It's half time. We're trailing against our despised foes, the Ole Dark Bourgeois Blues. The Dogs have just played one of their worst quarters of the year.
I should be despondent. But like my team, I was suffering a major concentration lapse, pondering a much more perplexing issue than the Bulldogs' lack of polish and intensity.
You see, each time Luke Beveridge ran out onto the ground, I was racking my brain trying to work out which of the Plantaganet kings he resembles. I couldn't escape an image of 'Bevo', resplendent in one of those natty velvet hats, his sturdy legs encased in tights, and wearing those shiny shoes with a buckle.
I could actually picture how this uncanny resemblance could be utilised. Perhaps, in a startling new Match Day Experience innovation, Luke could be fanfared up the steps to the coaching box by medieval buglers with Bulldogs flags draped from their instruments.
'm not sure whether these bizarre thoughts came from some unusual elements and the strange atmosphere of this match and the week that had gone before.
With no banner, no theme song, and heaven forbid no troupe of Dancing Dogs, the game seemed to be just that. Merely and essentially a game, one where young men pitched themselves against each other, chasing a ball around a field. A game, surely, of breathtaking athleticism, feats of skill and courage, but still, a game. The usual edge, the over-investment in the urgency of winning, the frustration and the joy, all seemed subdued, washed out and faded on this night. Back to their rightful place in the scheme of things, of life.
Even though I was dredging up the platitude that if we lost, it would be a shame not to honour Matthew Boyd in his milestone 250th game, that thought itself seemed peculiar to me. Footy thrives on these cliches, but the thought that a win, or a loss, in this match would be itself definitive of a career or the respect in which a man is held, is actually faintly ludicrous. There has to be more to it than that.
It was a night for that sort of reflection. For perspective.
It's not, of course, that there isn't much to admire in the outstanding contribution over the years of Matthew Boyd. Without fuss, the former battler from Frankston reserves has somehow risen to captain our club for two years, and slipped into 12th position in the ranks of Bulldogs' players who have worn our colours the most. (It makes you realise the last few decades have actually been pretty special in producing durable champions; apart from Arthur Olliver and Ted Whitten, the others who are ahead of Matty all played from 1980 and beyond).
I recently read that Matthew Boyd's middle name, and hence his nickname around the club, is 'Keith.' Bob Murphy told The Age what unfolded when this little gem of information somehow came to light at a training session.
'For the next 10 minutes Murphy reckons nobody could even kick the ball, such was the hysteria of a discovery akin to a classroom unearthing a quirk about a respected, well-liked but outwardly serious teacher.'
Keith, the most unfashionable of names, suits Matthew Boyd to a tee. Most of what he does is unspectacular, unobtrusive and workmanlike. On the eve of his 250th game, I imagine the club's media folk would have had to scratch around a lot harder than usual to compile his highlight package. In fact when I viewed it I was delighted, and somehow touched, to see footage of a young Matthew Boyd, wearing number 42 and a mullet that did homage to his Frankston reserves days, once had blonde tips.
When the match resumed - disappointingly enough, without any indication that the AFL had been visionary enough to take up my idea for buglers and minstrels - two players seemed set to ensure that by their efforts and theirs alone we would get over the line.
Nobody was at all surprised that one of these game-changers was Matthew Boyd, who even produced the relative rarity of a clever snap at goal (he's only kicked 83 majors through his career, a surprising figure for a midfielder; each of Adam Cooney and Nathan Eagleton, for example, kicked 186 in many fewer games).
I'd wondered if Boyd was close to the finishing line when his best mate and clone in footy dedication and professionalism, Daniel Cross, was 'let go' by the club. In fact Boyd, reborn as an unlikely member of the defensive back six or what Murph calls the 'Men's Department', is playing career-best footy. The old stager was just about close to best on the ground with 31 possessions.
(Incidentally, the Bulldogs' website later posted footage of Matthew 'Keith' Boyd's game with the dour caption: 'Boyd delivers in his 250th.' Jake 'The Lair' Stringer managed just 10 possessions but still got his own highlight reel with blaring headlines; 'Jake lights up Etihad.' It's not fair, to not be a lair.)
The second man who dragged the match back into our keeping was a less predictable candidate. Caleb Daniel, 18 years old, was playing his first game. Few men in their debut game could have influenced a game as much as he did when coming on as a sub, electrifying our forward line and finishing with 14 quality possessions and a goal.
Lately the plethora of new players with unusual names has caused confusion among the Tragician family. How can you not become befuddled when our ranks include Dale Morris, Bailey Dale, Easton Wood, Roarke Smith, Ayce and Zaine Cordy? (Not to mention a Tory, a Toby and a Koby).
Perhaps that's why at the start of the year, our new number 35 was inadvertently referred to by one family member as 'Celeb' Daniel. And the cry of 'Go Celeb', which has now been adopted by us, is one I hope we will hear for many more seasons, based on the cleanness of his ball handling and fierceness of his intent in every contest.
Notwithstanding the heroics of Keith and Celeb, the Dogs, it appears, are in a form slump. Although we've been winning, we lack the cohesion of our exciting matches early in the season. We're getting over the line from a series of cameos, such as those of Easton Wood last week. Against the Blues our skills and run were down, but we survived by deeds like Joel Hamling's kamikaze launch at the footy and the selflessness of Dale Morris who played almost all of the match with a broken jaw.
Then there was the bravery of Toby Mclean. His light frame did not flinch in the crunch of a tough marking contest in the last crucial minutes of the match. You could call it 'tragic' or 'devastating' when, in evident pain, he left the ground, his shoulder joint ruptured, his season over. But this week those words have taken on new meaning. And I found myself thinking that for this determined looking teenager, who lost his dad to cancer when he was only 11, greater sorrows and heartaches have been faced and overcome.
When the siren sounded, there was no song. A game had been played, and won and lost, but that was all.
We knew there was something more important, as the teams gathered in the middle of the ground and paid their tribute to the Adelaide coach Phillip Walsh.
Footy is called these days a business, an industry, a brand. In the hush that accompanied this eerie gesture, we were reminded that it is still at essence a community and a family.
And as the Dogs' and Blues' players placed their arms around each other the silence from the fans was deep and profound.
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 Western Bulldogs.