In the euphoric weeks and months that followed our second premiership I was convinced that my barracking experience had been changed forever.
I visualized myself, calm and unflustered by whatever unfolded in season 2017. Perhaps I might even become one of those good sports who politely applauds a piece of opposition good play.
Childish superstitions about lucky badges and scarves would be banished.
I’d greet setbacks or mistakes, whether from Our Boys or the umpires, with the Zen-like serenity of the Dalai Lama (though for obvious reasons I wouldn’t be donning those robes, which veer a little too much in the direction of orange for my liking).
It was unclear in my imaginings whether this expected state of tranquility would be reached because after the extraordinary events of 2016:
And when, after trailing all day, we finally hit the lead, that footy phenomenon, that distortion of time that means a mere eight remaining minutes lasted a complete eternity (I don’t care what Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking has to say) was as excruciating as ever.
Our elation when the siren rang out and we’d held on with sheer grit was – in that micro-second at least - as joyous as it was in the 2016 finals.
As fierce and powerful as it ever was in some of those wretched seasons when a win only signified that we’d staved off another wooden spoon.
Sadly, my forecast that our premiership would mean a seismic shift in my "matchday experience" was, like many of my predictions, ludicrously inaccurate (I'm still trying to forget my tearful declaration upon the retirement of Daniel Cross that I would never love another player in the number four as much as him).
I’ve failed to appreciate, it seems, that the extremes of joy and angst are simply integral to the barracking experience when you follow a club, successful or otherwise. I’d thought the nature of those highs and lows was unique to us as Dogs’ supporters, an over-the-top intensity borne from our many - er - non-victories.
But maybe the emotional rollercoaster, within a game, a quarter, a season, doesn’t vary as much as you’d think, whether you’re a Hawthorn supporter punch-drunk on premiership success, or a Richmond fan dealing with years of disappointment. Our identity is so closely intertwined with our team - that irrational sense of belonging and ownership of performances whether good or bad - that the joy of winning, or the sting of defeat - never really change.
And for us Dogs' supporters, now we’ve seen how marvellous those highs can be, we watch our performances with extra hope, higher expectations, yet extra vulnerability. We’re hyper-vigilant to the idea that we might slip back to mediocrity. Already, it's difficult and quite unbearable to imagine returning to ineptitude. We're nowhere near ready to accept that it might be some other team's turn this September, or graciously concede that at some point in the footy cycle, hard times will inevitably come again.
There's another difference in our perceptions now. Before, all our performances used to be viewed through the prism of the failures. That often distorted a straightforward appreciation of the gifts of any one crop of players, and made impossible any sensible and philosophical response to the cycle of footy fortune. We anxiously assessed each player, each new group that showed promise through a lens where we asked, hoped, prayed: could these be the chosen ones? If they won or lost a close game, we saw it as having extra meaning, a portent, a harbinger of things to come – as well as a reflection of everything that had gone before it.
Simultaneously a message from the universe that our history was incapable of being turned around. And yet somehow caused by all those failures past.
These thoughts, which are not tranquil, serene, or zen-like, are in my mind at various stages of our match on Saturday. Especially at a critical point in the third quarter, when The Bont took a strong contested mark 40 metres out from goal. As he lined up for a shot which was critical given our recent goalkicking yips, I had a flashback to May 2016, recalling a hotly contested match against that team which features so prominently in the well-stocked Tragician Hall of Infamy: the Adelaide Crows.
In that 2016 game, we'd held the lead all day but were in danger of capitulating in the last quarter (cue, of course, flashbacks to The Preliminary Final That Must Not Be Named), when The Bont took a mark in our forward line. I recall feeling as though the story this young group was going to write - whether of a team known for fragility, or one of uncommon resilience and strength - was now resting in The Bont’s over-sized hands. He had missed two gettable shots in a 2015 final, one that we'd narrowly lost (more ghastly flashbacks) against those same opponents. If he sprayed this one as well, and we lamely surrendered our lead, you just knew that our fans would have reacted with over-the-top despair. However unfairly, we’d somehow link it with all those other misses by Bulldogs’ players past. It would confirm our deep-seated fear, that our lamentable record in really big games would go on to taint generation after generation.
If this seems melodramatic, even by my standards, my reaction when The Bont (bless) DID NOT miss, was equally hysterical. I was sure our champ had drawn a line in the sand, made a statement that the Bad Old Days were gone. At last – at LAST!! - we had the cool calm champion with a steely inner belief, one who was not afraid of pressure, who in fact ate pressure for breakfast (did I mention my reaction was melodramatic and hysterical?)
Yet as 2016 progressed, and time after time we won those close games we inevitably used to lose, I felt sure I'd been right. Kicking that goal had created, I believed, a butterfly effect. It had achieved something momentous, something that magically (I was vague on the actual technicalities) transformed us into a team where Jackson Macrae could kick THAT clutch goal in the 2016 preliminary final. Where his team-mates, legs aching, lungs bursting, could then find a way to withstand the excruciating pressure of those last few minutes. Where the next week they could carry all our dreams on their shoulders and deliver us that flag.
Yes, all this - and more - was the result of that kick by The Bont in May 2016!
But here we are, on a wintry night in 2017, playing the Tigers. The Bont, again, is lining up for goal. We'd made another slow start. There had been countless, frustrating disposal errors, and early on, Our Boys hadn't matched the run, dare and commitment of our opponents. Now, we're bridging the gap, but we badly need, expect, Bont to again show his mettle and nail a not particularly difficult shot at goal.
But ... The Bont misses. The crowd groans, gives a restless, panicky shuffle. I feel that familiar elevator ride lurch in my stomach. I recall, superstitiously, that earlier in the match, he'd also sprayed a handball, an unthinkable event for one of his extraordinary gifts.
So if The Bont’s goal in 2016 was a pivotal, season-defining moment (gulp) – then what does this miss mean?
Not much at all, it turns out.
The Bont elevates his efforts still further. He lays crunching tackles, including a superb one on the rampaging Dusty Martin. He storms around the field; he is there in every stoppage. One moment he is mopping up in front of us, seconds later he is somehow there in the frenetic last two minutes, when Richmond launch their final assault on our precarious lead. I spot him gliding towards a pack from which it is only too possible someone in yellow and black will emerge to break our hearts.
I don’t know if I say it or think it - BONT!! – but I know he will judge the mark perfectly.
'What a mark, what a star,' the commentators say. We knew all that already, of course.
I drive various exhausted, but exhilarated family members home to their western suburbs outposts. Four red, white and blue scarves of varying vintages and condition fly proudly out the car windows. They remind me of the display of colours of medieval jousting tournaments.
When my passengers are all safely deposited home to watch the replays, I turn on the radio for the rest of my drive. A news bulletin is almost finishing.
'The reigning premiers have prevailed in a tight contest against Richmond,' the announcer says.
Sometimes, like now, those words still give me an unaccountable shiver of joy, of surprise, of delight.
The 'reigning premiers' - that's our team, you know - have notched up another win.
We're still getting used to it, this premiership feeling. Sixty one years of heartache were always behind us in the rear vision mirror. Now, there's a different view. Hungry challengers are snapping at our heels. Our wretched luck with injuries persists. We're not the heartwarming story of the battlers of the west any more. We're flying under the radar, drawing on that premiership experience to find ways to win. And our 2017 story seems to be emerging just fine.
I notice when I get home that my lucky scarf's a little the worse for wear, after a match-day incident which may have involved a hot jam donut. It probably won't do any harm to chuck it in the washing machine, even though I've been strangely reluctant to do so. Because, notwithstanding my attempts to become serene, calm and zen-like, it means something primitive to me, something those medieval jousters would understand, that I carried it with me for each epic final. Even though it's an inanimate object, it somehow must have absorbed the sounds and sights and tears of our premiership journey. Still, it would be irrational, illogical, to think it had anything to do with Dale Morris' brilliant tackle on Buddy Franklin, or Liam Picken's hanger, or Shane Biggs' desperate lunges and tackles in the last quarter of the grand final.
I decide to just give my scarf a minor spot scrub in the sink. You can't be too careful. Not when you've known so many years of non-victories.
I guess in retrospect there were some early, troubling signs.
Over-confidence. An air of invincibility. A smug sense that winning has become inevitable. A cavalier attitude, a failure to attend to those mundane, boring details that have been critical to our success.
Yes, you guessed it. It certainly didn't bode well when I arrived at my sister's apartment to watch us take on Freo, without my lucky scarf and Bonti badge.
The Libba Sisters, of course, have played a largely unacknowledged role in the Bulldogs' fairytale rise. (Not that I'd ever make a big deal of it, but it wouldn't hurt Bevo Our Saviour just once, surely, to admit he'd had some help via the Libbas' selfless contribution, our commitment to the premiership glory by always sitting in the same spot whenever we play interstate, with an incredible 100% success rate. I don't think it's overstating it to cast doubt on whether we'd have pulled off that amazing elimination final against the Eagles without this 'X' factor.)
Anyway, the Libbas are getting a little too accustomed to the Bulldogs' success. We wait for the first bounce, without any of the usual angst, perhaps verging on complacency in our confidence that Our Boys will have little difficulty bringing the four points home with them on the Red Eye.
There isn't the typical nervous tension, none of the usual jittery anxiety. I'm not even fretting about questions like who will play on Pavlich (it is another bad sign that I had to be reminded he'd retired). There's no sinking of the heart when the Purple-clad Ones run out and I'm startled again at just how stupendously tall Aaron Sandilands is; no wringing of the hands at how our rather depleted ruck stocks will go in countering the man-mountain. We're not even voicing our Danny-from-Droop-St suspicions that the always evil AFL have conspired to outlaw the third man up, just to thwart our success at this tactic, which would have been a handy ploy against the aforesaid man-mountain.
We've lost sight, in all of the premiership euphoria, of that painfully acquired knowledge from our years in the wilderness, which I once dubbed 'defensive pessimism'. We are no longer on high alert for factors that will inevitably presage a 'shock' (but not to us) defeat. We aren't restlessly checking off that list of things that in the past would have set the warning bells clanging:
The Bulldogs' slow start doesn't faze us as it should have. We are magnanimous in condescendingly acknowledging that the besieged outfit from Freo are having a red hot go. (Soon enough they'll be overtaken by the 2016 premiers).
We can see Our Boys aren't switched on, and it would be good to see a bit more spark and energy. But they won't lose, just make heavy going of what should have been a percentage building exercise.
It's around the time that the words 'percentage building' float through my mind that I become perturbed. I'm supposed to be the Bulldog Tragician, for heaven's sake. I'm definitely losing my edge.
I should have been tuning into reality. This isn't just a slow start. There is an ominous listlessness. This isn't our usual daredevil, kamikaze chain of handpass Men of Mayhem style just occasionally not coming off. This is the wrong option being taken again and again.
The Libba Sisters' zen-like calm, the trance-like state in which we moved through the magical 2016 finals, is beginning to fray. Our conviction that Somebody (it will probably be Bont. It will definitely be Bont) will rescue us from this inertia, starts to crumble.
Firstly, in tried and true fashion, we respond to the situation by attempting, with little success, to dredge up some animosity towards the umpires. It's been a coincidence, of course, that since September 2016, we have not been so quick to find fault in the performance of the men in that horrid shade of green. Sure, we might have been perceived as having the better of the umpiring in recent times, but I've found myself patiently explaining that's because good teams, excellent teams, premiership-winning teams, are first to the ball, simply more desperate, and courageous.
(There's also, in my view, the fact they have got quite a few decades before the ledger is considered to be anywhere near squared).
The second sign that we are rattled, that we sense that we actually could lose, is when the Libbas begin to soothe our growing dismay by pouring scorn on the 'hairstyle choices' of the Freo players. (The Bont, because he is The Bont, is the only one able to pull off the man-bun look. This is just a rule of physics, or science, or something. Mess with it at your peril.)
By half-time, even though the Dogs had worked their way back into the contest, I find myself remembering (had I ever really forgotten?) everything I didn't like about losing, especially at an interstate venue. The frustration of watching dumb mistakes - they're bad enough the first time. I don't really need to see them slowed down and analysed in painstaking detail. The droning inanity of the commentators (especially when they're analysing those mistakes). The lack of context to explain why (maybe there actually isn't a reason) we persist in those blaze-away entries into the forward line, or the slow ball movement to a scrum of players inevitably featuring Aaron Sandilands.
The half time conversation between the Libbas shows that the tension is beginning to build.
Libba Sister One: Too much is being left to too few. I just don't think they're working hard enough. Some of those chases are being given up a bit too easily for my liking. I'm quite sure I could (just about) run faster than that!!
Libba Sister Two: You're dead right. By the way, the party pies will be ready in a few minutes.
Still, we think we will win. Because this is just what these blokes, our new Bulldog Breed, do. Ugly wins, close wins, thrilling wins, courageous wins, heart-stopping wins, wins when we looked done and dusted, wins achieved just through heart and courage.
So as we begin to assert our ascendancy in the third quarter, this one is being mentally filed away. It will be a regulation one, four points banked in a not very inspiring way, barely remembered by the season's end. A barrage of 50 metre entries have not yielded as many goals at they should have, and we should be leading by more than just 14 points, but we will get over the line. Maybe our not-so-brilliant performance will send up a red flag, though, remind Our Boys that hard work is still essential, that every team is vulnerable if they don't bring their very best effort (I can almost hear my schoolmarm-ish tone in the sadly unlikely event that I was invited to give them a motivational pep talk). Our troubling lack of intensity at key moments will give Bevo Our Saviour a bit of ammunition, to rev them up, to remind some of the stragglers that there are a couple of premiership players waiting in the wings, hungry for their spot. He will remind them of where we've come from. How far ahead there is still to go.
While I'm visualising these handy, valuable life lessons for Our Boys, I neglect to foresee - because that would have been what we feared in those Bad Old Pre-Premiership Days - that we would barely fire a shot while the team in purple, outdoing us in zest, hunger and ferocity (as well as the Bad Hairstyle Tally) will run all over the top of us.
The siren sounds. The Libbas' proud record of 100% success is in tatters. We hastily mute the dreaded Freo dirge. Our Boys, far from home, trudge slowly from the field.
It's our first loss since August 26, 2016, when curiously enough we'd lost to the same team, in much the same way. That loss didn't turn out out to mean anything in the scheme of things, yet at the time it seemed huge, momentous, condemning us to seventh spot on the ladder and a return to the same venue for a sudden-death final.
So as I head home, vowing never to leave my scarf behind again and feeling that unaccountable irritability that a Dogs' loss generates, I begin wondering whether the loss will mean anything at all, or what that meaning is going to be. I'm trying to decode the looks on the players' faces when the game ended, what The Bont and Lachie Hunter who'd both put in extraordinary efforts were thinking, how much it hurt for them and their team-mates. That's always been the unfathomable question facing us this year, how much hunger the Dogs will retain after smashing through that wall of fate and history that had been impregnable for so long. Whether they will summon up again that indomitable drive, be prepared for the relentless hard work, how they'll deal with being the hunted. They've written a script of 'heartwarming fairytale'. But what's the one that awaits them - and us- now?
I drive home past the silent and empty Whitten Oval. My mind drifts to a quaint photo that I'd seen during the week. It was from the 1962 Footscray Advertiser. The article was about how Footscray fans 'long for a repeat' of the 54 heroics. It was eight years after that flag, and just one year after our second grand final appearance.
How long that 'longing' was about to stretch.
The balmy autumn weather has broken while we watched the match. As I reach the pinnacle of 'Mount Mistake' (a droll Footscray-ism, surely) I can't see, through driving rain, those words proudly wrapped around the Whitten Oval grandstands: Premiers 2016. Words that have brought tears to my eyes, of joy and crazy disbelief, whenever I see them.
I'm thinking about winning, and losing. We used to be so familiar with the latter, not so well-versed in dealing with the former. I often thought that if the Dogs ever finally triumphed, wins or losses in the years that followed wouldn't matter as much any more. I expected - (in reality I couldn't even conceptualise what it would be like) - that the exhilaration and joy would last me a lifetime. One flag, one solitary flag, would be enough. The future beyond that was just - a blank.
Of course, we were viewing winning and losing through the prism of decades of non-achievement, which coloured and exaggerated our reactions to each of these outcomes: over the top celebrations of wins, catastrophising the losses. But now we're in uncharted waters. I'm almost surprised at how much I disliked losing to Freo. I didn't really anticipate that winning doesn't dull our appetite for success; it's the other way round, it has made the losses more unpalatable and we hope - for our team as well as ourselves - harder to bear.
On Friday, the day our flag was to be unfurled, a familiar tune floated out from my radio. Mark Seymour was performing an acoustic version of the Hunter and Collectors’ iconic song: ‘The holy grail.’
With just the songwriter and his guitar, I heard the song anew. Without those dominating horns, and played at a slower tempo, it was no longer an anthem of triumph and conquest. It was melancholy, wistful, poignant. A tale of yearning and survival, struggle and failure.
I’ve read that it’s actually about Napoleon’s ill-fated attempt to invade Russia. But over time, renditions of ‘The Holy Grail’ have become unavoidably associated with hackneyed Grand Final pre-match entertainment.
And up until 2016, that link was a melancholy one for Dogs’ fans, as we watched enviously from the sidelines, year after year.
I was more likely to snap the TV off in irritation whenever its opening chords rang out (it didn’t help that I knew it would soon be followed by its inevitable sidekick: ‘Up there Cazaly’). I would suddenly decide the garden urgently needed weeding, or that the untidy state of the sock drawer could not be tolerated a moment longer.
Seeing club after club enjoy an occasion that seemed locked away from us forevermore, I became (you may find this hard to believe) mean-spirited and unsporting. When Collingwood was ascendant in the 2010 grand final re-match, a Magpie-supporting friend kept sending me updates that —childishly — I didn’t really want to hear. My answers became increasingly terse and insincere.
‘Eddie has left his seat to go down to the boundary!!!’
I’m at Bunnings.
But now, all of us who have spent our lifetimes ‘trying to get our hands, on the holy grail’, are about to see our history-busting team unfurl the flag. I’ve been curious about what it’s going to mean for us, now that it’s moved from remote fairytale to actuality. Pursuing a premiership cup after so many years had all the elements of a medieval myth. That holy grail glittered all the more tantalisingly because we’d never known it, never come close. Maybe we’re about to discover that we’ve imbued the idea of a premiership with magical and mystical powers that aren’t actually there. Maybe it won’t transform us as much as we think.
After all, you could say it’s just a silver cup. And yet we all lined up to get photos, to touch it with reverence.
And now, on Friday night, the flag is being borne around the ground like a sacred relic. You could see it as just a triangle of fabric. But it feels like every one of our dreams and heartaches and joys and sorrows have been stitched into it.
It’s being carried by the former champions, those who really did shed blood for it; the people who’ve been custodians of our club; the fans who’ve often just simply endured.
Yes, it’s just a triangle of fabric. But it’s got words on it that we’d almost given up hoping to see.
They are simple, but still thrilling. AFL Premiers. 2016.
2016: It was ten minutes into our sudden-death final against the Eagles. Our brave but battered team had peppered the goals, taken bold risks sweeping the ball through the corridor. Yet only points were registered despite their efforts and determination.
We were the most under of under-dogs. Seventh on the ladder, despite a season blighted by injury, consigned to the most difficult of assignments, a final in Perth. All week a series of gloomy statistics forewarned us of our fate. We’d never won an interstate final. We’d lost to bottom team Freo here only the week before. Our opponents, grand finalists the year before, were in menacingly hot form.
Now, after our early dominance, we attempted to clear the ball from the Eagles’ defence. An errant kick landed the ball straight onto the chest of our nemesis, serial Bulldog tormentor Josh Kennedy.
He didn’t miss. Of course, he didn’t miss. And another Eagles goal quickly - too quickly - followed.
Watching back home, we fans felt our slim hopes evaporate. Excuses - no, valid reasons for an imminent defeat, maybe even one of those horrific interstate shellackings - sprang readily to mind. There’d been too many injuries to key players. It wasn’t ‘time’ yet for our team, the youngest and most inexperienced of the eight finalists. 2016 – like so many before it- just wasn’t going to be our year.
The Dogs kicked the next 7 goals.
Well into the last quarter our team, miraculously, kept extending their lead. Yet still we shifted restlessly in our seats, fearing far-fetched ‘it-could-only-happen-to-us’ scenarios. Could there be a string of unprecedented 50-metre penalties, one after another, against our team? Or a team sheet filled in wrongly. A power blackout hitting Perth, forcing the game to be replayed.
But even as we fretted about these outlandish possibilities, The Bont kicked a monster goal from 50 metres and pointed to his heart. For faith. For belief.
We headed to the G the next week. A community of red, white and blue, marching as one to the famous ground where we’d known more heartache than joy. Though we were brimming with pride, those pesky worries tapped our shoulders like ghosts. Our opponents - The Smug Three-Peaters -boasted some serious cred; they were awash with Norm Smith medallists and premiership trophies. And after all, one of their players, Shaun Burgoyne, had alone played 33 finals, while our teenagers ‘In-Zaine’ Cordy and Josh Dunkley between them hadn’t even played that many home-an- away games.
Half way through the second quarter, things hadn’t gone our way. We were indignant when Luke ‘Good Bloke’ Hodge had successfully claimed he had touched the ball, leading to an over-rule of a goal. And frustratingly, those irritating Three-peaters kept calmly absorbing everything we threw at them. Their goals seemed more effortless, their players at home on this big stage, the largest crowd that any Footscray/Western Bulldogs team had ever played before, since 1961. We felt a familiar resignation settle over us. Sure, it had been a great season, but maybe this wasn’t our night. Perhaps we’d have more luck next year, the good old non-threatening battlers from the west.
Even as these thoughts gnawed into our minds, Our Dogs were busily working their way back. They matched the Unsociable Hawks scuffle for scuffle in a half-time barney and then stormed past the Three-Peaters in a brilliant third quarter.
We marched back home along the Yarra again. We relived the electrifying memories - Our Bont taking over the MCG, and twice eclipsing The Good Bloke. The astounding goal by Jake Stringer. Liam Picken’s amazing form.
The air was somehow charged, different. As we walked through the balmy night, I heard snatches of conversation. People were beginning to make plans. And a nervous, restless impulse was taking shape.
We felt compelled – we needed - to join Our Boys on the next stage of their quest. Somehow, some way - we had to join our team in Sydney, even though, or perhaps because, we’d witnessed, so many of us, all those seven heartbreaking preliminary finals losses.
The close ones, the humiliating ones, the downright embarrassing ones.
We made our way there by planes, trains - and for most of us automobiles. Our red, white and blue colours flew everywhere in Harbour City. We packed the ground, outnumbering, outcheering, even better, out-booing, the fans of the dreaded Orange-clad Acronyms.
Our team fell behind to the Number One Draft Picks in the last quarter. Their efforts had been valiant, heroic. But it was our third final in a row, the second on the road, and there were signs of fatigue.
So often we the fans retreat into our shells when this happens, bruised by traumatic memories of cruel defeats past. Yet from nowhere came the most spine-tingling Bulldogs chant. It rang, it echoed around the unfamiliar arena, so far from our western suburbs’ home. It seemed to propel JJ forward, galvanise him as he loped across the turf, kicking it towardsThe Bont, our star who’d asked that simple but difficult question: “Why not us?”
The Bont held our hopes in his hands. He steadied for the kick, one that could put us closer to a grand final than most Bulldogs’ fans had ever seen. We rose as one from our seats, praying, willing the ball home. And we were suddenly sure it could go nowhere but through the big sticks.
When the siren sounded and our team had made the grand final, suddenly – just like that – those worries and fears that had hovered over us for years floated away.
We watched our team in the grand final parade with joy. We saw our team run, at last, onto the MCG for a grand final, and our hearts were full of hope, a thrilling sense that all things were possible, that no boundary could contain what Our Boys planned to achieve.
Our outrage, when the potentially match-winning goal from JJ was disallowed, was fleeting. For Jordan Roughead immediately thwart the Swans’ move forward from the point, his strong hands pulling down a crucial mark, driving it back again to the relentless men and boys, the heroes in red, white and blue.
Nothing was going to stand in the way of their dream. And because they believed it, at last, through tears of joy, we did too.
2017: We’ve watched those four epic finals, each a jewel in their own way, over and over. We still leap up when Liam Picken kicks the matchwinning goal. We cry, again, when Bevo gives Bob his medal.
We get goosebumps whenever we hear the music from Boom Crash Opera, the backdrop as OUR team ran around with the cup amid a hail of red white and blue confetti:
This is the best thing that has ever happened to me
These are the colors that I've always wanted to see
Our Christmas trees are decorated in red, white and blue; we eat our turkey and ham from placemats created from photos of our premiership heroes; the Grand Final is on replay to accompany that gentle post-Christmas snooze. (Please don’t tell me it was only my family that did all these things?)
My 13-year-old niece. who used to cry whenever we lost, can now recite the grand final commentary, word for word, from that moment that Dale Morris launched his famous, thrilling tackle on Buddy Franklin, to the final siren.
Trams and buses now trundle past us every day, with The Bont emblazoned on their sides. The footy world knows, what we instantly grasped when we first watched the spindly kid in number four kick a freakish goal in a ho-hum match against the Dees. That The Bont is an outright star.
We don’t worry too much about the draft, or pre-season training or indifferent early form. Bevo ‘Our Saviour’ will have that all well in hand, we reckon.
Sometimes, though, we stop and wonder.
What will it be like to watch matches without that ever-present, jittery, sense of impending disaster hovering over our shoulders?
Will our first loss in 2017, whether that is in round one or round 20, hurt as much, now that terrible ache has been eased?
Who are we, if not the ‘battling Bulldogs’, the Cinderella club, ‘everyone’s second favourite team’?
Still, there will be new chapters for the men who couldn’t be out there on 1 October. We’re desperate to see Wally and Bob and Lin and Red know that euphoria too. And maybe there will be another awkward spotty recruit that emerges as a potential star, even while we pray that ‘Keith’ Boyd and Dale Morris keep up their evergreen form.
We confidently hope – and expect - there will be some lines that are intriguing and mysterious from Luke Beveridge. A fleeting mention of the tardis, or Willy Wonka. Maybe he’s got something preposterous in mind.
Such as seeing that Matty Boyd could be an All-Australian defender.
Almost on cue, we hear about Bevo’s speech at the season launch. He channels Dr Seuss. The footy world is puzzled, but we - who once were worriers – smile and know exactly what he’s talking about. That ‘everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed. And the magical things we can do with that ball, can once again make us the winningest winner of all.’
The week of tears
It's Grand Final Week, and our Western Bulldogs' story has captured Melbourne. It's a dream that has swept and carried all neutral fans in a tidal wave of emotion and good will. There's hardly a mention of our opponents, the worthy but dull Sydney Swans.
We're a fable, an allegory, the good guys who everyone wants to win.
Our tale, our quest, are the very definition of 'quixotic.' I know because I looked it up in the dictionary:
Caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality.
And yet in this happiest of weeks, all I can do is cry.
I shed tears, whenever I saw the words 'Bulldogs' and 'Grand Final' in the same sentence. And without the usual qualifying words, 1961 or 1954. Or 'never'.
Tears, whenever I view again the incredibly moving footage of our fans during the last, desperately tense minutes of the Preliminary Final against the Acronyms. I recognise myself in every frame.
Unable to watch, having to watch.
Unable to hope, but needing to hope.
Tears, when I see pictures of the Bulldogs' logo being painted on the MCG turf, or the famous arena lit up with our colours - at last - in the build-up to that match, the party from which we have been excluded for so long.
And finally it's Grand Final Eve. We, our beloved but luckless club with the most patient of fans, will be proudly on display in the Parade. That happy celebration, that window of opportunity when for both clubs, everything is still magically possible.
Making my way to meet the Other Libber Sister and set off for the big occasion, tears fall again as I drive down Barkly Street, seeing the African restaurants in Barkly Street, flying our colours, displaying their 'WOOF WOOF' signs. Footscray, the suburb where my father was born, has become unrecognisable to me these days, vibrantly multicultural, unexpectedly hip. In fact, the street in which Dad grew up was even spruiked by real estate agents recently as having a 'Paris end' (which may perplex those who've ever visited the Champs-Elysees).
Houses in the suburb everyone used to scorn and deride now sell for a million bucks.
And the new generation of young professionals, who've brought soy lattes and avocado smash to trendy cafe menus, now call West Footscray, where my parents married and I myself was christened (all in the right Catholic order of course, in case you're wondering) - WeFo.
The Libbers are catching the train from West Footscray. Even Metro have entered into the spirit, blaring out our song from the speakers as we do battle with the Myki machine. The platform sparkles with our red, white and blue colours: there are faded, hand-knitted scarves and retro bomber jackets from the 80s dragged out from cupboards and worn with pride. There's a resurgence, I feel, of the fierce Footscray and western suburbs' parochialism that I'd thought might have disappeared in our more urbane and cosmopolitan city.
I see craggy faces who look like they've been through a lot, and faces from many places across the sea who've made the west their home. Babies are asleep nestled in their mothers' arms. Children aren't the only ones wearing face-paint, tri-coloured wigs, red white and blue nail art and hats with badges.
When I turn my face to hide those treacherous tears again, I see the Olympic Tyres and Rubber factory - or what's left of it now that it's been converted to sleek new apartments. Here, both my parents and grandparents once worked. When I was granted the long-awaited privilege of attending games when I was four, we often waved to my grandfather, in his grey dust-coat, who was the gateman there, as we headed to the game.
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.