I attended my first Footscray match in utero. My mother, a passionate fan, prided herself on missing only one match for each of her four pregnancies, which, to her annoyance, coincided with the winter months. She would stand for three hours at a time in the outer, rain trickling down her neck, while my dad minded a gaggle of small children at home. When we would press her for snippets about the days when we were born, her reminiscences focused on the football games.
“You were born the day after we played Hawthorn. We lost that one by a kick. The umpiring…!”
The second ever match that Mum ever attended happened to be the 1954 premiership. Newly arrived in Australia, she went along with little knowledge of the game. You could actually just queue up on the day to get into a grand final. I love the footage showing that the crowd are actually spilled onto the ground, sitting, rather perilously, inside the boundary line. I imagine courteous players pulling themselves up in gentlemanly fashion instead of running full pelt, lest they spreadeagle the fans, wearing their hats and Sunday best.
Mum’s never again seen that premiership glory, but she’s never had any doubt that they’re her team. She ensured too that we would never have a choice in selecting our own football teams. My brother once boldly announced that he was sick of copping stick at school for barracking for the dogs, and could he please instead support the Lions? It was explained this would involve him never seeing a live match, and he would never have a jumper or flag bought for him. I believe the threat of not having dinner that night may also have been made. He continues to support the Dogs to this day.
While other mothers express noble sentiments like, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything’, my mum applies mysterious jinxes on players that have had the gall to leave the club. It started when Gary Dempsey had the temerity to depart, joining a North Melbourne team that had just won back-to-back flags, saying he wanted to play finals. Reasonable enough, but an outraged Mum made the big call that he would never play in a final. The Roos duly missed the finals for the next few years. Mum’s career as a feared curser had begun.
Remember Kelvin Templeton suffering a career-ending knee injury when he left the Dogs for Melbourne and a squillion bucks? It just seems a bit too much of a coincidence that my mum had proclaimed that he would live to regret it.
When Nathan Brown crumpled over in agony with a broken leg, not long after joining the Tigers, our family did, however, worry that she’d gone too far. We also wondered: Why can’t mum use these legendary powers for good (like - I don’t know - a bulldogs flag) instead of, well, evil? It’s a bit like she’s the befuddled auntie on Bewitched who gets most of her spells mixed up.
All the same, Brian Lake and Callan Ward would do well to look nervously over their shoulders after their recent defections.
In a recent Bulldogs magazine the club, in a lovely gesture, listed all the supporters that had gone to every single Victorian match. Mum’s name was there, of course. Today is her 76th birthday. She’s moved into electronic communication with us about Bulldog performances, which means that if the dogs win, we get rather interesting auto-corrected texts that say: ‘Wood wood’ or ‘Dairytale!’. Yet we know exactly what she means.