I have a lot to give to the game: Cula-Reid
VFLW senior coach Penny Cula-Reid will have a special display in the National Sports Museum detailing her role in the rise of women's football.
“Girls can do anything.”
That’s the powerful message from VFLW senior coach Penny Cula-Reid. It’s a message to inspire, to install faith in young female footballers and ensure they have the self-belief necessary to pursue the ever-growing female football pathway.
It’s a pathway Penny has played a significant part in.
She played more than 200 games for the St Kilda Sharks, was selected by Collingwood in the inaugural AFLW draft, was the 2018 VFLW Coach of the Year with the Magpies and led them to a 2019 premiership.
But her influence started in 2003.
It started when she was told she couldn’t play football anymore. Why? Because she wasn’t a boy.
Even Girls Play Footy is an insightful and moving documentary that goes behind the scenes on a legal case fought by three Melbourne schoolgirls - Helen Taylor, Emily Stanyer and Penny - who took Football Victoria to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to defend their right to play Australian Rules football with their boys teams.
They won the case and changed the law, meaning girls could play footy in a junior boys competition up until the age of 14, up from the previous law of 12 years.
Now, Penny has a special display in the National Sports Museum at the MCG which takes the public inside her journey through the AFLW system, from a school girl who just wanted to play footy to a leading coach and female football figure making a positive difference to the game.
"Firstly, I was shocked that they wanted to put my story into a museum, and then once I started to tell people they were saying ‘Oh my god that is so cool’. I think it’s great that our story is being celebrated and it’s going to go down in history," Penny said.
"Changing the law at 15 is pretty cool, playing AFLW was pretty cool, and now it’s going to go into a museum... which is pretty cool. I think a lot of people are more excited about it than I am, I don’t think I really realise the magnitude and what it sort of means and stands for.
"Obviously it’s a very humbling experience, but I still feel like I’ve got a lot more to give to the game. Not just to the game itself but to young girls and women who think that they might not think that it’s possible, I want to help them be the voice, I want to help them achieve whatever they want to achieve, that's the message I want to leave - that it doesn’t matter your gender, race, sexuality or religion, anyone has the ability to do anything."
From being told she couldn't play and finishing on 149 junior games because of it - falling agonisingly short of a major milestone - to seeing where women's football is today, Penny wouldn't have it any other way.
"As much as I was shattered that I was the emergency player for the first round of AFLW, I get the chance to sit back and reflect and I would’ve much preferred to be in the position that I was," she said.
"Being able to sit on the fence and look at the girls playing, and then turn around and see the sell out crowd with people locked out, and having people locked out of Ikon Park wanting to come in and watch women's football, that’s the moment where I really go: 'This is what happened’.
"I was at Rebel a couple of months ago and this young girl was running up to her mum saying ‘mum I want these footy boots, I want these ones’, that just absolutely melted my heart because this young girl now has a choice whether she wants to play football or not, and that is incredible.
"I think it still needs a lot of work and a lot of support, but we're on a journey, we’ve been on a journey since the establishment of the women's football league in 1982.
"I'm just a small piece of the puzzle."
For Penny, it's all about what happens next.
"I want to see what happens from here and the people who will take women's football to the next stage," she said.
"And who knows what's next in my journey?"
While there's still a long way to go, there's no doubt the world is better off having elite women's football a part of it. There was no pathway, but this is the evolution and snowball effect from three innocent teenagers changing the law, to the AFLW competition, to young girls running around Rebel Sport trying to find their next pair of footy boots.
Girls can do anything.
The documentary can be watched in full via THIS LINK. Penny's display is now open to the public at the MCG.