After the legal all-clear the girls let fly

Three teenage girls pulled on their boots with the boys yesterday to play suburban junior footy. Amazingly, the sky didn’t fall in.

After victory came pressure. Teenagers Penny Cula-Reid, Helen Taylor and Emily Stayner – slightly out of form, butterflies in their bellies, but unreservedly ecstatic- played their first footy matches in six weeks yesterday.

On Friday, Justice Stuart Morris granted an interim injunction against a ban that had stopped them competing in the Moorabbin Saints Junior Football League because they were girls.

A flushed Emily was carried off the ground by teammates after the Hampton Rovers beat Mordialloc Braeside at David Street Reserve in Hampton. And key ruck Helen Taylor, 14, helped the Oakleigh Dragons secure a convincing win over Bentleigh Moorabbin at Scammell Reserve.

Penny, clad in the number 6 guernsey, tackled, kicked in and contested marks as Murrumbeena met Melbourne High at the school’s oval. Only a bobbing ponytail set her apart from the boys.

On the bench for the third quarter, the 15-year-old winger was holding firm.

“It’s good to give other girls confidence to go out, do something and go for it- it doesn’t matter what it is,” she said, admitting that the TV cameras and “all the expectations” made for an edgy Saturday night.

While gender was never an issue with her teammates, sometimes the opposition gave her “lip” after a thrashing.

“Guys watch your mouths!” she shouted to grunting teammates on the ground. And then a knowing aside, eyes rolling: “Men!”

“She can bowl over half the blokes on the team, that’s all I know,” said James Woodlock, who’s played alongside Penny for eight years.

“She’s a beautiful kick,” said one spectator who had come to watch his grandson. “But you’ll get some idiot who will want to test her out- I’m worried about the upper part of their bodies.”

Beaming father Cam Reid said Penny – one of eight children, five of them boys – had been playing football for as long as he could remember. For now, her goal was to reach game 150 (yesterday was her 140th) and play in the under 16s next year.

“Penny will know when to stop, but she wants that to be her decision, not Football Victoria’s,” he said. “She doesn’t like being stopped from doing anything- and why should she?”

Later, Penny retired to the changing rooms with her muddy team for some tough love from coach Blair Maginness- they lost by 20 points, but finals hopes were still intact.

She played “not too bad” considering the break, Mr Maginness said.

“The team all appreciate Penny being around, no doubt about it- she’s just part of the furniture,” he said.

Justice Morris, president of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, cited human rights and fundamental values in allowing the interim injunction against Football Victoria, which relied on a rule that stops girls playing football when they reach 12. The case will be determined in November.

By Julie Szego
The Age

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