milestone in gender equality | VIDEO

Dr Susan Alberti, in Bendigo to discuss women's football. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO
Dr Susan Alberti, in Bendigo to discuss women's football. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

“IF I believe in something, I will pursue it until the bitter end,” Dr Susan Alberti told attendees at a function in Bendigo on Wednesday.

That’s been her attitude towards pursuing her dream of a women’s football league, and promoting equality for women in general.

With the grand final looming large for Bendigo Thunder, the AFL National Women’s League Advisory Group director was in the city to inspire and invigorate.

She did so by sharing an insight into the history of women’s football, and reflecting on its success in the past year. 

“It’s giving women overall a platform I don’t believe they’ve ever had before,” Dr Alberti said. 

“Women can now see they can do anything if they put their mind to it, and that’s what I’ve seen – much more recognition of women in so many other areas.”

The 70-year-old has been integral to the game, advocating for equal opportunities for women to get out on the field and play the game they loved. 

It’s meant speaking out against men who have tried to deride her, while she was also battling cancer. 

“What I was really fighting for was simply recognition,” Dr Alberti said. 

“Just equal, respectful treatment, if you will. Nothing more, nothing less.”

She wept when the ball was bounced at the first AFL National Women’s League game – an moment she had waited decades to see. 

Football has come a long way since Dr Alberti was forced to hang up her boots, at the age of 15. 

Bendigo Thunder head coach Cherie O’Neill said young women could now see a future in the code– something that had renewed a lot of passion for the sport. 

“It’s opened so many doors,” she said.

Sarah Baldwin and coach Cherie O'Neill. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Sarah Baldwin and coach Cherie O'Neill. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Dr Alberti referred to the surge in football’s popularity as an ‘explosion’, or a ‘revolution’.

In five years, she believes conversations about the opportunities the sport is creating will be less common.

“It will be the norm. Men and women playing their game of football, both of them at an elite level,” she said. 

“Hopefully they’re remunerated accordingly, which is something we have to ensure – that our women are looked after.”

As the Bendigo Thunder’s number one ticket holder, Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said Dr Alberti had come to mean a lot to the club. 

“The truth is, last year when Susan came to our lunch the club was in a bit of trouble,” Ms Chesters said.

The club had been in the throes of a leadership change and was unsure whether it had the resources to get the team back on the field.

“Susan really helped us pull the club together, she showed us support and really gave us the boost the club needed,” Ms Chesters said.

Wednesday’s lunch was a celebration of all the club had achieved in the past year. 

Bendigo Thunder 2017 season captain Leah French.

Bendigo Thunder 2017 season captain Leah French.

“The reserves went undefeated the whole season. Our seniors have played exceptionally well all year,” Ms Chesters said.

“The competition’s really stepped up in the finals. We know we’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s going to be a big day on Sunday."

Mrs O’Neill said the team was staying focused and was optimistic for the match against Diamond Creek.

Although the end of the season is near, Ms Chesters has no intention to shift her focus away from football.

Instead of cheering on the players, she’ll be calling on the federal government to invest in female-friendly facilities at sporting venues.

It’s a campaign that has, so far, failed to garner investment since it launched last year

But Ms Chesters was resolute about the need for extra resources to support the efforts of local and state governments. 

“There’s a lot of growth in women’s footy,” she said. 

“A lot of clubs need support in having unisex changerooms built, renovated and re-fit…”