EACH weekend 21 years ago, I would go along to watch Fitzroy's final matches in the AFL before the club merged with the Brisbane Bears.
Prior to each home game, female cheerleaders would line up on the field to welcome the players before they ran through the banner. Most of the girls shaking the maroon and blue pom-poms were older, but among them was a tiny child known as 'Roy Girl'.
It was 1996, I was 13, and the Lions meant so much to my family. We would tell lame jokes on the drive from Mentone in Melbourne's south to the Western (now Whitten) Oval in the city’s west in Dad’s lawn mowing van, knowing even the shortest trip in the van would leave us smelling like cut grass for hours.
Actor Ryan Moloney (aka Jarrod ‘Toadie’ Rebecchi) on the TV show Neighbours) was a Fitzroy supporter and my brothers and I would compete to see who could first spot him in the crowd each week.
We lost our bananas when the Lions beat Fremantle. It would be their last win as Fitzroy. We watched Fitzroy’s last match on TV, from Perth and also against the Dockers. It was a sad day, made sadder as Auld Lang Syne was played at the ground as the players, in tears, left the field for the last time as Fitzroy Football Club.
My memories of Roy Girl are still vivid. I can clearly recall her mother protectively guiding her on to the field and showing her where to stand. I won’t forget the look of trepidation on her face as she took her place. But above all, I’ll always fondly remember her beaming face as soon as the players ran out, her little body jumping up and down and her tiny arms waving those pom-poms, as if the force of her cheers could help deliver one more win for her beloved Roy Boys.
I was reminded of Roy Girl a couple of weeks ago when I was cataloguing a photo of Collingwood captain Steph Chiocci. The image says so much; a young, trailblazing woman, poised in the race just moments before leading her team – Collingwood, a foundation AFLW club – on to the field before the first game in a new national competition.
Understandably, there’s a little trepidation in her face. We all fear the unknown. But just as Roy Girl would quickly take to – and revel – in her role, subsequent images show Chiocci fully embracing her role and living and loving the moments: playing her guts out, celebrating goals, and singing the club song.
I sometimes wonder what became of Roy Girl. She would now be in her mid-to-late 20s. I would like to think she’s been to an AFLW game or watched it on TV. I want to imagine her face as excited as it was back in 1996 when she was a little girl cheering on her beloved team. I would hope she’s been watching the Brisbane Lions tear apart the AFLW competition.
And I would love to believe, if she had a daughter, that she would be thrilled her own little Roy Girl could one day take part in the game just as she did, but on a new and much bigger stage.