This is not a dream...this actually did happen.
These recollections of that famous day in September 1954 are as much about my family as actually watching the match. Particularly about my father and his influence on his seven-year-old son.
Memories can play tricks some sixty years later and I have tried to confirm some details from my slightly older sister. There is no-one else to ask with my brother being only three at the time.
Firstly, for younger readers and hopefully die-hard Bulldog supporters, I will give a snap-shot of that era living in Footscray North as it was known.
Our house was probably built in the late 1930’s. All houses in the street were a step-up from the single-fronted cottages that usually adjoined the many suburban factories such as the Olympic Tyre Factory. So on reflection, I guess they were part of the growing middle-class housing rather than working-class.
My father was still a member of the RAAF and worked at both Laverton and Point Cook. Although we had a car from the early 1950’s, my father quite often rode a fixed-wheel push-bike to work. An absolute clunker! The same bike he offered with pride to me as a seven-year-old to have as my own. When I suggested that I couldn’t swing my leg over let alone actually pedal the damn thing, he suggested I lean the bike up against the side of the house before mounting, with a dismissive, “You’ll get used to it!”
This brief anecdote about my father illustrates how he was a man of those times. Of course I was well into adulthood before I realized where his traits of thriftiness and being practical and careful at all times came from. Suffice to say he came from Warrnambool to the big-smoke at the start of the Depression. The oldest of twelve siblings he first worked in a box- factory taking what ever work was available. He also went to Footscray Technical School where the Victoria University is now located. I’ve said before he was a skilled worker, so much so that I could never compete with his technical know-how and expertise, which led to us drifting apart by the time I was a teenager. He would spend hours in the shed fashioning some masterpiece on his lathe or ‘knocking up’ something on his home-made saw-bench. I was more concerned with how the Phantom was going to get out of a sticky situation in the jungle.
Another anecdote to show he was a product of the Depression was the way he and his neighbours were the do-it-yourselves kings. A lot of the houses needed finishing off particularly with regard to concrete-paths and basic landscaping. The DIY’s not only pitched in working-bee style to help their neighbours but they also made the equipment to do so! My father Ron, Perc and Cliff (how’s that for a couple of classic names from that era ) designed and constructed their own electric concrete- mixer! The same mixer that was used at our new place in Burwood a few years later. As a ten-year old it was my job to keep feeding the monster with sand and screenings while my father trowelled the paths. “ It’s OK Rene!” he’d shout to Mother. “We’ll keep going until dark and see if we can finish tonight in case it rains tomorrow! Just stick our tea in the oven!”
So as Grand Final day dawned in September 1954, this gives you an idea of my first few years in Footscray. It was a father-knows-best world where the women-folk stayed at home and did the house-work and cooking and in my mother’s case, she could have easily been featured in the Home Beautiful magazine.
I cannot for the life of me remember the week’s lead-up to the Grand Final. This is probably because of living under the regime of father-knows best where children were not consulted about anything. Not even something as big as a grand-final. There would have been no discussion around the family table at our house at least. My mother and sister weren’t interested in the footy anyway. But of course I would have been walking around twirling the footy (second-hand of course) and wearing my Bulldog jumper with the number three on the back.
Just another quick side-track anecdote about the footy-jumper. It was probably the year before at birthday-time as I lay sleeping hoping upon hope that the jumper would be on the end of my bed when I woke up. As dawn broke and the first faint rays of sunlight settled on the birthday present, I strained to check it out through sleepy seven-year old eyes. Much to my utter disappointment it looked like my mother had knitted the jumper in the wrong colour! In that early sunlight, it looked like the blue was actually a grey colour! I spent the next hour torn between devastation about the wrong colour and how to put on a brave face and not show Mum I was disappointed with the gift. Of course in better light later on I could see the jumper in all its red, white and blue glory.
The day of the big match I remember being at the MCG of course but I can’t remember travelling there. We would have had the FX Holden ute at that time transformed by handyman Ron into a more practical station-wagon by adding his proto-type canopy.
I would like to recount a detailed description of the day’s play but as a seven-year old standing behind a wall of gabardine over-coats, I suspect I only got glimpses of the day’s action. The player I do remember was the goal-kicking Jack Collins with his shock of blond hair. With the crowd roaring every time he kicked a goal, it’s not surprizing I strained for a better look. As the day wore on, I kept checking with Dad and asking him, “Are we really going to win?” I could only tell if this was true by watching him to see if he was smiling. He was the ultimate pessimist which I will mention later and I knew I wasn’t going to get the old, “No worries son, this is going to be our year!”
But win we did! I can’t remember leaving the ground but I remember the drive home to Footscray. I probably would’ve been asking my taciturn father every five minutes, “Did we really win? Did we Dad? Did we?”
We got to the corner of Ballarat Road and Gordon Street and I saw how the other-half celebrated and yahooed which finally confirmed the win for me. Revellers were pouring out of Powell’s Hotel clutching their long-neck bottles and really going off. Stubbies weren’t invented in those days kids. I have written about this moment before when my tea-totalling father quickly wound up the window after he was being offered a celebratory drink at the lights.
I’ve also mentioned the famous ‘cake’ before that we used as a celebration feast when we arrived home. My mother and sister, as was the custom, stayed home baking as the men-folk went off to watch a football-match. It could have been a match down at the local park as far as they were concerned and not the momentous event that I had just witnessed. My mother would have seen the outing as, “A good chance for Ron to get out of the shed for a while.”
It really was a house of pessimism and the idea that the Bulldogs might actually win was never contemplated. It went against my very nature then but it still took many years to rid myself completely of all that negativity.
My ten-year old sister who was fully indoctrinated with that pessimism had iced the cake earlier in the day and wrote, ”Bad Luck Footscray But You Did Your Best.” How weird was that? Sitting down to celebrate and charging our glasses of soft-drink with that message on the cake staring back at us.
My sister recently reminded me that our night-time celebrations involved attending a fancy-dress party at the local church. She also reminded me that my mother had copped a black-eye accidently from my three-year old brother as she was nursing him. Probably from a tantrum head-throw-back. So she was worried about being seen in public. I asked my sister if she was worried about people thinking that Dad might have been the culprit. She said no, she was worried that people might think she was in a drunken brawl with the Footscray revellers.
So there it is. As my profile on the Almanac now says, “ I’m blessed that I saw the Bulldogs win a Grand Final, but cursed that I am still waiting for the second one.”
Neil has written many other great pieces in the Footy Alamanac which evoke the joys and disappointments of being a Bulldogs' supporter and I am hoping that I can convince him to share more of them on this blog. Thank you Neil.