Joanna Lin

Joanna Lin is Collingwood’s first Asian heritage AFLW player, making her debut in 2021.

Saturday, February 6, 2021, is a day Joanna Lin will never forget when she ran onto Victoria Park for the first time to make her AFLW debut for Collingwood.  She got the news she was playing just before the game which came as a surprise.

‘I knew that a lot of draftees don’t get to play in the first year, but I trained hard and pushed myself up for selection.’ Joanna says of her big moment, and she went on to play nine out of eleven games in her first season.

Joanna Lin was born in Melbourne, the daughter of Taiwanese migrants. Her father Yu Sung had been a bus driver in Taiwan and her mother Wen Ju was a kindergarten worker.

Wen Ju had already been on a unique journey, migrating to Australia from Taiwan at 16 to complete high school and work in her grandfather Jang Cherng Hour’s Chinese takeaway food shop, “Rai-Rai”, in Chadstone in Melbourne.

For Joanna, her grandfather’s life in Australia is a source of inspiration for his resilience: ‘I have no idea how he survived because his English wasn’t great at all,’ Joanna says.

‘But he had Mum at the front of the shop to manage things and they got by.’

For as long as she can remember, Joanna Lin loved footy and Collingwood: ‘My brother William told me to be a Collingwood fan and that was that.’ She recalls.

Joanna had her first experience of footy in interschool sports in Year 10 and she loved the freedom of the game.

She joined the Bulleen Templestowe Bullants and learned the fundamentals fast, playing 39 matches for her new team from 2017-19, winning 3 premierships: “I found that footy was a family, a connection that was deeper for me than the other sports.” Joanne says.

Things got serious when she was selected for the Oakleigh Chargers in the NAB League, the premier Under 18 statewide championships.

The leap to a more professional football environment was an ‘eye opener’ for Joanna, but she played strongly for the Chargers, enough to attract the interest of Collingwood who selected her at number 26 in the 2020 ALFW draft.

Her achievement really sank in when Joanna received a call from her first female footy hero - Collingwood captain Steph Chiocci: ‘That was the point when I thought, this is real.’

Before Covid19, Joanna would visit Taiwan every second year to reconnect with her relatives: ‘The culture is quite different and it’s nice to go there and then come back again with a new perspective of who I am.’

In her second season, Joanna suffered a shoulder dislocation in pre-season training and missed the entire 2022 season: ‘I was only 19 at the time and we made a long-term decision to get my shoulder right,’ Joanna explains.

‘I learned to enjoy the moment because you never know how long it’s going to last.’

Sarah Loh

Sarah Loh is a pioneer, the first woman and Asian-Australian to be the CEO of a major community junior football league.

When Sarah Loh arrived in Australia at the age of 7 from Malaysia, she immediately fell in love with Australian Rules football. Although her father Paul was reluctant to take her to a game, she persisted and attended her first match at Moorabbin Oval in 1977.

Although initially treated like an outsider, she finished the game and remembers being thrown in the air by jubilant St Kilda fans and she was hooked: ‘From that moment I became a fanatical St Kilda supporter and lived it and breathed it.’ Sarah recalls.

Sarah Loh was born in 1970, the last of three children in Malaysia to Paul Loh who worked as a cleaner and Doris who was a nurse.

Sarah settled into Australian life, and unlike many Asian migrant families, playing sports was a top family priority: ‘Mum was good at sports and insisted that we had to live in Melbourne because of the sporting culture.’

Sarah took her mother’s philosophy seriously and her first Sherrin football got a serious workout: ‘We kicked the hell out of it on the street in front of our house with my two brothers who loved the game.’

Denied the opportunity to play the game competitively, she lobbied her teachers at Carwatha High to set up the first Victorian high school round-robin tournament in 1983 and she played every year in high school until graduation.

At the age of 27, she finally played competition football, suiting up for the St Kilda Sharks.

Sarah’s comeback was a rough one and she has painful recollections: ‘I nearly killed myself - I nearly broke my ribs and had black eyes, but I loved every second - even getting bumped felt good.’

Sarah’s obsession with football continued and she unsuccessfully tried a number of times to get a job in the industry before breaking through in 2016 when she was appointed as CEO of Melbourne’s SMJFL (South Metro Junior Football League), the largest independent junior league in the country.

The list of achievements in her six-year term is impressive with SMJFL having the largest cash reserves, corporate sponsorship turnover, umpire academy and number of participants of any junior league in the nation.

One of her legacies was to take a stand against partnerships with harmful industries including alcohol, gambling, tobacco and junk food.

Sarah had unfinished business on the playing field, and in 2017 she joined the AFL Masters for over 40’s players.

Her form and enthusiasm were rewarded with an elevation to captain-coach of the Waverley Warriors and then to State Coach for the Victorian Masters team before being appointed as a Director on the AFL Masters National Board.

For Sarah, playing AFL Masters and following St Kilda has given her access to a secret world: ‘If you want to get good jobs you need to be able to talk the local language, which is footy,’

‘It helps you to understand the human nature of Australians, what makes Aussies tick.’

Sophie Li

Paramedic Sophie Li was drafted by Carlton before returning to Adelaide to win the 2019 AFLW Grand Final with the Crows.

Sophie spent the 2019 AFL season juggling the demands of elite women's football with 14-hour shifts as a paramedic at Murray Bridge, an hour's drive east of Adelaide.

On the job, she would deal with car accidents, motorcycle crashes and a variety of medical emergencies such as heart attacks, seizures and strokes. On the field, she had a busy season for the Adelaide Crows, playing in all nine games and laying 30 tackles to go along with her 54 disposals.

The Crows made the AFLW Grand Final against Carlton, which was one of the most significant moments in the history of Australian women's sport. More than 53,000 fans swarmed into Adelaide Oval, a record for a women's domestic league sporting match in Australia.

When the Crows scored their first goal, Sophie was shocked.

"The crowd erupted and it was the loudest, most deafening sound I had ever heard," she recalls. "I felt very emotional, humbled and proud and it was an incredible moment."

After the Crows defeated Carlton, 63-18, Sophie was chaired off the ground and then serenaded by her teammates live on national television to celebrate her 31st birthday. 

It was a dream come true for Sophie, who had endured a tough debut year for Carlton in the AFLW in 2018, having experienced grand final success for Norwood in the inaugural SANFL Women's competition the year before where she gathered 23 disposals and voted best on ground against North Adelaide.

Sophie had been granted a release to Adelaide on compassionate grounds from Carlton after learning that her paramedic leave without pay would not be extended.

Sophie's father, Peter Li, arrived in Adelaide as a 17-year-old from Hong Kong settled into high school and studied dentistry at university. He opened a practice and met Sophie's mother, Liz, who was a teacher originally from New Zealand.

Sophie's Chinese grandparents moved to Adelaide and provided her biggest connection to Chinese culture through family outings for hot pot, yum cha and Chinese sweet buns.

As a child, Sophie collected footy cards, watched AFL games on television and played kick-to-kick at school. But like many girls of her generation, she had also been told to focus on other sports because there were no footy teams for girls.

"I wanted to be a boy and take marks like Tony Modra," Li recalls, referring to the former Adelaide star who made 118 appearances for the club, kicking 440 goals.

Receiving her first Adelaide Crows uniform was a personal moment to savour. "It was so nice but also surreal," she says. "I never thought I would be wearing a Crows guernsey and training in The Shed."

After five games in 2020, Sophie decided to retire, unable to continue juggling full-time work with a footy career. "I was also conscious that at some point soon I wanted to start a family, so it was the logical step to retire on a high after winning a premiership."

Nat Edwards

Broadcasting pioneer Nat Edwards is the first female to host the AFL Grand Final pre-game free-to-air coverage.

Even though she was 39 weeks pregnant, nothing was going to stop Nat Edwards from powering through her Channel Seve broadcast to make history as the first female to host the 2019 AFL Grand Final pre-game coverage on free-to-air television.

"There was a bit of angst on the production team and I told them 'guys, this baby is not coming out," Nat recalls.

"I joked that even if my water broke, I'll just keep going because I'm a professional and you just have to push through the broadcast."

Nat would continue on her pioneering ways, co-hosting Channel Seven's pre-game show The Kickalongside industry heavyweights Matthew Richardson and Campbell Brown, and performing the on-field MC duties at the MCG for the 2022 AFL Finals series. 

She can't remember a time when she didn't love Australian Rules football.

"I played footy as a kid and I was the only girl at Auskick down at the Ashburton Redbacks in my age group," Nat recalls.

While Nat played footy against the boys, she was also required to attend Chinese language school by her mother Jessie (Poh Huay) who was born and raised in Singapore with ancestry in Xiamen province in China.

Jessie's work as a midwife brought her to Australia where on a skiing trip she met her future husband Colin, a Western Australian.

Nat learnt all about football from her father and kept in touch with her Chinese heritage through her Chinese grandmother.

"We played games and communicated in the Hokkien words I knew and the English words she knew," Nat says.

Nat was passionate about sports journalism and was inspired to believe she could work in the industry by Christi Malthouse.

Malthouse was a Channel 10 journalist but what inspired Nat was not her role in the studio but as a 'boundary rider' – a roving reporter on the sidelines of the game providing updates to the main commentary box.

"I saw her doing boundary rider and at that moment I said, 'That's what I want to do'," Nat says.

After completing a degree in journalism at RMIT University, she began volunteering as a writer and radio broadcaster for the Eastern Football League and began working at the AFL in 2014.

A highlight of her broadcast career has been travelling to China to cover the Port Adelaide matches in Shanghai.

Reflecting on her journey, Nat remembers a formative moment in school when she told her teacher that her life goal was to go to the Brownlow Medal presentation.

"I think my teachers thought I wanted to go to the Brownlow as a guest or partner of one of the players," she laughs.

"Little did they know I wanted to go as a woman in my own right, not on the arm of a player. And now I go to the Brownlow as part of the industry."