It’s half time and the mood is glum among the smattering of Bulldog die-hards. We’re stoically huddled together, a forlorn cluster in the high reaches of Etihad Stadium. Outnumbered. Definitely out played.
‘We haven’t brought our A-game today.’
‘Do we have an A-game?’
The Dogs have kicked a feeble two goals (one each quarter) and are already out of the contest. Fifty three points down in fact. It’s looking grim.
We’ve played unimaginative, stilted football, bereft of ideas and options. Later I read that in the first quarter alone, we had 77% of our possessions in the back half. Can we conclude, then, this may have been a calculated tactic? Are we minimising a potentially heavy loss by a defensive ‘play it safe’ strategy? It’s hard to see the logic. With our limited skill level, it’s only ever a matter of time before the inevitable turnover leads to another Collingwood player whizzing into goal.
Many of these clangers seem to result from my least favourite part of the Bulldogs’ game plan at the moment (see, I can even rank them in order) – our kick in maneuvers. The shower scene in ‘Psycho’ is positively frivolous compared to the excruciating suspense of seeing which wretched variation we’ll choose to employ. Will it be the relatively straightforward tactic of a wobbly kick to the tallest Collingwood player on the ground, preferably unattended? A little prosaic for mine. Why not try the daring play-on tactic, only to become stranded about 10 metres from the goalmouth before running out of ideas (and realising that no other teammate has caught onto your intention and made any move in support)? Just like an evening at Norman Bates’ hotel, when that scary music comes on, you know how it’s all going to end.
The great existential questions of football are looming large: Why am I here, and why does it matter? It’s not, after all, fun. It’s just another forgettable loss demonstrating how far we have to go. Judging by the size of the crowd, and the difficulty in spotting much red, white and blue, many of my fellow Dogs’ supporters are snugly at home, having drawn their own conclusion to these questions.
The atmosphere in the crowd is strangely listless. This isn’t just among the Bulldog unfortunates. One of the things I’ve always feared and admired in equal measure about the Collingwood faithful is their unrivalled ability to create their own energy force field, possibly even visible from the moon: no matter the score, the opponent, or stage of the match, their sense of outrage, and lust for victory, never seem to wane. In a miserable hiding they inflicted on us in our unsuccessful finals series of 2010, these were the fans who, despite the game being over by quarter time, booed and jeered well-known AFL bad boy Brad Johnson, crippled by injury and in his last handful of games. (I mean… Brad Johnson?)
But today the Pies fans can’t seem to muster the energy. Their boos towards some anonymous Bulldog stripling, as he commits the cardinal offence of lining up for goal after taking an innocuous mark, seem perfunctory. (He misses anyway). Their hearts aren’t in it. A depressing realization dawns. Maybe they feel sorry for us?
The Bulldog players run out from their half time break. Bless their red, white and blue socks: they still pile in for that ‘we’re all in this together and we’re going to give this match a red hot go’ huddle, trying to generate a sense of purpose and ferocious commitment in a way that strikes me as comical in the circumstances. I can’t help imagining how they might be urging each other on:
‘Boys, the crowd do seem to appreciate it when Harry O’Brien dashes down the ground. Let’s give the fans what they want, and give the guy some room.’
‘Fellas, that guy with the tattoos, anyone know his name? He seems to be getting a bit of it – slipped under our radar. Right, let’s knuckle down on him now. Boydy, why don’t you take him?’
‘Look, guys, this could be a bit out of left field, but it’s worth a try. Let’s NOT kick it to someone with three opponents when another bloke’s on his own.’
There are the usual slaps on the back and mutterings of fierce intent. They can’t mean it, surely?
Why am I here, and why does it matter?
The Dogs do show a bit more purpose in the third quarter, obviously fired up by my imaginary conversations in the huddle, and to my relief they actually attack. I’d prefer to lose with an attempt at some pizzazz than suffer through our clumsy inept possession game.
There’s a group of four young blokes near us that are supporting the Dogs. They’ve been unstinting, despite the dire performance, in their loud and unruly enthusiasm. When, for the first time in the match, we score consecutive goals, they leap to their feet, applauding wildly, celebrating with exuberance out of proportion to the occasion. Perhaps it’s a post-modern, Gen-Y expression of irony. Then again, beer could be involved.
This goal avalanche (two) is only a warm-up for the last. The Bulldogs pile on five goals. The Pies seem to be already on their mid season break. The match has been so awful, and we’ve been so dejected by the dreadful first half, that we welcome the emergence of some signs of class – a delicate Jack McCrae sidestep, a Griffen burst through the middle, a strong mark from Jake Stringer. The Quartet of Post Modernists are delirious. ‘We’re coming Pies! We’re coming! We’re on a ROLL!!’ they call when some Collingwood fans pack up their belongings, evidently content in the knowledge that with five minutes to go, our little surge is not threatening to lose them the game.
From nowhere, it seems, a guy with a red, white and blue Mohawk starts a Bulldogs chant. Around us, people join in, laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. There are more Bulldogs fans around than I thought. We’re here. It doesn’t really matter why any more.
We leave the ground. The Collingwood theme song is blaring out. There was never any doubt that’s how it would end.
The words have given me some answers, though.
See, the barrackers are shouting, as all barrackers should…
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.