“Women don’t play footy”.
The remark is an outdated faux pas, but years ago, it stopped former Melbourne player Brooke Patterson from taking up the sport.
Growing up, Patterson was always the girl competing against boys on her school oval at lunchtime.
“I probably copped a bit of flak for that at times,” she told aflplayers.com.au.
And it had an impact.
Despite illustrating her on-field talents playing for her university’s team while she studied, Patterson decided against joining a club to properly pursue football.
“I was probably a bit immature and thought, ‘Women don’t play footy’, so I finished my physio course and kept doing that,” Patterson reflected.
But one day, the voice of Daisy Pearce changed all of that.
“It wasn’t until I heard Daisy speak at an event,” Patterson said. “She got a standing ovation, as she does, and I was like ‘Wow, she’s amazing, women’s footy sounds awesome, I’m going to give it a go’”.
For Patterson, the first step was to look up where Pearce herself played, and soon, she decided to attend a Darebin Falcons training session.
Fittingly, Patterson’s first season as a Falcon correlated with the announcement of the AFLW competition, as its inaugural clubs were unveiled in the winter of 2016.
It was confirmed – women do play footy.
“I was going OK, and thought, ‘Maybe I should give this a real crack’, and off the back of that VFL season, we won the premiership and I got drafted to Melbourne,” Patterson said.
“I probably would’ve been a lot better if I had taken it up five years earlier.
“But it just goes to show — having people like Daisy and role models within the sport, visible in the media and out and about in the community — how much of an influence that can have on people.”
The midfielder then set about using her own platform to help remove social stigmas around women in football, embracing each opportunity to have her voice heard in the community.
“You’ve got the little boys and the little girls seeing that it’s normal,” she said.
“That was one of the best things about being involved for me.”
Patterson played most games in her first two seasons at Melbourne, but was squeezed out of the side when the AFLW was met with a profusion of young talent.
“It was a bit harder to get a game, and I called myself the All-Australian emergency,” she joked.
Patterson was soon struck down by injuries, which did not bode well for her on-field career.
It did, though, kickstart a passion for preventing them.
“When the AFLW started, I started my PhD, so I already had an interest, and then playing in the AFLW, my colleagues and I knew that ACL injuries … women were at higher risk than in other sports,” the 31-year-old said.
“We thought AFLW, it’s new, it’s probably going to be a problem.
“We approached the AFL and the research board and said ‘Look, we need to start doing something’, and anecdotally in the community [ACL injuries were a problem], but we didn’t have any actual data, so we worked with the AFL from the start of the competition.
“My passion was to get into community level. The more injuries we can stop at that level, it means that these players aren’t coming to the elite level with a heap of injuries.”
Now, a post-PhD researcher, Patterson and her team are aiming to recruit over 150 teams to partake in a study to monitor and gather data on injury rates.
The next step, Patterson says, will involve supporting clubs in implementing an injury prevention program.
“We cracked the 100 this week, so we’ve got 100 teams in, 50-odd to go,” she said.
Patterson remains at the Demons as a development coach, and hopes it proves women can pursue their careers while staying involved in the game.