By Lincoln Edmunds
After breaking historic ground last year, the Southern Football Netball League will once again formally recognise and celebrate diversity with the second annual Pride Round commencing this weekend.
After last year’s success, the dedicated round is back giving the football community the opportunity to show their support to everybody who plays our great game, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Expect to see plenty of colour and passion on and off the field this weekend, with plenty of special events and activities taking place to celebrate the occasion.
One player who cannot wait for the weekend’s festivities to roll around is Courtney Axisa, who feels right at home at the Endeavour Hills Football Club.
Like many young footballers Axisa’s journey began at her local Auskick and it wasn’t long before her ability quickly raised a few eyebrows around the joint.
“My mum wanted me to get down and play so I joined Parkmore Auskick. After one or two sessions, one of the junior coaches spotted how far I could kick and asked me to come and train with the boys,” Axisa said.
Of course, football was vastly different back in those days and the concept of girls playing footy was still considered a bit strange to many.
“There were only one or two other girls in the team and it was a bit odd to see girls running around on a footy field back then.”
With no real pathway or development program for women in football then, Axisa stepped away from the game for several years before the rise and popularity of women’s football began to spike.
Returning to the game at age 16, a six-year stint at Hallam brought her two flags and plenty of success, but since joining Endeavour Hills last year Axisa has never felt more comfortable or proud to be whom she is.
“I just love the environment here. The girls down there are so encouraging and they want the best opportunity for you,” Axisa said.
“The whole club is so supportive of the women’s concept, it’s the most supportive club I’ve been involved in and there is good competition here with both the seniors and reserves.”
As for the rise in women’s football, Axisa is stoked to see the continual growth and development across the state and country, paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse environment.
“When I started there was only a small amount of girls. Over the years it’s gotten bigger and it’s so amazing to see that football clubs are introducing more women’s teams and stuff like the AFLW and VFLW,” she said.
“A lot of women love footy and for women’s games to now be shown on TV around the country is such an amazing feeling.”
But even after significant progress and growth in the game, removing certain stigmas and attitudes attached to women’s football is still a challenge that many female footballers face in this day and age.
The introduction of initiatives such as Pride Round are all about breaking down barriers and accepting everyone for who they are, no matter what gender or sexuality they identify by.
And it is a concept that Axisa is 100% behind.
“It’s an amazing occasion for anyone in LGBTI+ community and for anyone really. It’s good to see society, councils and football clubs get behind gays, straights, whoever!” she said.
“It makes me and others feel proud that everyone is right behind them. Some girls are shy and afraid to be who they are, but in this round you can see it in their eyes that they are proud to be who they are.”
It’s a battle that Axisa has been through herself and football provided her a safe place to be comfortable, while everything else was going on.
“When I was younger I went through a stage where I didn’t know who I was. Being a part of a footy club made me realise who I was. I wasn’t afraid to come out and show the world, my family and my friends who I truly was. Footy and being at a club provided me with that safe zone,” Axisa explained.
“I’ve played with lots of gay and straight people, but once you step onto that football field you aren’t judged, you’re just another teammate, whereas off the field away from footy you might be.”
Sadly it’s a situation that many people, especially in their earlier years of life, find themselves in.
But for anyone who does find themselves in a similar scenario, Axisa definitely recommends signing up and getting involved at your local football or netball club.
“If you were to join a football club you would feel safe and accepted no matter what was going on, especially if you were afraid of who you are. If you love footy and you’re a bit lost, personally I would recommend coming to Endeavour Hills, we would make you feel proud of who you are,” she said.
“We have a great leadership group and every girl is offering to help no matter what. We have a very close bond even away from the club and that helps us on the field too.”
From all of her past experiences and lessons, Axisa’s main message is don’t let what others think of you get in the way of doing something that you love.
“If you love footy, don’t be afraid to get down and enjoy yourself. It’s really important to stay true to who you are and don’t ever be afraid to come out and show everyone. No matter where you are, there’s always going to be someone that will help you.”