While the Falcons premier team continued its winning way through to 2017, it would be myopic not to position this success within the broader landscape of the tumultuous changes to women’s footy, nor their flow on impacts to the rest of the senior footy program at the Falcs.
At the end of 2016, the face of women’s footy in Victoria changed further with the disbanding of the VWFL competition. This was very much the end of an era and we need to take pause to acknowledge and celebrate the momentous role played by the founders, leaders and all those women who played over the 36 years of the VWFL. These players took women’s footy from a fringe, even scorned activity for women, as reflected in the early beginnings of the Falcons, to the national and celebrated stage of the AFLW. Not that the AFLW itself has been without its detractors on the same grounds, but as with the Falcons own story, the women’s game continues to grow and grow as both an on field spectacle and an off field movement as more resources are put into it and as women from all walks of life thrill to its promise.
The most immediate implication for the Falcons of the demise of the VWFL, was that our second, Division One team now joined the junior Falcons in the Northern Football Netball League in 2017.
The popularity of AFLW led to an influx of new football players and the Falcons also added a Division 2 team to the NFNL from 2017. Thus for the first time in its history, the DWSC fielded three senior women’s teams, VFLW, plus Division 1 and Division 2 in the NFNL, a huge achievement propelled by the force of the history and paving the way for a future where the Falcons could remain a towering presence in the community footy landscape.
The years from 2018 to 2020, however, have not been without their struggles for the senior women’s team at the Nest.
From 2018 the VFLW team relocated from what had become their spiritual home at AH Capp to Bill Lawry Oval to comply with increased standards and regulations of the VFL for ground and facility requirements. For the VFLW team itself, this was a difficult wrench, exacerbated by the increased pressure exerted on the Falcons stars of the AFLW to play for their VFLW affiliates. BLO resources were still less than those available to the AFL or VFL men’s affiliated Clubs placing additional strains on the team. Fortunately a partnership was developed with the Darebin YMCA that from 2019 has provided the VFLW team with open gym and fitness class access, but again, from a one club perspective, this only heightened the gap between the resources pitched at the VFLW team and the rest of the Club.
While this is an unavoidable divide in any Club between its premier and other teams, in many ways this posed a unique challenge to the Falcons who are first and foremost a community club, in rare space, also fielding an elite team. While other VFL teams have the resources of men’s clubs behind them, Darebin, quite uniquely has behind them its community Club – a mighty force of over 700 playing girls and women across the club’s four sports.
Back at the Nest the Falcons’ senior teams were adapting to the changing landscape of elite women’s football. The senior players who had enjoyed many years and success and camaraderie had dramatically changed, with 14 players being drafted to AFL clubs. There was also another gap left in the team with the departure of coach Jane Lange. It was time for the Falcons to rebuild. Steph Simpson, VFLW captain and veteran Falcon of 11 years speaks openly about the challenges face. “It was a challenging period for the team, but we were fortunate enough to have built such a strong culture and we had to resilience and passion to keep going. We still had a lot of strong players in the squad, and some very exciting talent coming through our youth programs. We are very proud to be the only women’s club in the VFLW and will do everything we can to keep our place in the competition” Leaders like Simpson stepped in and stepped up to pass from player to player the Falcons Way, the Falcons revered culture that made the Club the place where all members wanted to belong
The COVID cancellation of all sport in what should have been the year of celebration of the club’s 30th anniversary posed a further challenge. Despite this the Falcons culture continued to grow, supported by the bonds between members and online support through Facebook Falcons Family private group, and the other COVID year development of the Strong Girls Work in Progress, a series of on line resources to inspire girls and women to be their best selves, produced by Darcy Vescio and featuring among others Aasta O’Connor and Jess Dal Pos.
For all this, perhaps the greatest shot in the arm for Falcons culture and their living traditions were the return to the Nest of an early generation of Falcons leaders, with the formation of our inaugural Masters team in 2019.
But even during this time of rapid change, the club held true to its own vision and values. Jasmine Hirst, the club’s Vice President, said that even in this decision, the club was determined to do things their way. “We had someone from AFL Vic come and sort of say ‘oh this is what’s happening with VFLW at the time, and this is what’s happening next year, and you’ll need $150,000 to enter a team [and] it’ll be like this, and you’ll probably need to align with an AFL club’.”
“We sat down and had a discussion, and we were kind of like, well, if anyone can do this, and do it differently, then we can. Because we’ve been doing things differently in different environments for a long time.”
“We had the confidence to kind of say, we’re not going to join with a men’s team and do everything the same as everyone else, we’re going to see if we can actually make a go of this as a standalone women’s club,” Jasmine said.
As the competition was rapidly changing, the Falcons were working to secure their position at the elite level. The club actively rejected any thoughts of funding the VFLW via pokies or any other form of gambling revenue. In 2018, they announced a ‘two year $160,000 partnership with Darebin Council to enable the club to continue fielding a VFLW team and their work in the local community’. It strengthened the club’s position in the VFLW but it was recognition of the role the club plays in the community.
More recognition was to follow with AFL Victoria announcing in September of 2018 that the VFLW best and fairest medal would be renamed the Lambert Pearce Medal, honouring decorated Falcon Daisy Pearce.
Throughout 2019 and beyond, the Falcons continued to develop AFLW talent with the likes of Meghan McDonald (redrafted), Gabby Colvin, Annalyse Lister, Nell Morris-Dalton, Sarah Sansonetti and Georgia Hammond all drafted in recent seasons.
In 2019 the Falcons again fielded three senior teams, with the VFLW side finishing eleventh and the Division 1 and 2 NFNL teams both making finals. Accolades continued to find their way to AH Capp in 2019, with Lauren Pearce winning the Pearce Lambert Medal and Tamara Olcorn winning the Division 1 NFNL Women’s Coaches MVP award
Though the landscape for the state league that the Falcons first began playing in 1990 has shifted dramatically, what has not is the Falcons steadfast desire to provide opportunities for women to play sport. Despite the challenges the club has faced, they have persevered and have reaped the rewards for the hard work they’ve put in.