I’m honored to have been invited to join the board of the Brisbane Lions Australian Football Club and looking forward to the opportunity to contribute to the growth and development of the game of AFL in Queensland.
“I grew up in country Victoria, and don’t think I’d ever even heard of the game of rugby until I was an adult, and soccer was also never on the radar. Our household was unequivocally AFL, with my dad a passionate Geelong supporter after his brother played there for a brief stint in the 60’s and my mum a life long member of that long suffering tribe of St Kilda fans.
Our best friends and neighbours were mad Kangaroo fans, and their dad used to regularly take us on the 2 hr pilgrimage down the Princes Highway to what was then VFL Park in Waverley to see his team play. I remember going one year at Easter, and back in those days football wasn’t the full time job for players that it is today and one of the Kangaroos team worked at Cadbury. Every kid wearing a Kangaroos scarf got a free Easter egg (& a good one too, with a big egg surrounded by other chocolates) and that was it, I nipped off, bought a scarf and lined up for my egg. To say dad was disappointed that my loyalties were so easily swayed by chocolate was a definite understatement!
My other major AFL childhood focus possibly showed my character (or at least future career prospects) in a slightly better light, with each season’s footy cards providing a great source of practice in wheeling and dealing, selling up the value of my stock while bargaining down those that I needed to complete my collection.
It’s fair to say that football didn’t play a tremendous role in my early adulthood (although I was able to trade on my uncle’s career at uni with a Geelong obsessed chemistry professor who had actually heard of the short lived career of the infamous Butch Reid!), but it definitely became a much bigger presence when I met my husband Stuart, who was and still is a die-hard Hawthorn supporter.
After a whirlwind romance that saw us get engaged within 4 months of meeting, go into business together a couple of weeks later, and buy 4 pharmacies in 3 states in the following 4 months, we found ourselves packing up and moving to Qld in 1998. Our businesses here were growing rapidly, and we felt that Brisbane provided the ideal economic climate to base our business activities.
It wasn’t just the economic climate that appealed, as a life-long hater of cold weather I was beyond excited about the move, but Stuart’s one big concern was the lack of access to AFL in this then rugby mad state. The Hawks games were rarely televised (remember this was pre-Foxtel and in the early days of the internet) and you had to flick a long way back in the sports section of the Courier Mail before you got to anything remotely resembling AFL news.
Fortunately our move coincided with the move by Stuart’s long time friend Gary O’Donnell, his wife Lisa and their family when Gary accepted an assistant coaching role with the Lions, and our close proximity to the Gabba – we lived at Kangaroo Point at that time – meant that regular coffee catch ups delivered an AFL fix that made life here tolerable for him!
Not only did we develop that sense of connection to the Lions through Gary, we also had Lion mad relatives living up here in Stuart’s aunty and uncle and their family.
The first time I went to their house I remember on the car trip home saying to Stuart how lovely they were, but did he have any idea why they had big strips of Velcro on the sides and top of their TV? (Remember this was 1998 and there was no such thing as a flatscreen).
All was revealed the next time we went there for a Lions game, and the arms and head of a stuffed toy Lion were proudly attached to ensure there was no question around where their passion lay. Sadly, this was also a pre smartphone, pre selfie era so I don’t have hilarious photographic evidence of this set up to share with you today but the memories definitely live on in my mind!
To show the level of influence the Lions had exerted, by the time Sascha was born in 2001 it was a no-brainer that she was born a Lions supporter, and she loved going to the Gabba from the first opportunity she got. Now as a 13 year old she is nowhere near as engaged in the game – if anyone’s got any Cadbury connections it might be worth revisiting the strategy that worked so well for me because she does share that passion for chocolate!
By the time Sam arrived and started to taking an interesting in any and everything involving a ball Fox Footy had arrived, the internet had removed previous geographical boundaries, Gary had returned to Essendon for a stint in their coaching box and Stuart’s engagement with Hawthorn was back to Victorian-like levels so he has taken by the Hawks, in very AFL vernacular – under the Father-Son rule
As our business expanded across the country AFL provided a connector and conversation starter with our new teams in Adelaide and Perth. Football had also become an increasingly important part of our corporate hospitality during that same period. Some might say there was possibly some correlation with the regular presence of the Hawks in the finals during that same time, but I’m told that’s just purely a coincidence..
We are a Qld based business though, and while we’ve enjoyed success on the national stage being active members of the Qld business and cultural community is incredibly important to us. From a sporting perspective, our Victorian roots have never really allowed us to get too immersed in (or even understand the rules) about either of the rugby codes,and whilst the Velcro left the television the Lions performance, AFL in general and the family Super Coach league in particular remains a constant discussion point at Sunday night roast
It became clear that there was no escaping the Lions clutches when not only did Gary return to Brisbane’s coaching ranks but our good friend Nicky (& owner of one of my favorite Brisbane shopping destinations Calexico in James St) announced she was marrying a Lion! And Jamie has since done an excellent job of convincing us of the benefits that corporate support for the Lions delivers.
With an overwhelmingly female workforce -82% of the epic pharmacy team are female, as are the workforces of our 2 “sister” businesses, Icon Cancer Care & Radiation Oncology Queensland that comprise nearly 1000 staff – so the introduction of the women of the pride initiative was one we were delighted to get behind, & the response from our team members has been fantastic.
Our box was full of scarf wearing members at the last home game, & while some are claiming that Brion was responsible for the upset over Port Adelaide we like to think the epic Women of the Pride brought a little luck to the field too.
Running a football club in this day and age is no different to running a business, football is in fact really big business.
It’s a proven fact that corporates with gender diversity outperform those without, and while that’s not possible for an AFL football team to serve up on the field at the highest level it’s certainly possible to deliver in off field activities, and let’s not forget over 50 000 women and girls played AFL in Qld in 2014.
I noted with interest that the curtain raiser at the MCG on Sunday was an all women’s AFL game, & the growth numbers for female participation that Gillon McLachlan outlined at the Lions Business Breakfast earlier this year also reiterate the importance of better connecting with this large and growing market sector.
It’s fantastic to see Sarah Kelly on the Lion’s board here, but there is still a way to go with only 25 women filling the current 150 director posts on AFL club boards.
Women make up 41% of the AFL’s 6.3 million supporters, and trying to run the business of football without ensuring that you have the opportunity to hear the voices of nearly half of your target customer base makes no sense at all. That’s why programs like Women of the Pride are so important, they provide the opportunity for female supporters to engage with clubs in a way that ensures those voices have a forum where they can be heard, and make a difference.
As Christie Leppitsch said at the Women of the Pride launch, women have long been at the heart of every club & it’s great to see this now being recognized & formalized with programs like this.
We really believe that football provides an opportunity to establish connections that can then act as a catalyst for change, as evidenced by the announcement earlier this week of our Epic Good Foundation’s support for the benefits AFL can deliver, in this case via Hawthorn’s Indigenous Program. Interestingly this opportunity itself grew from an initial connection formed between two women, myself and Lois Peeler, on a women’s leadership trip run by Bond University to the Lockhart River Indigenous community last August.
The opportunity for like minded women to connect in my experience always results in the creation of value. You can’t necessarily plan exactly how and where that value will appear and be delivered, but a mutual connection point enables conversations to start, more shared interests to be uncovered, and then the ideas start to spark. The one thing you can always guarantee is that a room full of women will deliver plenty of conversation, but the energy and buzz that appears when those connections start to fire is unmistakeable, and you can sense that here today.
Women in leadership roles have played a crucial part in the success of our businesses & I am confident that increasing the opportunities for women to play an active role in the business of football can only continue to deliver opportunities for creating those connections – and who knows what’s possible from there, women connecting and working together can result in some very powerful change.
I’m proud to wear my Women of the Pride foundation member scarf, & congratulate the Brisbane Lions on this fantastic initiative.”