Debbie Lee has been recognised for her incredible contribution to women’s football by being awarded AFL life membership.
The Bulldogs’ General Manager of Women’s Football becomes the third female to receive the prestigious honour from the AFL, joining Jill Lindsay and Sam Mostyn.
Lee’s name has been synonymous with women’s football for the last quarter of a century, and she has made an immeasurable impact on the game at local, state and elite level, as a player, coach and administrator.
“It was a really pleasant surprise. You don’t go looking for acknowledgement. To be honest, the game has given so much to me,” Lee said.
“I’ve been involved for 25 years and learned a lot about myself. I’m really privileged to work in the industry.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming, because there are some greats that have been given life membership who’ve done a tremendous amount of work. It’s nice that the women’s space gets acknowledged.
“I hope in some little way that it represents the work of not just myself, but of others, and there’s been an enormous amount of work done in all different states across the country for a number of years.”
In 1993, Lee founded Sunshine YCW Spurs, the first women’s team in the western suburbs, which is now known as VU Western Spurs.
As a player she was a six-time Victorian Women’s Football League competition best and fairest, seven-time club best and fairest, and she won three premierships in a career which spanned over 300 games.
While still playing, she was president of the VFLW from 2004 to 2012, and had a stint working at the Bulldogs as Community Manager between 2005 and 2008.
She spent eight years at the Melbourne Football Club in a variety of roles, before switching to the Bulldogs at the end of 2017.
When she reflects on her time in the game, Lee is proud of how far women’s football has come, and excited about what the future holds.
“My first ever game we ran out with t-shirts and long bike shorts, and sticky-taped numbers. That was the first game I experienced,” she said.
“Footy wasn’t cool. You were called this, and you were called that. I was embarrassed to say I played. I never told anyone I played footy at my workplace or while I was at school.
“It’s nice that I can be myself now, and the industry has allowed all women to be themselves.
“The most pleasing thing is that it’s been able to represent women playing the game. I have a little daughter who’s 18 months, and she now can play footy without having any of the stigma and all that came with when I came through.
“But it’s more than footy. It’s done a lot of things socially, and it’s created great conversations. But equally, young girls can really admire strong women as their heroes.
“It’s phenomenal where we’ve got to. If we’ve done this in four years, what can we do in another four, 12 or 20 years?
“We’re heading in a really exciting direction.”