Sport AFL AFL forced to turn fans away from its inaugural women’s match
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AFL forced to turn fans away from its inaugural women’s match

AFL women Carlton Collingwood
Will the big crowds return in season two? Photo: AAP
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And to think, initially the AFL wanted to play this match at Collingwood’s sparse training oval.

An estimated 24,500 people crammed into Carlton’s Ikon Park on Friday night to watch the Blues score a 35-point win over Collingwood in the opening match of the inaugural AFL Women’s season.

The stadium was full to capacity, with police telling the AFL midway through the opening quarter that it had to turn away well over 1000 fans waiting outside.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan opted to venture outside the main gates to apologise to those people stranded outside.

McLachlan said; “It’s an amazing turnout and clearly we’re a little overwhelmed by the response.”

The passionate crowd was rewarded with a standout display from Carlton’s Darcy Vescio, who booted four goals in the historic match.

Brianna Davey was also superb for Carlton with a match-best 26 disposals as the Blues ran all over the Pies 7.4 (46) to 1.5 (11).

Steph Chiocci, Sarah D’Arcy and Caitlyn Edwards were among the better players for Collingwood.

The answers to the inevitable trivia questions will be: the first score was a point from Collingwood captain Chiocci, while the first goal came from 22-year-old teammate Jasmine Garner nearly eight minutes into the match.

Unfortunately for the Pies it would prove their only goal of the match.

Those curious to check out the intensity levels of women’s football were left in no doubt from the first bounce.

The game was fierce and physical from the outset and it was only after 90 seconds of tough congested footy that the Sherrin was cleared from the centre square, courtesy of a high-contact free kick to Collingwood.

There were heavy collisions and enough injured players to keep both teams’ trainers working overtime.

Magpies midfielder Emma Grant left the ground at halftime with a concussion and teammate Stacey Livingstone (shoulder) was not far behind her.

The match was greeted with overwhelmingly positive feedback on social media.

The main talking point, though, will be the crowd of almost 25,000, which was more than double the figure the AFL had expected.

It’s interesting to note that when Carlton hosted Sydney in the opening round of the inaugural AFL men’s season, 27 years ago, the crowd at the same venue was 22,427 (the average crowd size for the Round was 24,569).

Back in 1897, when Carlton travelled to Brunswick St Oval to play Fitzroy in the opening round of the then breakaway VFL, the crowd was estimated to be about 3000.

This crowd came in all shapes and sizes and for all manner of reasons.

One spectator, Ruth McCausland, noted that her seven-year-old son asked her: “So will they have men’s games as well this year?”

Another, Carlton supporter Janelle Irvine told the ABC she was cheering for the Magpies against her beloved Blues, having switched camps because of Pies forward Moana Hope’s inspirational story of caring for her disabled sister.

“I loved the fact she cared for her sister … and her family values,” she said.

womensfootyikonpark
The crowd piled into Ikon Park well before the opening siren. Photo: Murray Brust

The game marked the beginning of a 28-match competition, to be played in seven states and territories over the next seven weeks.

Round 1 continues on Saturday afternoon when Adelaide hosts GWS at Thebarton Oval, followed by the Western Bulldogs against Fremantle at Whitten Oval from 7.40pm.

On Sunday Melbourne hosts the Brisbane Lions at Casey Fields from 5.05pm.

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