Earlier this year, I did the biggest move of my life thus far. After being an NSW-dweller for 27-and-a-half years, I bit the bullet and hauled ass (and all my shit) down to Melbourne to give the southern city a red hot go. What I didn’t realise than in the short months after that, I would have picked up a team sport I’d left behind when I hit my teens, and absolutely loved the back end out of it.

Now I’m no stranger to AFL – despite living in NRL country my whole life, I was born into red and black Essendon booties. I played Auskick as a little lass, and after getting too old for that I played junior footy, and was the only girl in the U12s until puberty began to kick in and it all got a bit too aggressive. I took off the boots and switched them out for dance shoes. I spent most of my teen years vehemently denying my love for AFL, because it absolutely wasn’t linked to ~being cool~ in country NSW.

Before I’d crossed the border in my big pilgrimage south, friends of mine had told me they’d be expecting to see my face at training on Tuesday. I’d gotten my hands on that egg-shaped ball again through three years of playing the Reclink Community Cup in Sydney and a couple of seasons of AFL 9s (which is essentially netball, but footy) and I realised that this was the perfect time to once again spend my Saturday mornings in the cold winter air (and sometimes sideways rain) chasing the pill.

So I went for it.

Joining in with the preseason at West Brunswick Magpies – who compete in the premier division of the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) – has been hands-down one of the best decisions of my life, despite not being able run a lap of the oval without feeling like I was about to vomit on my first training session.

Even at 27 and with the fitness of a human-sized turd in footy shorts, I was welcomed in with open arms into a club that’s fiercely inclusive and accepting, supportive and encouraging. Pulling on the boots and getting out on the park, I was greeted with 200+ new friends of all genders and identities who champion you on when you feel like your lungs are on fire, and get around you when you kick three goals with a mild hangover on a blisteringly-cold Saturday morning.

It’s transformed the way I read my body. Instead of thinking why jeans don’t sit on me right sometimes, or why my arms hate anything that isn’t a stretchy sleeve, I think more about how my thick thighs are powerful enough to kick goals from 35 out, and how I flattened that opposing player one time because I can drop my centre of gravity to become an immovable force. I celebrate my bruises and busted lips, instead of worrying about how others will take them.

The beauty of the amateur league – and West Brunswick in particular – is that you can absolutely set your own speed. Wanna dig deep, work hard, and strive to get a spot in the VFLW or even the AFLW? Sure, you can do that.

Want to just get out on the park, play in the Reserves, sink some beers in the clubrooms, and learn the team’s song for every time you win? You bet your sweet ass you can do that too.

One of the most pivotal moments this season that made me realise that I was in the right club, surrounded by the right people, was a training night when a new person introduced themselves. It was the week after we’d had our pride round raising money for Minus 18 – a new player stepped forward and said that the reason they’d come down to check it all out was because they’d heard we were “really accepting of trans people.” It made them realise that footy is just as much for them as it is for everyone else.

So now here we are, both of our women’s sides are locked in to play the Grand Finals this weekend – Ressies defending their title after ending up top of the table and taking out the minor premiership, and the Seniors staring down their first flag in the first division. I’ll be down there cheering them on from the commentator’s box (read: my teammate’s car) and being supremely in awe of my club.

And as for me? Well, I can run a lap of the oval now without wanting to die, and I once completely fluked a banana kick to slot a goal. Don’t ask how I managed that one.

Image: Courtney Fry