They say that the Eskimos have at least 50 words for snow.
Perhaps Bulldogs' fans require a similar multitude of expressions for 'disappointing losses' to cover the spectrum that we have experienced over the years.
Our vocabulary was again stretched to its maximum on Sunday as the Dogs meekly succumbed in a match that they were inexplicably - at least to me - raging favourites to win, and win comfortably.
Some Bulldog fans, presumably younger, brasher, and less battle-weary than the Tragician, had even voiced the opinion we would win by more than 100 points. To my horror I actually spied the dreaded words: 'This could be a percentage boosting opportunity.'
(I mean, I'm all for the exuberance of youth, but seriously, there needs to be some old-fashioned discipline meted out to the culprits. Three days locked in a room watching The Preliminary Final that Must Not be Named on a loop should do the trick).
Mind you, I often feel a profound frustration about my own pessimism going into these so-called winnable matches. I'd really prefer to ditch, once and for all, that fatal instinct, honed over too many years, that tells me that the Dogs are likely to lose in situations involving any one of these key phrases:
But within minutes of our listless opening against the Dees it was evident that the Tragician's adoption of a 'Danny from Droop Street' 'doom and gloom' approach had been a master-stroke of anticipation and timing.
It didn't stop the hurt though.
Like an orchestra, our game style needs all its contributors to be note-perfect. But on Sunday the discordant notes of an out-of-tune ensemble were jarring in our ears; gone were the energy, zest and frenetic intensity. Our ball movement was slow and hesitant; clumsy, looping handballs landed metres away from team-mates' outstretched fingertips; our signature style, a confident chain of runners, willing to take off in the faith that their team mate would be running alongside, blocking, sharing, or covering for each other, was nowhere to be seen.
And there was that strange phenomenon that happens in a losing football match. I'll never quite understand how you can be simultaneously always outnumbered around the ball; yet bafflingly, when the ball finally clears the pack, countless opposition players are also romping around completely unattended. (This is surely material for a Professor Brian Cox-style 'Wonders of the Universe' series, where he sits in a dusty desert and draws squiggles in the sand, using quantum theory to explain this mysterious happening. It might also help me understand why NOBODY was on Nathan Jones, EVER).
Bamboozled defenders looked up-ground for non-existent forward options, and our kick-out strategies didn't seem to be strategies at all but random variations on the 'kick, pray and hope' theme. Soon it was evident that my own humbler contribution to a scientific explanation for ineptitude - the Catastrophe Performance Index - was about to sputter back into action after all but disappearing in early 2015. The CPI, as it's better known, was well and truly rumbling when four Bulldogs' defenders flew together for a mark, leaving some gleeful Demon player alone to gratefully pounce on the spoils. (Somewhat surprisingly, it was not Nathan Jones). And it reached full-throttle when The Bont was actually mown down in a tackle. (Yes. The Bont. Mown down in a tackle).
Meanwhile The Tragician was also struggling during the match, burdened by the cruel weight of high expectations. Last week's sparkling performance from brother Brendan, the new kid on the block, in his debut blog post, had led to unjustified speculation that the Tragician's prowess was on the wane.(After all, it's not unprecedented for seasoned veterans to end up languishing on the fringes while upstarts with so-called 'potential' are preferred). The flashy young recruit's story using 'F' words was a clever enough concept, I'll grudgingly admit, but it was one I found myself labouring to match on Sunday. Feeling the inferred pressure of his presence hovering over me, I resorted, lamely, to utilising ' A' words. (Possibly, not making any excuses or anything, I was brought back too early from injury). Here we go:
Abysmal. Our clearance rate of 14 to four at quarter time. The opposition weren't exactly the Brisbane-triple-premiership-winning Fab Four midfield either, making this statistic even more depressing. How much energy gets expended by our young group trying to wrench back those easy possessions out of the centre? How liberating would it be to see OUR team occasionally being able to zip forward through an effortless clearance.
Absent. Jackson Macrae, Nathan Hrovat, Jarrad Grant, Lukas Webb. Too good, surely to be playing at Footscray.
Atrocious. Kicking for goal by one of my favourite players, Jake 'The Lair' Stringer. When Jake came to our club, I was delighted to see that we finally had a player that looked like he WANTED to have the ball in his hands, to be The Man. Now like generations of Bulldogs' players before him, he misses sitters and his kicking confidence - from set shots at least - is just about non-existent.
All Australian. There's a serviceable, highly decorated ruckman who's been playing well in our reserves. Just saying.
Ayce. The last time I looked, a thread on the fan forum 'Woof' devoted to the issue of 'where to next?' for our number 49, had clocked up 26 pages of out-poured anger, puzzlement, rants, questions - and occasional rational explanations arguing that he is a strategic piece in the Beveridge jigsaw puzzle and unfairly maligned. I'm not going to weigh in one way or another, except to plead with Ayce: at least provide comic fodder and re-invent yourself in the Peter Street, Paul Dooley, Trent Bartlett (or reaching further back, Sockeye Salmon) tradition of goofy - but somehow loveably incompetent - tall players. I implore Ayce to fall over his own large feet, grow a mullet, or adopt some other strategy to at least become a cult figure.
Allegiances. A group of witty Bulldog supporters around us whiled away a miserable afternoon with an unswerving campaign to bring back Liam Jones. Our ineptitude, in their eyes, could have been alleviated if only Jones, now in Carlton colours, was still in the side, a fact they alluded to whenever Jake The Lair missed his numerous opportunities to goal. When Jake achieved a measure of redemption with a clever snap, there was a chorus of: 'You're no Liam Jones'. There was a momentary silence when Jake, preferring the impossible to the humdrum, followed up with an unbelievable dribble goal from the boundary, then they let fly: 'Now you're just making a mockery of Liam Jones!'
There's not much to say when we leave the 'G, the scene of so many of our recent heartbreaks, and so many despondent treks home.
The leaves are falling, the light is misty; winter is coming fast. Along with the shorter days and crisper nights, it's a reminder the bright promise of our start to the season is evaporating, and testing times await.
We knew at the start of the season that there would be days like these; it's just that our improvement had been so rapid, our wins so uplifting, that it's a flat feeling to be back in this sort of disappointing territory. Really good teams can often survive on days when their effort and intensity are down: we on the other hand can still be easily carved up whenever our endeavour is even five per cent askew.
This knowledge would be character building - if as Bulldogs' fans enduring a 61-year premiership drought, we weren't all filled up with character already.
Agonising. Abhorrent. Awful. Anguished.
Walking through the frosty night, I ponder my irrational despair when the Dogs stink it up. Such is our connection and belonging to our footy club that our emotions mirror theirs, their joy is ours, and so too is the pain of a sub-standard performance
When the Dogs were courageous, bold and brilliant in our Sydney victory (was it really only four weeks ago?), we all felt as much pride as though (instead of scoffing cherry ripes on the couch as, er, some of us did) it had been one of our own desperate lunges towards the ball that saved the match. We modestly accepted the compliments of our co-workers on Monday mornings and basked in the appreciation of the footy world, almost as if we'd been the ones enduring a Lin-Jong-style broken hand to get us over the line.
Conversely, we actually feel, personally, the ignominy of a shocker such as Sunday's performance - as though it's a reflection of our own inadequacy. I don't feel anything close to that emotion when Roger Federer plays an off-match and fails to meet his own high standards, even though I love his peerless skills and am barracking hard for him to win. His performance, whether sublime or pedestrian, is his and his alone, never part of me like those of my team.
I don't really understand why that's the case, but I know it to be true.
It's why, just as I held my breath and then groaned in disappointment in the long, shuddering moment that The Bont got tackled and he slowly toppled towards the turf, one day (very) soon I will be on my feet, cheering like a crazy Beatles teenage fan, when he stops looking like a fatigued kid who's getting pushed, buffeted and harassed, and thrills us with his magic once again.
About the Bulldog Tragician
The Tragician blog began in 2013 as a way of recording what it is like to barrack for a perennially unsuccessful team - the AFL team, the Western Bulldogs.