Is it a coincidence that the Dogs have put in their best performances while Bulldog Tragician is many miles out of the country ? Seems only too likely, but you can be assured there were joyous celebrations when news broke. What a just reward for the perseverance of players and fans.
While the Bulldog Tragician attempts to recruit new supporters in the Big Apple (can you believe there was NO coverage in the New York Times analyzing the victory ? What sort of hick town is this?) John Darcy has brought the game to life for us. Thanks again John and here's his review:
Having parked our car 3 or 4 blocks from 'Doglands' stadium, friends Norm, Jan and I are walking briskly to the ground with the game set to start in 15 minutes. That's one of the pro's of following a 'smaller' club; you can generally drive and park quite close to the ground and getting a seat is never a problem. And so it was on Sunday when joining a queue of two and negotiating the security check ( honestly, what is their purpose? I have carried a swiss army pocketknife in my pack for five years and never been questioned), it's off to bay 17 where there's so many empty seats, we could have all laid across them and still had some left over.
The dogs look keen as they make their way on to the ground and charge towards the lovingly made banner. And then.. they stop, duck under it and keep going. Whatever happened to players ripping through it; each player trying to out jump the previous one? Once upon a time blokes like Rick Kennedy and Scotty Wynd would chew it up and spit it out on the way through.
The toss is won by Boydy and a cheer goes up through the crowd. In the indoor confines of our home ground the advantage is zip but we will take our victories wherever we can get them, regardless how small.
The dogs get a lot of the ball in the first quarter but when they fail to hit their targets, the Eagles hurt them on the rebound with a couple of 'coast to coast' goals.
The game remains tight through the second quarter. As has been evident in recent weeks, the dogs are really getting a feel for each others whereabouts. When they have ball in tight clinches, a series of 5 or 6 slick handballs and they are on their way. With this improvement, a couple of players have really lifted in the last couple of weeks. Confidence is a wonderful thing and Dal and Granty have found theirs. They are zipping about so much i hope the WADA guys are not in the crowd.
At half time i decide to walk around the ground. Behind the goals at home games the club has our traditional bulldog with its owner. This one is called Sid. Sid is quite popular and adults and children like being photographed with it. I'm unsure what Sid makes of it all. His default expression gives nothing away. I like the fact that Sid is continuing a quirky tradition that has been going for many, many years.
Further along i pass a bloke wearing one of those 'spaghetti' hats in team colors. Urrgggh, how i hate them. And the 'court jester' hats. What else? Ah yes, the plastic 'clickety-clack' thingo. Bit hard to explain but they make a lot of noise. The inflatable hand... not a fan. Most of all i hate the ground announcers, their incessant waffling and the cranked up advertising over the p.a. Okay, end of rant...back at my seat and on with the footy.
The second half sees the bulldogs continue where they left off. Whenever the eagles look like getting close the dogs are able to answer. Mitch Wallis seems to have slipped into the role that Clay Smith was playing before injury ended his season. Lachie Hunter is looking lively and the young talls in the backline, Roughead, Talia and Young are looking good.
As the game goes on it becomes obvious that the boys aren't going to let up. The crowd can sense it too. The siren sounds with the dogs 22 point victors. The elated fans are smiling and so they deserve to; five wins from the previous twenty eight games is enough to test the most dyed in the wool supporter.
This week while the Bulldog Tragician is out of the country, John Darcy has sent in a wonderful and entertaining account of this week's match..where, as Tim Lane once put it, the Shoppers from Forges met the Shoppers from George's .
Take it away John...
I am heading overseas for two weeks on Saturday. This means I will miss our anticipated glorious victories against Hawthorn and then West Coast.
Though of course I’ll be following the Dogs from afar (even more afar than usual, given we play in Launceston this week), there will probably be no blog entries.
However, it could be fun to have some new voices and perspectives on this blog, and I'd love to hear from others sharing their own Bulldogs' journey… and it will keep me informed about what I’m missing out on. So if you'd like to post something about how the Dogs are travelling please email email@example.com
Alternatively post a comment as per usual. I'll try and post them from wherever I happen to be.
Not drowning. Waving.
It’s twelve minutes into the last quarter in our match against Essendon. Reviving memories of his dad’s heroics as he repeatedly mowed down Scott Lucas in our famous 2000 victory against the Bombres**, Tom Liberatore has launched a ferocious tackle on Brendan Goddard. As the umpire signals the free, Nathan Hrovat, who has played a blinder, takes the advantage, grabs the ball which has spilt loose in the tackle, and slams it onto his boot. It sails through for a goal.
All around me there's pandemonium. People are high fiving each other, jumping to their feet, faces alight, riding a wave of emotion and joy. I’d forgotten how much fun footy is at moments like this, how crazy/wonderful it is to be part of the din of screaming fans. Surely the MCG on Grand Final day couldn’t sound much louder than the racket we’re all making. (Not that I’d know). It's a pent-up delirium for the dwindling ranks that have soldiered on, week after miserable week, and had come along to this game expecting to be thrashed.
Instead... 'The Rat's' goal means we are only six points down, with 20 minutes to go, against a top four team!! We’ve worked courageously all day to get into this position, harassed, tackled, persevered even when the gap in skills, class and experience was painfully obvious. Every move forward for us was a struggle, every score hard-fought, but our boys have stuck to their guns and have taken the game on. Now the Dogs have all the momentum. We could actually pull off an upset against our north-western neighbours. And every Doggies fan knows just how sweet that can be.
It’s a few seconds before all the leaping around stops and the stunned murmurs begin. The word goes around: the umpire, inexplicably, has called the ball back and refused to pay advantage. Later I read that Nick Riewoldt has said in TV commentary, ‘That is the decision of someone who just does not understand the game.’ (A first for the Tragician: Whole-hearted agreement with Nick Riewoldt??)
The ball returns to Libba, but you can feel almost immediately a sense of anti-climax. Our more experienced and fancied opponents steady and re-group. Nothing comes of Libba’s kick, which is taken behind where the ball had slipped free and where ‘The Rat’ had pounced on it. If ever there was an occasion where the umpire had really done what so many of us often urge and swallowed his god-damn whistle, this should have been it. We are all outraged. But so what?
A few minutes later, the ball is down the other end of the ground about to be marked by Essendon’s Dyson Heppell. Lunging desperately to try and stop him, the player who has epitomised our fight and courage all day, Clay Smith, buckles over to the ground. Heppell runs around him as he lies prone (shouldn’t the umpire have blown his whistle and called time? Wouldn’t it have been sporting if Heppell, John Landy-like, had waited for his stricken opponent to be attended to?). He kicks a goal, sealing the match. Clay is carried from the ground by two trainers, in tears. At nineteen years of age, he’s done his ACL. He'll miss the rest of the year.
It’s been that kind of season. Or maybe we're just that kind of club.
When you barrack for a team like the Dogs it’s easy to think the footy gods are against us. Oh the injustice we have seen! The misery we have known! Our luck never seems to even out; a malevolent influence is always there to get in the way. The life lessons we learn are not bracing tales of resilience and sunny optimism, that's for sure.
Bizarre one-off, downright weird decisions like that seem to occur more often in matches involving us. Daniel Southern, Steven Kretiuk and Craig Ellis were reported in 1997 because they ran up to Michael Gardiner of the Eagles, bumped and jostled him, and informed him that it would be better if he didn’t go too near the ball. Okay, not too edifying, but we are the first and only club to have ever been reported for this conduct. Which has been seen, ever so occasionally, on the football field both before and after. (Daniel Southern, incidentally, is the only player ever to have copped a suspension for wrestling.)
Chris Grant is the only man (still) to have had his case directly referred to the tribunal when three umpires decided he had no case to answer yet Ian Collins went on a one-man campaign of vengeance to make sure he got suspended. Grant, one of the fairest I've ever seen play, missed a Brownlow as a result.
Those fates seemed again to be against us on Sunday, when a 'Bombre' ** player (I'm just being childish now) kicked a goal when clearly out of bounds; when Hrovat (gee, what do they have against this fresh faced kid?) seemed to have clearly marked the ball, to anyone but the officiating umpire; and when Koby Stevens was ruled to have dropped the ball, which would have perhaps been reasonable if he'd been tackled.
All the more galling because of who our opponent was. For many of us, the red and black mob from the posh side of the Maribyrnong are the most dastardly foes of all.
I could say we have a love-hate relationship with Essendon, but to be honest it’s mainly hate. The Coodabeens once described their fans as ‘Collingwood supporters who can read and write’. To me, many Essendon supporters display a fanatacism that actually surpasses even the Black and White Army, typified by a night that they were a good ten goals up against us and a young Rohan Smith was stretchered off the ground, completely motionless. Seriously injured players are normally clapped politely from the field. With memories of our player from the 1970s Neil Sachse’s tragic fate – the only man to ever have been rendered quadriplegic on a football field – in our mind, I don't think I will easily forget the many, many Essendon fans around who jeered and screamed abuse in Rohan’s direction, calling him ‘soft’ and ‘weak.’
For some reason I always believe the players share my antipathy. To see Brad Johnson, a lifelong Bulldogs fan as well as a champion for us, in a rare fit of rage when he'd been knocked out in at that famous 2000 victory, having to be restrained from launching himself at John Barnes, makes me wonder if that rivalry has also seeped into our DNA as a club. The dislike and envy of the battler against the privileged, the have-nots against the haves. Us in our clapped out Holdens, them cruising along in Beamers. Maybe that drove The First Libba (as he must now be ever after known) every time he toppled Scott Lucas on that memorable night. In the aftermath, Bulldogs' fans who'd never met each other celebrated as though it was that flag most of us have never seen.
Sunday's match and all others this season have been played, of course, in the shadow of Essendon's drug scandal. A sick culture and more than a little arrogance have been revealed ('Whatever it takes'). Week after week as I see the AFL subtly softening the footy world up for a light penalty (with a few token scapegoats hung out to make them seem to be doing something), my disillusionment grows. It's hard not to feel the Essendon wealth, power and influence, their status as one of the big drawing clubs gifted games like the Anzac Day match, the presence of Essendon royalty Watson and Hird, are factors in the AFL's reticence in condemning, their reluctance to speak out.
Would the unfashionable Bulldogs be treated so lightly? Chris Grant lost a Brownlow, but will Jobe?
There's a chance we'll get back the four points that Essendon won on Sunday when penalties are finally announced, I guess. It won't matter. The outcome was relatively meaningless to the Dons in the context of their season, though the win may help them to a top four spot. And it really won't make much difference to us, marooned in the bottom four, a not very good side with a long way to go, to have one more 'W' chalked up for us when historians and Bulldog Tragicians look back at this forgettable season. But oh how I wish we had won, and that it had been our song being belted out in the end, and our players rewarded for sheer guts and hard work instead of another hard lesson along an interminable road.
Our theme song used to have the words, 'We'll come out smiling, if we win or lose.' You can see it as embarrassingly lame, a symptom of our losing culture. Isn't 'second is just the first loser' the mantra of the moment? I'm sure the Essendon club would see it that way, and pity us.
But still, on Monday morning my voice was hoarse. I'd forgotten that can happen when you've really barracked, yelled and cheered your way through a game of football, and been proud of your club. We didn't win. But we really didn't lose, either.
The tale of two cities
It’s two hours before the match against Great Western Sydney begins. Yet again the Bulldogs are playing in a far flung location, this time in the freezing Canberra suburb of Manuka, against the newest AFL franchise, Great Western Sydney.
While the Dogs journey to the ACT, I am driving through Footscray in a reflective mood. I'm mentally imploring my team to spare us the indignity of a loss to these so-called easy-beats. I'm still in recovery mode after our inglorious loss to Melbourne. There's only so much even a Bulldog Tragician can take.
Great Western Sydney entered the competition 18 months ago. They wear orange and charcoal, and are called the Giants; their mascot is a G-Man (I don't get it either). Their website says they have four core values: INNOVATION, INTEGRITY INCLUSION and ASPIRATION.
Ok if you like that sort of thing, I guess.
The Giants’ theme song was written by the guy from the Cat Empire. I’m fearful that for only the second time ever, the footy world will get to hear it. I can see it now, dejected Bulldogs’ players trudging from the arena. The Dogs mocked by the footy world, and me sitting there, the familiar sick feeling in my stomach.
I have to admit I have a childish, spiteful dislike of the Giants. Not because of anything they've actually done to us. It's more what they represent. Another step into a brave new world of football that many of us never really wanted. A world that's in danger of leaving the Bulldogs behind.
I pause at the lights, near the clock above what used to be the Kinnears rope factory in Ballarat Road. It mightn’t be as iconic as the Skipping Girls’ Vinegar sign (how come western suburbs’ landmarks are never as celebrated?) but it used to be clearly visible from most parts of the flat Footscray landscape, including my grandparents’ house just off Gordon Street, a few blocks away from the Western Oval. It’s been a while since Kinnears actually manufactured any rope. The deserted site, I hear, is earmarked for a boutique housing development.
When the VFL tried to merge Footscray out of existence in 1989, one of the many letters and donations came from a whip-around from the Kinnears factory workers. They were among many, many fans who just refused to let the club die. Tin rattles, donations from Dogs' fans all around the world and an emotional rally meant $1.5 million was raised in three weeks. Our club lived to fight another day.
One of the supporters who threw himself into the fightback campaign had a simple but poignant explanation of why it mattered. Pointing out to the deserted Western Oval terraces and fighting back tears, he spoke about standing there with his own father.
‘When I look out there,’ he said, ‘I see him.’
I drive around the corner, and there’s the Western Oval itself. It's been the club's home since 1877. Many people don’t know that ours is an older club than Collingwood FC. Older even than the world’s most famous sporting club, Manchester United.
Apparently after only a year or two, the Footscray Football Club changed its name to the Prince Imperials. Bizarrely, this was to honour the French heir to the throne. Hard to know why this club, in the industrial heartland of western Melbourne, chose this particular hero with which to align itself, but he came to a gruesome end at the hands of Zulu warriors – disembowelled in fact. (I'm not making this up). Early identification with the underdog, perhaps?
Soon afterwards, club history recites that 'with a lack of players and membership commitment, a crisis meeting was held at the Royal Hotel to decide whether the club would continue.' Bloody hell - even back in 1881 we were in strife! The Prince Imperials name was ditched (for which we can all be truly grateful) and the Footscray Football Club lurched back from the brink for the first, but not the only time. Its core values were Cede Nullis. Dignified and simple. "Yield nothing".
Establishing the Giants and the other new 'franchise', the Gold Coast Suns, will cost the AFL $200 million over five years. To me, they're artificially created clubs, chesspieces in the AFL’s strategic positioning against rugby, bereft of the rich vein of history, tradition, struggle, romance and memory that my club represents in my life. Yet in a twist of irony, this expansion of the AFL that I so resent is probably one of the best protections that struggling clubs like my own could have. The accompanying bonanza in television rights and advertising revenue mean that small unfashionable clubs such as ourselves, Melbourne and North Melbourne are now propped up and supported rather than marched to the gallows, as seemed inevitable in the 1980s. But that 1989 fightback campaign, too, was pivotal in challenging the prevailing wisdom that a progressive football future needed to be accompanied by loss of Melbourne clubs. As someone once put it, Melbourne’s twelve masterpieces. Two of which are now lost forever.
So in contemplating our match today how can I fail to feel betrayed and disillusioned when I realise Great Western Sydney will most likely win a premiership before we do? Having plundered the best young talent in the land, granted untold salary cap allowances, this fully owned subsidiary of the AFL could well win a flag within its first five or six years of the competition, as did the West Coast Eagles and Adelaide Crows.
While we press our noses to the glass, waiting for an invite to a premiership party that never seems to arrive – 59 years and still counting – I brace myself for the image of a GWS premiership team helping itself to the spoils of victory, their ‘long-suffering’ fans and corporate sponsors celebrating amid a sea of AFL-issued merchandising equipment. In orange and charcoal. I just hope the guy holding the cup in my nightmare scenario isn't Callan Ward the local western suburbs' boy (that's the western suburbs of Melbourne, in case you had any doubt). He played 60 games for us before the lure of obscene amounts of money saw him heading to the new club, leaving a ‘giant’ hole in our list (sorry). And a hollow feeling in supporters' hearts.
INNOVATION, INTEGRITY INCLUSION and ASPIRATION.
There's not much of the Giants' core values on display in their match against us when it gets underway. But I do see the Ghost of Kevin Sheedy ruthlessness, as Adam Cooney is downed in a punch behind play, Libba suffers a blow to the head when 'shepherded' many metres from the ball, and our most improved player this year, Jason Johansien, is stretchered from the ground in a questionable clash. Then again the Bulldog Tragician admits to a long memory for such atrocities, still recalling Sheedy sending out his henchman Dean Wallis to punch a teenage Chris Grant in the stomach after he returned from having his appendix removed.
The Bulldogs this afternoon seem to have reached a low point that even surpasses the Melbourne catastrophe. The match is so bad that even the fate suffered by the Prince Imperial starts to seem like a preferable option.
The Dogs have the lost aimless look of a team that has forgotten footy can be fun, that is expecting kicks to go astray, their team-mate to fumble, that desperately knows it's all going wrong but can't arrest the slide. So often this season I've consoled myself by watching the young guns, the bright sparks of the future. Now as I watch them, I wonder if playing too early in these mediocre matches is doing them any good, or just steeping them in the despair of failure.
But there's one player who seems to be blossoming. Michael Talia is our best player by a mile, and earns a Rising Star nomination for his role in this most unmemorable of Bulldog victories (yes, we did win, somehow).
Michael Talia's grandfather, Harvey Stevens, was the ruckman in our solitary premiership team. There are some wonderful stories on him, back in the day. How he still worked in a butcher's shop on the morning of the grand final. That he arrived for the match without his boots, prompting a hurried trip home and meaning he arrived at the MCG with only 30 minutes to spare. How he grew up in Gordon Street, across the ground from the Western Oval (I bet Harvey would know all about the Kinnears' sign).
But most of all I like to read what Harvey Stevens' grandson said on the day he was drafted. 'My parents have had a Bulldogs jumper on me for as long as I can remember, so to get to the club you have gone for your whole life, is an absolute dream come true." Michael Talia wears his Pa's jumper and is going to do it proud.
When Callan Ward left the Bulldogs
Harvey Stevens and Michael Talia
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.