It was a family reunion of the best kind. Old friends that I’ve not seen for ages, some for more than four years, meeting new friends in the flesh and being surrounded by so many people who inspire me.
Oh and there was football.
Maybe I was wearing rose-coloured glasses, maybe I was just starved of getting to see the people I engage with online and that’s often my connection with the world outside of North-West Tasmania and my family. But even with short flights, long lay-overs and limited sleep, it was so special.
To kick things off, the Women’s Football Writers Festival, which was held by Women Onside.
An opportunity to be in a room full of people who are leaders. I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a niche and not everyone’s cup of tea to talk and dissect journalism and how we can improve its diversity. There certainly needs to be these conversations not just in media, but broadly in administration, supporters, athletes and everything in between.
But the conversations were soaked in compassion, the room was a rollercoaster of emotions from tears of hardship and heartbreak through to laughter. It’s still with a moment of disbelief that people I have looked up to as giants and heroes of our game listened to me ramble and get nervous because Sarah Walsh was unexpectedly in my eyeline and all I could think of was those early W-League games when Walsh was in Sky Blue.
I was fortunate enough to be a late ring-in on a panel to talk about the digital world with Eric Subijano and Marissa Lordanic. There were three crowd questions that stood out the most.
A good friend of mine asked about the use of online platforms to help people in regional areas connect with women’s football and it hit home for me. The importance and reliance some of us have to find like minded people has been assisted hugely because of the digital space. It’s the reason I try to reply to comments or conversation starters as they come, and the reason I kick myself when I don’t.
Being hooked up online means we know what’s happening, and beyond that we know the room so to speak. We don’t live in isolation in our views of football. We get to interact, encourage and debate with others everything from short corners through to World Cup hopes. It’s an incredible thing.
Perhaps one thing I didn’t mention at the time, and think of while I have time to reflect on it, is to encourage people, particularly those in regional areas or feeling isolated for whatever reason, to take the brave step and interact. Hit some of those follow and like buttons. If you have a thought about a particular post join in on the conversation.
I know there’s scary sides to this, it’s not easy. But find those accounts who interact with kindness and don’t be afraid to flick a thought or two in that reply section.
Eric gave the best response to this question, “it takes 15 seconds to block someone”.
I don’t want to dig in heaps on this issue, but it made me think. I’ve been fortunate up to this stage to only deal with trolls very sparingly. I know I’m extremely fortunate, and also owe a debt of gratitude to the beautiful people who follow me, interact with me or act as flies on the wall providing a wave of supportive energy.
Trolls are a bigger conversation than the knowledge I have to offer. Listening to Shireen Ahmed talk about the Burn It All Down podcast starting from a Twitter DM support-against-trolls group, it is an issue we do need to continue to talk about and shine a light on.
Perhaps more poignant given the strong dislike for Tuesday night’s commentator that radiated from Facebook supporters groups, but one of the game’s best play-by-play callers Steph Brantz asked us as a panel of wanna-be Matildas commentators (we’ll get there one day guys) about how we get more women into it and at the highest level.
What is that solution? Is there one? Can we look beyond ex-players into supporter bases and media to find people with expert analysis who can entertain audiences with keen-eyed analysis and fun contributions? I hope we can.
Speaking as the keynote speaker for the media portion of the festival, Sam Lewis talked about “you can’t be what you can’t see”. We’re not seeing women on the play-by-play calls in domestic or international games. There are very few commentators who are women and haven’t played for the Matildas or W-League.
At times we’ve taken great strides in promoting women in commentary. From memory, the first W-League season that all the games were broadcast, there seemed to be huge efforts made to put at least one woman on the call, and different women for each home club to provide unique analysis. We’ve only gone backwards from here.
Where are the next generation of women commentators coming up? We’re still in our bedrooms calling it to ourselves and anyone who listens and we can’t see anyone like us, women with little-to-none on-field sporting talent, showing us the pathway to get to that next stage in the women’s game.