Penny Cula-Reid featured in the Leader

The Leader has posted an article on veteran Shark Penny Cula-Reid who played her 150th game last weekend.

Paul Amy

SHE was 14 and all she wanted to do was play football.

But Penny Cula-Reid had nowhere to play.

She had been with the Murrumbeena juniors since the age of six but at 14 was told she could no longer line up against the boys in the Moorabbin Saints Junior Football League.

Cula-Reid well remembers the conversation. Her mother, Amanda Cula, said she was “not allowed to play any more because you’re a girl”.

“And I was like, ‘OK, what do I do now?’,’’ she said last Monday, a day after playing her 150th senior game for St Kilda Sharks.

“Mum asked me what I’d like to do and I said I just wanted to keep playing football. And mum, hard as nails, said, ‘Well, we’ll take this further — let’s go get ’em.’’

Penny Cula-Reid (right) with Helen Taylor (left) and Emily Stanyer in 2003, before taking

Penny Cula-Reid (right) with Helen Taylor (left) and Emily Stanyer in 2003, before taking on Football Victoria at VCAT.

Going further meant going to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in 2003 and challenging Football Victoria’s rule that girls must stop playing against the boys at the age of 12.

No one at her club or the league had told Cula-Reid about the rule and so she blithely played on, as did fellow female players Emily Stayner and Helen Taylor.

Finally Football Victoria sought to stop them, sounding the final siren through the league and clubs. The girls’ families came together and initiated legal action on the basis there was no equal opportunity for girls to play football as there was for boys.

The way Cula-Reid saw it, she was expected to enter senior ranks via the under-12s.

“There was no ability to properly transition from one to the other, from junior footy to women’s,’’ she said. “That wasn’t right.’’

It was difficult for the Cula-Reid family. Penny’s father, Cam, was team manager and Amanda was on the Murrumbeena committee. When the word “discrimination’’ was used in legal documents, club members seethed. Some suggested the family was after money, calling it “gold diggers’’.

“It was never about money. It was about letting the girls play football and letting them decide when they should hang up the boots, the same as the boys could do,’’ Amanda Cula said.

Penny Cula-Reid, Helen Taylor and Emily Stanyer await their fate in VCAT in 2004.

Penny Cula-Reid, Helen Taylor and Emily Stanyer await their fate in VCAT in 2004.

The issue attracted great publicity (there were splashes in the daily newspapers and TV coverage) and represented a turning point for women’s football.

While the judge lifted the age that girls could play against boys from 12 to 14, Football Victoria appointed a female development officer with the brief to establish a youth girls competition. It kicked off in 2004.

It was too late for Cula-Reid, but she took it as a big win. People called her a “pioneer’’ and still do. “Look up her name on Google — there are thousands of pages about her football,’’ her friends say to anyone unfamiliar with her career.

As a seasoned senior footballer with St Kilda Sharks, she reflects on the VCAT action with pride.

It created a competition and pathway for girls football. Now players can attend academies, receiving high-level training and coaching, and turn out for state teams.

“When I look back and see what we were able to achieve just by sticking up for myself, it does make me happy. It’s an honour, quite humbling, when people say I’ve been some sort of pioneer or role model.

“I’m glad there are so many opportunities for girls in 2015. A lot has been achieved.’’

Cula-Reid is unsure when Helen Taylor stopped playing football, but Emily Stayner turns out for St Albans Spurs. “She took a break for seven or eight years before she pulled the boots on again,’’ she said. The trio’s story was the subject of a documentary, Even Girls Play Footy, in 2013.

Cula-Reid was speaking to Leader after her 150th senior game for St Kilda.

She made her senior debut for the Sharks at age 15, after being booted out of the juniors, and her career has taken in an assortment of accolades: state selections, a club best and fairest, All-Australian jumpers in 2005-06-07 and being picked up by the Western Bulldogs in the first AFL women’s draft.

She says she still has much to do: maybe win a Helen Lambert Medal as the competition champion and captain the club.

Unfortunately for Cula-Reid, her milestone match came with a heavy loss to Darebin Falcons.

“We were a bit short-handed, I guess you could say. We had some players out. The girls fought hard but we couldn’t come away with a win,’’ she said.

But, when all she wanted to do was play football, Penny Cula-Reid had quite a win in 2003.