I don’t mind winter. Some people love it, others hate it and I put myself somewhere in the middle. Aspects and features of winter I like:
- Friday night footy
- foggy morning
- beanies and scarves
- blankets having a whole lot more use than in summer
- tea and coffee is tastier
- intensely cold weather
I’ve done two interstate trips before, to Canberra (vs Sydney) in 2009 and Gold Coast in 2011. We won both times. Fremantle was chosen as the trip of 2011 and so for the first time I trekked (read: flew) west of Adelaide on Australian shores.
The chances of extending my personal unbeaten interstate were low. Waiting at Tullamarine, 5:30 Friday morning, I opened the Herald Sun and saw that just a single tipster – our number one ticket holder, Julia Gillard – out of 28 predicted us to win. On the flight over I was handed a complimentary copy of The Australian, and found their expert tipping ledger was also in Freo’s favour, 6-0.
Given those figures, you might be surprised to know that Fremantle sat just one spot above us (in 13th) heading into the round. The Dogs’ form had been terrible though, and our last trip to Subiaco was the 123 point pummelling handed out by West Coast last year.
Again, there is a lot to report on from the selection table. Heading out of the revolving door was the Brownlow Medallist Cooney, All-Australian Murphy, the experienced Hargrave, the maligned Jones, the injured Addison and the inconsistent Roughead.
In came Lindsay Gilbee and Jason Tutt for the first time this year, along with Djerrkura, Wallis, Austin and Cordy – all players by now familiar with the revolving door.
The 22 was an uninspiring mixed bag of war horses, youngsters, recyclees and Ryan Griffen. 13 of the side hadn’t yet reached 40 AFL games. Counting Cordy as one, the line-up included three ruckmen.
Take a look at the Dogs’ ‘Points For’ averages under Eade and McCartney:
- 2005: 108.4
- 2006 103.0
- 2007 96.0
- 2008 109.7
- 2009 104.8
- 2010 95.1
- 2011 93.6
- 2012 68.2
Of the six forwards named on the team sheet – not that team sheet positions matter much in 2012, with rotations and enormous ball-following clusters – Luke Dahlhaus was the most experienced with 25 games, a crazy stat. The highest career goal kicker in our side (and second highest on the whole ground) would be Lindsay Gilbee, a half back who hasn’t played all year. Ross Lyon-coached sides are renowned for miserly defence, especially on their home patch. The facts don’t add up to much. Would Footscray manage to kick a goal?
Fremantle don’t exactly play like the Harlem Globetrotters either. They used to be a fun side; a joke for the state of Victoria with their flamboyant colours and inconsistent performances. They were the only team Fitzroy managed to beat in their last season. They’ve never been a threat to the competition but was once fun to have around, perhaps like a harmless young cousin who shows promise performing circus skills.
The Dockers had players with funny names, like the Dickensian Clive Waterhouse and Antoni Grover, a moniker belonging in Sesame Street. The Dogs took so much of a shining to some of their characters that they were recruited – Bandy, Koops, Wira and the brilliantly named Kingsley Hunter all moved from Fremantle to Footscray. Ross Lyon now has them playing boring, incredibly dour but increasingly effective football.
I walked out of my backpackers accommodation into glorious Perth sunshine; bright weather completely at odds with my worst hangover for a long time. A night out clubbing meant I didn’t get to sleep until 6:30 on match day morning.
Surrounded by purple, I took the Football Special train two stops to Subiaco and went for a stroll in the sunshine when there. I discovered that even when the Dockers are playing, the company who run the stadium pizza van is called ‘Eagle Boys’: They’re forever in West Coast’s shadow.
Needless to say, I was out numbered roughly 100-1. A thing I love about interstate games is the closeness felt between Bulldog fans. Winks, thumbs ups and nods of approval are exchanged with complete strangers walking by.
I had a superb seat at the front of the second level behind a set of goals, although staring into the blazing, low sunshine made viewing difficult. Luckily I’d been warned and brought sunglasses to mitigate the damage.
The banners went up. Footscray ran through an advertisement for the Victoria University Open Day – as if people at the ground would actually consider flying across the Nullarbor and attending – whilst Fremantle’s banner disintegrated in the wind. It’s hard to decide what was worse. I’m all for tradition in sport but of them are quaint verging on ridiculous. Perhaps except for Grand Finals, run-through banners have had their day. Lame, corporate and embarrassing is now the norm.
The game began with Jason Tutt wearing the green vest for the Doggies. The opening was, as expected, cagey. Neither side played an attacking brand and short passing seemed the flavour of the afternoon. The players on both sides combined for two goals in the first 26 minutes, as if sharing my hangover.
Chris Mayne won a lucky free kick right on quarter time and scored to give Fremantle a 7 point lead.
The relatively experienced Luke Dahlhaus was looking our most dangerous forward and put through two goals right in front of me early in the second. Tory Dickson then snapped one which gave us the lead. At least the boys were giving a yelp this week!
Despite perfect weather, the game was punctuated by many stoppages: Just how Ross Lyon likes it. He would have also enjoyed numerous ‘home-town’ decisions which led to Fremantle goals. It was frustrating to be undone like that after the defence held out so well. At half time the Dockers were ahead 31-28.
Something I noticed at the ground was how young Fremantle’s support is. Entire families clad in purple filled the ground. That colour was dominant, in a similar way to how South Korea’s fresh red illuminated stadiums and cities at the World Cup in 2002.
For obvious reasons Victorian clubs have a much larger quota of elderly fans and grey hair was a rare sight at Patersons Stadium. Despite the Dockers’ miserable lack of success since inception in 1995, their membership is strong and crowds are decent.
Several factors lead me to think that Fremantle will, in time, become a powerful club. Firstly, West Australia is booming and Perth is a two-team town. Freo’s support is so young that all of those purple-clad kids, teens and young adults have breeding ahead of them. Dockers to beget more Dockers. Those who are fans at present will stick around, indoctrinate their kids and their grandchildren will wear purple also.
All it will take is success and Fremantle will soon outgrow Subiaco.
Matthew Pavlich, an imposing presence who threatened to explode during the first half, started the second with two goals in four minutes.
The aforementioned Grover and Easton Wood collided heavily when contesting a mark in the Dockers’ forward line. Grover came off worse and was given a free kick - an awful decision. The local crowd, now ‘up and about’, had got into the umpires’ ears. The goal was nailed and for the first time Fremantle had breathing space.
Ryan Crowley added another and Matthew Pavlich booted his fifth to make the margin 31. With Pavlich destroying us, why isn’t Brian Lake moved to him, I thought? Something had to be done.
Lukas Markovic turned over a kick-in – the ball went straight to Fremantle’s Nick Lower – resulting in another goal. All of the honest toil shown in the first half went out the window as Freo took command. The dam wall had burst.
Tory Dickson kicked the quarter’s final two goals, including one after the siren, to provide a glimmer of hope. The last change margin was 22. The boys were kicking our way in the final term. Could they do it? Could they keep my unbeaten interstate record alive?
After eight tough, goalless minutes Chris Mayne broke the deadlock. If Rex Hunt was in the stadium that would have been the Fat Lady’s moment. There’s no way a side as impotent as the Dogs would be able to muster five goals in 20 minutes on the road. Notching seven in 100 minutes has been an exhausting grind.
Home-town decisions continued to irritate. Even more frustrating was the Dogs, with 25 minutes elapsed and time running out, attacking out wide and down the flanks. They refused to take Fremantle on. The boys seemed to be playing with fear. With our team so inexperienced it was time for the likes of Gilbee, Boyd, Lake and Cross to stand up and make the difference but no one took command and led; we seemingly had 22 followers.
The final margin was 38 points. Without the precise, reliable kicking of Bob Murphy we just couldn’t mount enough decent attacks to kick a winning score. Matthew Pavlich, with 6 goals and 2 behinds, was literally the difference.
After the siren I sat in my seat for 10 minutes and pondered. Simultaneously, the players trudged off at the opposite end of the expansive stadium without acknowledging our small but passionate block of Bulldog support. I’d spent $1000 I spent on the trip to see them play, to see them struggle to grind out eight goals and eventually lose. For 10 minutes, I pondered: where is our season at?
I’d been warned about hostile Fremantle fans – a lot of rough dock workers, apparently – but didn’t cop a single jibe all day. The atmosphere was flat, perhaps because of the Sunday afternoon timeslot or low quality of opposition. Not even at the Subiaco Hotel, where I met up with my not-interested-in-football partner and enjoyed dinner and a sombre post-match drink, was I on the receiving end of any baiting.
We arrived back at the hostel drained around 7 o’clock. I got some necessary shut-eye after a day spent sitting in the sun watching a mediocre footy match with a hangover. I crawled out of bed at 9 to watch the Wimbledon final with my partner and whoever else was in the common room.
I don’t usually care much for tennis – I’m apathetic towards individual sports in general – but the Wimbledon final is one of sport’s truly great events, so we settled in to watch with glasses of milk and blankets dragged from our dorm.
There were about a dozen weary backpackers in the common room for the tennis; a male-only crowd. There were old, restless travellers; Irishmen who’d journeyed halfway around the world to look for work in mines; exiled Victorians; a token Englishmen. Nobody said much and the book I was reading was my friend between games and during the inevitable rain delay.
The 2012 decider was an unmissable event pitting Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest player there’s ever been and this time searching for a 7th Wimbledon title, against local hope Andy Murray – a player who’s been near the top of the tree for a few years now and a name the people of Great Britain desperately want engraved on that Men’s Singles trophy. No Brit has won Wimbledon since Hitler was in power and Queen Elizabeth was in Primary School.
Despite strong form and winning the first set, it was almost inevitable that Murray was defeated. Federer is a born winner; Murray a perennial bridesmaid. At the time of writing, nine Grand Slam semi-final appearances have yielded no titles for Murray.
As the clock ticked past 1:30 in the morning, I couldn’t help but equate the two players to Geelong and Footscray – especially given their respective records in finals. Like the Dogs, Murray is stoic and endearing. Anyone with a functional heart would have sympathised with him as he broke down in tears – again – during the presentation. The lack of British success since 1936 is a massive burden on his shoulders, just like several generations of Bulldogs players have been made wary of failures past.
The commentators mused over whether Murray will ever get there. I wondered the same thing about my footy team.