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AFLW: Hood's message


Ahead of the North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos’ first official training session at Arden Street this week, former club executive and lifelong supporter, Sonja Hood, addressed the team in the theatrette.

The following is a transcript of Hood’s speech:

Sonja Hood: It’s a huge honour to be speaking to you today. I first came to work at North Melbourne eight years ago, and spent five very happy years here.

I’ve been a North supporter all my life. I’m a footy tragic – but more than anything, I love this club, and I love what it stands for, and I am incredibly proud of the path it has chosen to take. I’m proud a decade ago it chose to stay in Melbourne, I’m proud it started The Huddle and redefined the way the whole competition works with and for the community, and I’m proud that we were supporting women’s football well before anyone else. And I am so, so proud of the team that North will field in the AFLW competition. 

When I started at North, women’s footy was – in the context of the AFL – very much a fringe activity. In my first year, I went to the AFL’s annual women’s round lunch, where we celebrated women as player’s wives and mothers, and the operators of local canteens. The AFL knew that women were out there – after all, we were more than half of its fan base – but any interest it had in women actually playing the game was small. 

So when I arrived at North in 2010, and found the club had a partnership with the Melbourne University Women’s Football Club (MUWFC) – it was nothing short of revolutionary. And why? Because the people who mattered, from the CEO down, knew that one day, women’s football would be huge, and North needed to be part of it. Where others couldn’t find time or space for the women to train, North made time available at Arden Street and has done for almost a decade. And in exchange, MUWFC helped us grow the game for all the kids in our community, by sending women to help out at Auskick, putting on junior teams at a time the local football clubs didn’t offer opportunities to girls beyond the age of 12 (instead they were nudged in the direction of soccer or netball), and by generally getting involved in everything that we did to work with our multicultural communities through The Huddle. They gave their time and effort generously, without asking for anything in return, other than the chance to play football.

Now my football memories go back to a time when it was unimaginable that we’d ever play footy outside of Victoria, let alone see a women’s competition. So it would be an absolute lie to tell you that you are living my dream of becoming a footballer. In fact, I learnt to handball about two weeks ago with a small football.

However, my daughter who has just finished VCE, started playing footy soon after I started here. It was a passionate, but short-lived career and I well remember her outrage in discovering that Nike only made men’s footy boots – her determination to find a brand that either marketed to women, or better, didn’t use gender at all in its marketing – was astounding to watch. And don’t even start me on her reaction to the scheduling and change room allocations for junior girls’ games (something that all of you have dealt with your whole careers). Footy might not have turned her into a great athlete, but it did help fast track her development as a feminist.  My point is that her footy dream still meant wearing Daniel Wells’ number on her back. Don’t get me wrong, I love ‘Wellsy’ but imagine how great it would have been if that number 8 was Alison Drennan’s. Or if in her backyard games with her brother, she was Emma Kearney breaking through a pack, or Kaitlyn Ashmore taking a mark, or Mo Hope lining up for goal.  

North has changed so much in the last decade and I have no doubt in ten years’ time, it will look different again. If nothing else, all of you will see to that. Change is continuous, and you are now part of one of the most important changes this club has ever seen.  But underpinning all of that is a core set of values and belief that makes this club great.

I know that some of you also grew up supporting North and are as passionate as I am – but I know many of you have come from other clubs, or other states. So, let me assure you, you might not be playing for the biggest, richest club, or the club with the most members, but you are playing for - without question - the greatest club. You are playing for a club that genuinely cares about its members, its community, and its legacy. You are playing for a club that refuses to ever say ‘die’, and fights regardless of what stands in front of it. You are playing for a club that has been at the forefront of innovation and knows being better means being smarter and working harder. You are playing for a club that has never been the darling of the AFL, but one that demands and earns respect.

You might be pioneers in terms of women’s football, but as of tonight, you are now part of 150 years of a strong and proud tradition that is the North Melbourne Football Club. 

To each of you – welcome to the best club in the AFL.

I hope you love your time here as much as I did. And come February, I’ll be barracking like mad for you.

North’s Tasmanian-based players commenced their pre-training campaigns in Hobart and Launceston.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs