Jess 'Nanna' Aldridge is a longtime and much-loved member of the MUGARS community. Niamh Felton caught up with Nan for a chat.
How did you get your nickname?
The first year I joined, there were 4 or 5 women called Jess. During pre-season we went on a footy camp – our camp ‘mother’ was MUGAR stalwart and much loved Karino Russo – ‘Rusty’. She was relaying a funny story to me about one of the junior girl’s confusion as to all the Jesses, and how to differentiate them – the junior girl had suggested they could call me “Old Jess” or “OJ” to be less obvious. Rusty admonished her and said “you can’t call her that, it’s rude!” When Rusty told me this I laughed and said I wasn’t worried about my age, and said off-handedly that they could call me Nanna for all I cared. It stuck.
What is your footy background?
I played for my country primary school in a game against another primary school, as we needed the numbers. I was better kick than all the boys, but there were only a few of them anyway. Other than kicking the footy with friends, that was it. I was a basketballer – there weren’t many other options in those years. I was always involved with my son’s footy teams though, and ran the boundary for a few years.
How did you get involved with the MUGARS?
When I first decided that I wanted to have a crack at playing footy, I looked for local clubs and how soon they were to begin training. I figured I would need a bit of extra time to prepare my body given my age. I went to join Pascoe Vale but they would not commence training until mid-January. Melbourne University were to begin their pre-season a full 6 weeks earlier. My first training, we had a team meeting in the theatre at Arden St – it was so professional, I couldn’t believe it. And then I saw Maddy Keryk, whom I already knew as she had played her junior footy with my son. So that was it, I decided to stay.
Do you have a footy philosophy?
I don’t really have a footy philosophy (other than “just keep moving”) – rather, my life philosophy always seems to apply to footy, “Look after your mates”, “have a red-hot go”, “be modest in victory and gracious in defeat”, “be reliable” and “be a positive influence”. A sense of humour doesn’t hurt either.
Any career highlights?
Training with some of the best footballers in the country has been a highlight. To have witnessed the transformation of some of these players from gutsy, skilled girls to becoming professional athletes is a humbling and inspiring experience. My personal highlight was having both my kids at many games – my daughter Millie running the canteen for a season and on one occasion, playing a home game on Melbourne Uni oval with my son Thomas being the team runner – he was genuinely so excited, not just for me, but for the whole team. He was so encouraging to everyone, it made me so proud.
What do you like to do outside of footy?
Send Snapchats of my cats to the kids.
What’s the best part of being a MUGAR?
I always thought, being a bit of a tomboy, that I preferred the company of men. It just took me a long time to find a group of women that I felt I really fit in with. It has been a revelation for me, discovering a supportive and accepting group of strong, diverse, intelligent women. I love youse all!