It was a week of selection table shocks. Jackson MacRae surprisingly omitted. The continued non selection of out-of-favour Will Minson. But what really had the pundits agog was the mysterious non-appearance of The Bulldog Tragician at the critical Round Seven clash between the Dogs and Fremantle.
While the rumour mill went into overdrive about The Tragician's whereabouts, an even more Shadowy Figure emerged to fill the breach. For it's a team game. The Blog must go on!
Here's the story of our Round 7 match, from my brother Brendan...
It’s a lazy sunny Sunday in Melbourne.
Two football teams will clash today. My team, the red, white and blue Western Bulldogs (or as I still prefer to call them, Footscray) playing against the undefeated purple haze known as the Fremantle Dockers.
Footscray and Fremantle--the two F Teams.
Our F team and their F Team. Theirs with Fyfe, the F team’s very best player, and Sandilands the F team’s tallest player. The flag favorite against the team that has become the impartial football fans second favorite team. Our F Team has our own alphabet entrée, Ayce and Bailey. The former our F Team’s tallest and the latter our F Team’s newest. Fairness is a word that doesn’t come to mind when considering those facts, and I fear a long afternoon ahead.
I’m off the bench to ghost-write for The Tragician who has been rested with general soreness that is so severe she has travelled overseas to seek treatment, and has been forced to drag the other Libba sister with her.
I’m on the still rickety train for the journey to sunny, Sunday football – the F Teams awaiting my arrival – even though the roof will be shut blocking out the last vestige of that sweet and weak autumn sun that will only re-appear in September. Opposite me is my young daughter , well chronicled by the Tragician in other blogs , and her friend, Sarah. I’m bemused and bewildered that it is Sarah’s first ever game of AFL football she will have seen. I ask her if she’s excited. Youthful exuberance abounds, “It’s gonna be awesome – first game ever and so much fun”.
It’s a couple of minutes before the game is about to start, and things seem awry. I go to the footy as frequently as I can with a group of people – family and friends, all of them. And all of them, all of my family and friends, often bring others too – some football foes, some football friends, some football fiends, but always football fans. It’s always a big bunch of us – large, loud, lugubrious and lucky that we have the chance to gather our pack. But we are a little thin on numbers today and a sense of doom descends. Whereas, there is sometimes up to 15 of us together, today it is just seven. Too many empty seats, when normally they are fully occupied.
I’m reminded of the film clip that the American band, The Traveling Wilburys did for their song, “End of the Line”. One of the band members was Roy Orbison, with that magnificent falsetto voice.. He died shortly after they finished recording the song but before the obligatory music clip was filmed. The song features each of the band members (Orbison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne) singing a verse, and the music clip shows each of the musicians singing their particular verse. When the clip gets to Roy Orbison’s verse, it shows a guitar perched in a rocking chair that metronomically rocks to and fro, while he sings his verse so melancholically in the background.
I take a photo of the empty seats that would normally house The Tragician and her Libba sister.
But it’s still family, friends and fans that surround me and I’m just glad to be here, happy to be alive.……..
The siren that coincides with the coin toss simultaneously clashes with two comments from the crowd around me. The first one (if a simultaneous comment can be first – indulge me, please) is raucous, good humored, accurate and prescient – “How F***ing tall is Sandilands?” It elicits much laughter, and my first time attendee, Sarah and my daughter Stephanie, look around behind them and laugh hysterically. They know it’s wrong, but also know it’s alright too. I try and keep a straight face, and put on a stentorian tone in my guffawed reply, “girls, the game is about to start, face the front please”
The second comment is quieter. It’s just whispered. But over the cacophony of the siren, the last minute exhortations from the General Manager – Match Day Experience (Fan Engagement), the flashing and blinding last second gambling ads, (and the comment on the other F Teams ruckman), it is almost crystal clear despite the ruckus around me.
I’ve been going to see my F Team nearly all of my fifty-plus years. Some years less frequently than others. Some years not very frequently at all, and some years fanatically frequently. And for the last 30 odd years I’ve attended my F Team games with a friend from a long way back, Colin. And we’ve shared so much together – life, love, family, births, marriages – and football. And of course, our F Team. We often only liaise outside football season to meet at the Boxing Day Test – each of us taking our sons – and talk footy, our F Team, and about our families and friends, our own private F words.
The second comment from Colin was succinct.
“Mum’s in the Royal Melbourne and is expected to die soon. I may have to scarper, I thought I’d let you know now”.
We held hands for a few seconds, and then we stopped, and then the game begins...
The game is a frantic blur. Before my F Team has a chance to attempt redemption for the second half fadeout against St Kilda the week before, their F Team has five unanswered goals and my F Team seems feeble, fatigued and fragile.
Forward fifty entries fruitless, free kicks fourteen to four (our flaming way), forlorn framework for frazzled forwards, friendly fire falling fellow F Team-mates, and frivolous frolics are infesting our boys. I think you know how we felt… F words everywhere …..
Then the blur comes in to focus – mysteriously, unexpectedly and wonderfully. The other F Team Fyfe has faded (for a while), our fellows no longer seem fatigued, our forward frolics find fruition and suddenly and miraculously we’re within a couple of goals.
Our Ayce is doing well, but not against Sandilands. Our drink master (known to most as Beveridge) has decided that we should forfeit any ruck contests and has placed our Ayce as a decoy up forward. This frees up our card-carrying Tory to scythe through the Dockers like Peter Reith tried to against the Maritime Union all those years ago—and I’m thinking that this is a deliciously ironic development. Our newest F Team player, Bailey, has also managed to snag a goal with the first kick of his career, and Sarah is beaming with my daughter.
Somehow, we draw level in the last quarter and I wonder can we get to the end of the line, on this strangest day of days.
Fyfe takes over and we bravely fail. Our Ayce and Bailey Dale are not quite there yet, not quite at the end of the line. But we’re proud of the effort and clap our players off the ground. Each of my family and friends prepare to leave the seats and the ground and make our way home. We’re not forlorn or faceless, but neither are we grinning winners. It’s a satisfactory melancholy that we feel.
I turn to Colin and we hug each other silently, as long time friends can, without the need for any particular words. We know that the end of the line has many meanings.
On the train on the way home, I look at my daughter and her friend Sarah. I look at the photo of The Tragician’s seat. I think of Colin and his Mum.
Later that night, when all my family are asleep, I played the Traveling Wilburys song, “End of the Line” on YouTube, and again marveled at the poignant clip, at the empty chair, and at the Orbison falsetto voice:
“Maybe somewhere down the road aways
You’ll think of me and wonder where I am these days,
Maybe somewhere down the road
When somebody plays Purple Haze
Well, it’s alright, even when push comes to shove,
Well it’s alright, if you got someone to love
Well it’s alright, everything will work out fine
Well it’s alright, we’re going to the end of the line.”
Fans, family, friends, and falsettos are all F words—and so is my team, the F team.
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.