I Went To My First AFLW Game, These Are My Thoughts — And Spoiler Alert: I’m Obsessed

Hameda Nafiz

I didn’t know much about AFL until high school, when an organisation offered students the chance to learn how to play. Me and my mates threw our hands up at the chance. Was it because we were wildly passionate about AFL? Absolutely not. We just wanted an excuse to get out of the classroom. Turns out, we actually really enjoyed playing the game — and while back then I had a general understanding of the rules — it’s safe to say I no longer possess this knowledge.

That being said, after following the Women’s World Cup earlier this year, I found myself intrigued by sport for the first time. Thankfully, I learned that the AFLW 2023 season was just about to kick off. Now, I could’ve just found out the game time and begun my journey in the comfort of my own home — but I didn’t. 

I’m always open to trying new things, but I generally steer clear of sporting games. Something about the energy makes me feel out of my depth — and unfortunately, that transpires into anxiety pretty quickly, subsequently making the situation entirely unenjoyable, which is why I avoid them in the first place. But I didn’t think I would be to capture the essence of the sport in its entirety until I physically attended a game — similarly to how I’d go to a gig if I wanted to feel out a band. 

AFLW game in Sydney, Australia
POPSUGAR Australia

The morning sun was bright and warm, setting me up for a gorgeous day out — which lifted my mood and made me a lot less anxious about attending an AFL game when I know barely anything about it. After securing a ticket (which only cost me $10), I packed a picnic, slapped on a load of sunscreen and, set off to make my way to the Hawthorn v Swans game at Henson Park in Sydney. 

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I approached the park, but the energy was as bright and joyful as the sun shining above our heads, which put me right at ease. The entry process was seamless and before I knew it, I was gazing out at a crowd of fans. But they weren’t the intense supporters I was expecting to see at a competitive sports event. These fans were passionate, don’t get me wrong, but the community and camaraderie between attendees wearing contrasting jerseys reminded me that competition didn’t mean spite or hurt feelings. Everyone at the game, in that audience, was there to support the incredible women and people who were showing off their skills on the field. 

Crowd at Swans vs Hawthorn AFLW game in Sydney, Australia
POPSUGAR Australia

It was something I noticed when I was watching the World Cup earlier this year — how despite supporting our mighty Matildas through and through, I was still thrilled and awestruck by the talent of the opposing teams. How fans in different jerseys were sitting in the stands side-by-side, supporting the players and their wins in unity.

The vibes felt unbelievable wholesome — I felt enveloped in the warmness and supportive energy of the attendees. While the game was still incredibly high-stakes and the Hawks and Swans fans were passionately cheering on their teams to win, there was no hostility between the two supporter groups. Many of the fans at the game — like me — were there to support the skilful players and simply enjoy a great game with their community.

The second thing I noticed — the first being the crowd of fans — was the countless activities available. Whether it was the stalls selling classic fair food (even dumplings!) or activities for kids, there are entertainment opportunities for all when they’re not captivated by the action on the field. 

AFL field where AFLW teams Swans and Hawthorn Played
POPSUGAR Australia

After taking a moment to peruse the activities and check out what food was on offer, I settled in a prime spot right beside the posts — it wasn’t until the game started that I realised I was in the optimal position to be hit with the ball if the action revved on that end of the field. I also refused to move upon realising this — because why bother going to a sporting game if you’re afraid of being hit with a ball?

I wasn’t hit with the ball, by the way. Instead, I had a front-row seat to awe-inspiring athletes who kept me completely captivated — despite my very loose understanding of the rules. It didn’t take me long to get into the game, even though I wasn’t sure who I was rooting for (I plan on undertaking a lot more field-research before I decide where my loyalties lie). I felt myself be overcome with excitement and adrenaline while the teams went back and forth, fighting for their personal victory. 

Hawthorn vs Swans AFLW game
POPSUGAR Australia

The teams were wearing their Indigenous Round guernseys — which were an absolute delight to see out on the field — and the energy of the crowd as well as the athletes was off the charts, making me feel as though I was a part of it all despite being a complete novice in that world. 

My packed picnic was perfect for the sunny weather, but I wasn’t going to attend a sports game without tucking into some of the food on offer. I went with the tornado potato, which is an absolute classic — at least in my opinion. I picked the salt and vinegar seasoning and, what can I say, it’s fried potatoes. It was delicious! 

Girl eating potato tornado at AFLW game
POPSUGAR Australia

While the Swans did their best (trust me, I was there) — and even took the lead earlier in the match with a particularly impressive performance from Rebecca Privitelli, who’s been dominating this season — the Hawks took home the win by 14 points. See? One game and I’m already getting the hang of the jargon. 

Not only was the game a joy to experience in real-time, but the entire day — from the packed picnic, to the welcoming community that never once made me feel out of my depths — has convinced me that there’s no better way to spend a sunny Saturday than heading to an AFLW game. 

Grab your mates — or go by yourself and make some new ones. Tickets are only $10 — and kids go free. Learn more about AFLW and find the games happening near you here.

Trust me, it’s an experience you’ll be glad you’ve had, and one you’ll want to replicate season after season.

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