This is not your regular football story. It has very little to do with any on-field heroics or any accolades bestowed on a player by the experts. What it does have to do with is the imagination of a young girl, and a Melbourne player by the name of Richelle Cranston.
My four year old daughter and I didn’t have an AFLW team as the season commenced. Our side, North Melbourne, won’t be entering the competition until 2019. We started watching a few games this year anyway, as I wanted my girl to know that “girls play footy” and really, I wanted to watch some games myself. In effect, she was co-opted into watching them too.
After watching the Carlton-Collingwood season opener (or the first quarter and a half until she fell asleep), she was a little underwhelmed. Still, we had another crack the next day and the game did not disappoint.
In the game between Melbourne and Greater Western Sydney, Richelle Cranston was a star up forward. My daughter let out an excited squeal every time the commentator called her name. I thought it was a little odd, but was happy my daughter actually seemed to be interested.
A few minutes later, Cranston laid a tackle, and her name was mentioned again by the commentators.
“Cranston!” said my daughter excitedly.
By this stage, she was watching, eyes glued to the game. As half time rolled around and the players walked off the ground, I thought it was a good time to see if she was enjoying the game.
“You liking it, kiddo?” I asked.
She paused for a moment before responding.
“Cranston needs to kick more goals.”
I was taken aback. My little girl had a favourite player! We talked a bit more about other players. After all the publicity, I thought she’d probably love Daisy Pierce. We talked about the teams and the game. She didn’t appear interested in most of that. She just wanted to talk about Cranston.
And so, the inevitable question was asked – “Why do you like Cranston so much?”
The look my daughter gave me was one of bemusement and disappointment; as though I’d asked a ridiculous question and should’ve already known the answer.
“Mum,” she started, “Cranston is Snazzy’s butler.”
Now, you’ll have to excuse me for a moment while I explain. Snazzy is our pet rabbit. He lives downstairs in our house with his girlfriend, Bumbles. They live a happy little life eating greens, practically inhaling their hay and pooping seemingly everywhere. But make no mistake; he is definitely a rabbit, and he couldn’t afford someone to attend to his needs. Anyway, he has me to do that.
“His butler? Snazzy has a butler?”
She nodded her head and turned back to the TV, munching on her apple as the game recommenced.
Over the course of the next half, Cranston (the player, not the rabbit-butler) continued to establish herself not only as my daughter’s favourite player, but as mine as well. She was tough, bullocking, and looked like she belonged on a football field. She was one of those players that looked as though she relished busting a pack, or tackling an opponent to the ground – certainly the sort of player I like to watch. She finished with three goals to power the Demons to their first win of the season.
I got a bit more of an education as the game continued. Apparently Snazzy is not a great boss, and football is the only thing he allows Cranston to do when she’s not attending to her butler-ing duties. That’s why she’s so good at it, according to my daughter.
The game concluded and more Cranston discussion was held. She now had to return to attend to Snazzy, my daughter informed me. He needed his area tidied and required more hay.
Melbourne games became a staple in our home over the next weeks, with excited cheers whenever Richelle Cranston was mentioned. It became “Cranston-this” and “Cranston-that.”
“It’s Cranston, Mum! Did you see Cranston?”
Yes, I saw Cranston. How could you miss her – she was fantastic.
And so, as the Dees were knocked out of the finals by Brooke Lochland’s late goal last weekend, I had to explain to my daughter that Cranston’s season was over. She was a little saddened by this, and took a moment to process that we wouldn’t see her favourite player on TV for a while.
“It’s OK mum,” she said as if I was in need of consolation. ”She can go back and be a good butler now.”
Cranston was named in the All-Australian squad this week; something my daughter didn’t really understand. When I told her that this honour meant she was one of the best players in the league, my daughter looked at me with the same look she did when I initially asked why she liked Cranston so much.
“She is not one of the best, Mum. She is the best one.”
I’m going to have a very hard time swaying my little one over to the North Melbourne AFLW team next season. She has her heart set on cheering for Cranston again.
Congratulations, Richelle Cranston. You’ve made yourself the favourite player of a four year old - even if it is largely for your work as her rabbit’s butler.