“I wouldn’t care if we were playing it in Nilma Darnum,” says Bob Murphy, on the eve of game number 250.
“I’m just happy to be playing in Round 1.”
I hear Danny from Droop Street ring into the Coodabeens on Saturday morning. This perennially depressed and morose Footscray supporter caricature (far too close to reality for my comfort) has not enjoyed good times over summer, he tells the panel.
'It was far too hot, my air conditioner has broken down, and you can't buy any new ones at all out our way,' he explains with the traditional western suburbs defeatist chip on the shoulder.
Surely, though, he could concede some cause for optimism.. haven't the Dogs recruited well? he is asked.
'Papering over the cracks', is Danny's summary.
'They made Griff captain and look at him - now his back is buggered.
'And we've got to go over to Perth to play. It will be typical us. We won't get within ten goals. The season will be as good as gone. We could be 0-7 with the teams we play with this draw.'
That could be disappointing, ventures the presenter. 'Disappointment? that's what we specialise in: disappointment!'
Danny's gloomy monologue always gives me a guilty chuckle, but it's the chuckle of recognition, one that makes me squirm in my seat. Has he actually been taking notes of some of my conversations?
And then there's always the moment of alarm. Danny's prediction could very well be right.
In praise of Bob Murphy
Later that day I also hear an interview with Bob Murphy.
He's describing the balance between joy and pain as a footballer. I'm surprised to hear him say that 95 per cent of the time that you play as a footballer is not enjoyable. A football contest is such a hostile environment, he says.
'There's only really five per cent that is real joy, where it all comes together, feels effortless and it is all worthwhile.'
Every time I've heard Bob Murphy speak in the buildup to his 250 game milestone, his thoughts stop me in my tracks (he also provides a welcome relief from the Essendon saga and a counterpoint to that pair of Freedom Fighters against AFL Injustice, James and Tania Hird).
Bob represents something in danger of being lost in football, a sort of grace, a generous, even noble vision that the game is bigger, grander and more mysterious than his individual place in it; a respect and reverence for what has gone before him; and maybe even more unusually for footballers, a deep appreciation of what will continue afterwards when his time inevitably comes. This came from one of his interviews:
Ask him to list his memorable moments across a career that has included three preliminary finals, and Murphy will talk just as passionately about things far from the madding crowds.
The match begins
Danny from Droop Street couldn't have scripted it better.
Within seven seconds, a routine West Coast training drill was enacted as Natanui tapped it effortlessly to a team-mate, who speared it lace up to one of their hulking forwards. (I was unable to see which one as my hands were covering my face in horror).
The Dogs rallied from this misfortune, and proceeded to put on a clinic. A clinic of everything you could do wrong on the footy field.
I wondered if there had in fact been a Foxtel malfunction and instead of live footage, we were actually watching an instructional package put together by Brendan McCartney, inadvertently uploaded by the work experience kid: "Things we don't want to do, under any circumstances, on Sunday night."
There was the high, slow, looping handball to the flatfooted team-mate (bonus points if he was standing alongside Nic Natanui). A personal favourite featured: gifting back a goal from a wayward kick-out, which went straight to a West Coast player (he looked too embarrassed to even celebrate it, a bit like a tennis player who doesn't want to do an unsporting drop-shot against a badly wounded opponent). Then there was the inevitable sight of Shaun Higgins in the hands of the trainers.
In the first quarter I feared that someone (our old nemesis Ian Collins?) had drawn up the 50 metre arc lines incorrectly. That was my explanation for the fact that the Eagles' forward line appeared to be a roomy zone where players glided effortlessly into abundant space. Ours in contrast had the chaotic confusion that used to reign on the first day of the clearance sales at Forges. A change of ends and an even worse second quarter put paid to that conspiracy theory.
We were listless, hapless, clueless, leader-less, and skill-less. Sitting forlornly on the couch to watch the onslaught, inventing new adjectives ending with -less to describe the performance was my only entertainment.
I thought of Bob and his 95/5 per cent split between pleasure and pain, and wondered: if I weighed up my years following the Dogs, just how much could truly be described as enjoyment? And I felt sad for Bob that his five per cent of joy was not going to include memories of his milestone occasion, which will best be forgotten.
So where to from here for the Bulldogs and the Tragician? Apart from stooping to childish and immature tactics such as posting photos which demonstrate that at least we're above Collingwood on the ladder.. how do we regroup?
Step one: Look to the past for inspiration. My mum always says: "We lost our first two games in 1954 when we won the premiership."
Step two: Appreciate that Round One throws up many results that are meaningless in the scheme of things. Remember, the Dogs had a thumping ten goal victory in Round One last year, and then lost the next seven. And don't forget that false dawn when we beat the Blues by ten goals in the opening round of 1989. Well, that ended up with us finishing second last on the ladder, having won only another five games for the year, just before the VFL wound up the club and attempted to merge us out of existence!!
Step three: Re-think the merits of Step Two.
Step four: Call for harsh decisions to be made, pronto, on three quarters of the playing group and reconsider the future of virtually all the coaches except Johnno and Bubba (because they're OUR favourite sons), and insist - no, demand - that brilliant new talent should be brought in immediately! (or reasonably soon). Practise pronouncing 'Bontempelli'.
Step five: Dredge up some self-serving excuses. The heat. The Eagles are actually a top four prospect. The umpires missed a critical decision when JJ was tripped (ok, we were already eight goals down). Always a tough gig over there. Several of our match-winning champions were missing (Griff and...umm...).
Step six: calculate how long it will be until Jarvis Murphy, who looked adorable running through the banner with his dad and sister Frankie, can make his debut for us.
I hope I'm there to see it.
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.