THE AGE - 11TH APRIL 2008
Lee's 200th game: she shoves, just like a woman
TONIGHT on an oval in St Albans, a legend of football will play a milestone game.
Debbie Lee — possibly best known for her 2002 involvement with the Hammerheads, the subject of a 2002 reality television show — will play her 200th Victorian Women's Football League game in the season opener. She is only the fifth woman to do so.
Lee is a five-time winner of the Brownlow Medal equivalent, the Helen Lambert Medal, a premiership captain, five-time club best and fairest and an All-Australian.
The 34-year-old told The Age last week that over her long career the VWFL, while struggling for recognition and sponsors, the on-field play of the game has become a free-flowing spectacle.
"Certainly, the game has changed with respect to the pace of the game. It used to be a bit like under 10s, you kick you chase the ball, you kick you chase the ball," Lee said. "Now it is you take a mark, you handpass and it is a flow-on effect. A lot of the coaches are now running a loose player. The coaching across the board in the VWFL has improved, it is becoming more strategic."
Lee is not only a player for St Albans Spurs but also the president of the league and possibly the best ambassador the women's game has had.
She has gone to incredible lengths to get the VWFL recognition, including being involved in the 2002 television show The Club, part of which included legally challenging the Western Region Football League to allow her to play against men.
Six years on and Lee says never wanted to actually play against the men, but rather draw attention to women's football. "It was about (women) can play footy, too. Not women are better than men at playing footy, just (women) can play footy, too. And that was the whole philosophy around being involved in the Hammerheads," Lee says.
"And in the end, it was great because I actually was able to stay in the series for quite a number of weeks and I believed that enabled us as a league to actually highlight that there is a competition and an avenue for women who have grown up with football that that they can play in a competition."
Lee says it is starting to happen. One in 10 enrolments in AusKick are now girls. A 2004 Roy Morgan poll also shows 35% of all volunteers in the AFL are women, while 45% of all AFL supporters are women, well clear of any other Australian male sporting code.
"There has been a real change since when I first began football. You look at the primary school programs and things of the nature, they are just part of the sporting smorgasbord. You've got your basketball, tennis, netball and football and it (football for girls) is now encouraged as a sporting choice," Lee says. "I think many years ago when I was growing up, I don't think it was particularly encouraged that girls played football. So there has certainly been a shift and that is reflected in our numbers and the growth of our sports as well."
The VWFL now boasts over 1000 players across all levels of the competition. However, more exciting for Lee is the success of the youth league, which now has 32 sides after only three years.
St Albans and Diamond Creek will play the season opener of the VWFL Premier Division tonight.