Agh, Geelong. How you do annoy me. Let me count the ways.
Their home ground is so formidable, at one stage we had a 27-year losing streak against them.
They've feasted on us in finals; who among us isn't thankful that Sydney thrashed them in the 2016 preliminary final, and we didn't have to face the sight of those blue-and-white hoops, and endure Billy Brownless 'King of Geelong' flashbacks.
The Cats have always had the knack of dismantling our pretensions. In mid-2008 we headed to Geelong for an eagerly awaited 'top-of-the-table' showdown. The mood was maudlin on the train back to Footscray after a 10-goal drubbing, while Geelong fans around us artlessly discussed how many of their players had shockers, and expressed disappointment: they should have won by more.
'Taxpayer-funded stadium', as I call the Cats' home these days, does have at least one fond memory for me though. It was where a Geelong wit christened myself and my sister 'The Libba Sisters' because of our petite size; a nickname which has now endured and developed a life of its own.
The holy host of others
This week Terry Wallace, a former Bulldogs player and coach (I believe he also spent some time at Hawthorn) announced his retirement from footy media. In an interview marking the occasion he said his biggest regret was '30 minutes of footy that he could never get back.'
There was no need for any Bulldogs' fan under the age of 25 to puzzle over which 30 minutes 'Plough' was referring to. It was of course the infamous Preliminary Final that Must Not Be Named. The Dogs led all day, before collapsing ignominiously in the last quarter. In my memory our players transformed into immobile dummies around which the Crows ran rampant; I was surprised to learn later that we did generate six scoring shots - all points - to go down by two points. Memory tends to get distorted by pain.
There were all the hallmarks of a Classic Bulldog Tragician Catastrophe.
A must-win match against lowly opposition. Rumours of player unrest (well, one player). A depleted line-up. A coach under siege (some are calling for the head of Bevo Our Saviour after we lost three games on the trot).
But in these times which have been called unprecedented an unprecedented number of times, the Tragician is less perturbed than usual. Not because I have undergone a dramatic change of mindset and am coasting along, as I did in 2016, in a surge of blind faith and optimism. I can envisage only too well the nightmare scenario unfolding: a winless, desperate team, derided as one of the worst of all time, roaring back into form against the hapless Bulldogs. I had been no means lost the ability to imagine, say, Tex Walker running rampant on the forward line, while a whole lot of Crows players (I actually don't know any of their names...is Darren Jarman still playing?) swarmed all over our guys, and humiliating headlines about a Club in CRISIS.
It's just that those fears aren't as dominant as usual. Even for The Tragician, there are other things to worry about. And watching Our Boys from a distance has perhaps not weakened, but subdued, my connection to my team. Perhaps it's also to do with my understanding that we are a team in some sort of transition; perhaps it's everything that's unique about season 2020.
The wins are still gratifying. But I'm finding it's easier to greet the losses with a philosophical shrug. You're less invested when you haven't ridden every bump and goal and miskick in person, haven't been part of the surge of the crowd mood..haven't even, half the time, figured out from the coverage who to blame when an opposition player has escaped out the back for a goal or worked out why an ugly floating kick into the forward line seemed like the best option. (Actually both these things occur regularly even when I'm at the match, but you know what I mean).
My commitment just isn't as intense, now that lockdown doesn't just mean a close tagging job on a damaging opposition player...and isolation isn't about coaches manufacturing scenarios where 'Celeb' Daniel is left one-out with a hulking seven-foot-three forward.
I've always preached the virtues of just 'being there' when times get tough. That can't sustain us in this moment. Meanwhile another key ingredient in the supporting arsenal, our affection for our players and our appreciation of their individual stories, stories and challenges, is also diluted. We can't understand what it might be like for them to be living in their strange bubbles in Queensland.
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.