Though my father had played for Footscray reserves and grew up only a few streets from the Western Oval, he was not a keen follower of their fortunes, and rarely attended games during my childhood. Working second jobs at night (as a milkman or cleaner to supplement his income as a draftsman) he could have been forgiven for pining for respite on the weekends; instead he always encouraged my mother (the true Bulldogs fanatic) to head off off each week to see her beloved team.
(He was so new-age that he even prepared dinner for when she and I - for as the eldest I was allowed the privilege of sitting with her in the John Gent stand - returned home. Daringly he replaced the usual three meat and veg with the occasional experiment with a new fangled product called Rice-A-Riso. But I am digressing. For not the first, and not remotely the last, time).
On one occasion as Mum forlornly steered the family car up the driveway after the last match of the season - another loss by the red, white and blue - my father was waiting for us on the front porch, cheerfully brandishing a wooden spoon. I had only a vague understanding, though this became clearer from my mother's reaction to his "humour", that the fact that the Dogs had just collected this spoon (do other sporting competitions call them this, I wonder?) was most emphatically not a good thing.
I have always been quite certain in my recollection that in this same year, Carlton and Essendon played off for the flag; symbolic of our relative positions in the footy universe, and inspiring my lifelong hatred of them. But once again I am the most unreliable of narrators; the facts are that neither of them played off for the flag that year and the Bombres didn't even make the finals.
There were plenty of other reasons to detest them, however, not least the fact that even within the prestigious grounds of St Peter Chanel Deer Park - literally the most western part of the city - their fans outnumbered the subdued and downtrodden supporters of the 'Scray. In fact my brother had a friend who was extremely disappointed when his nomination of "Jesaulenko" as his confirmation name was rejected by the nuns.
While I knew I didn't like them, it was a while before I associated THEIR success, power and privilege with money and class, and realised that OUR lack of any of the above was also linked to our constant financial woes and our unfashionable western suburbs location. My club became dearer than ever to me as I contrasted the affluence, smugness and arrogance of their supporter base, to our threadbare and impoverished plight. It also wasn't lost on me that in 89 when our club was bludgeoned into a merger, Collingwood and Richmond fans joined the rally to save our club. Their fans were fearsome and parochial indeed, but their working class origins - the teams from Struggletown and Carringbush - gave them a kinship with us and redeemed them in my eyes.
Naturally those in red and black, or the Ole Dark Navy Blue, were nowhere to be seen.
I clung to my loathing, holding on almost proudly to memories of beltings and shellackings and hateful behaviour from their entitled fans. I was not beyond reaching back in time (a long way back in fact): to the elitism of Sir Robert Menzies constructing a special ramp at Princes Park so he could sit in his Bentley and watch The Bourgeois Blues untroubled by any contact with the great unwashed. To the fact that Footscray defeated Essendon in the "Championship of Victoria" play-off between the premiers of the VFL (them) and the VFA (us) - yet had to tarnish our glorious triumph by claiming the match had been rigged! (Honestly, as someone once said about the Poms, could they ever be beaten fairly?)
Typical God-damn cheating Bombres. Typical, despicable, class warriors Carlton!
Let's travel forward in time, however, to the last round of 2022 (finally, I hear you say). Though Our Boys were still clinging to finals contention, the Villainous Duos of Carlton and Essendon were somehow still occupying my mind. With Essendon I watched with a mix of disbelief and glee as they imploded in spectacular fashion: humiliating a coach, changing presidents in ramshackle fashion, and then launching themselves, with some degree of desperation and more than the usual arrogance ,at Alastair Clarkson. I was secretly fearful, however. What if they got their man, and actually became...good?
The Essendon supporters were brazenly sure that they would prevail over their rival for Clarkson's services - for weren't North, as they scornfully proclaimed, just the "tin-rattlers"? And, they gloated, how could Clarkson resist the allure of a cashed up club, blockbuster games, and a list that was surely (because, you know, Essendon) infinitely better in their deluded eyes than that of the struggling Shinboners? and what about the knockabout "humour" of old fogey Kevin Sheedy, who jested (what a wag!) that if Clarkson took on the North role, he could steer them onto Tasmania!! (ROFL as the younger generation say!)
My celebrations when the Bombres were embarrassingly jilted at the altar were extreme. I may have even said, as jubilant texts celebrating this public failure zapped around my family, that I would swap the glorious moments that Essendon splutteringly realised that they'd royally stuffed up, for the slim chance that the Dogs would make finals this year.
I didn't mean it, of course. But I have to say it was close.
I spent more time, in fact, chortling at the misfortunes of the 'Don the Sash' devotees than worrying about the prospects of the Dogs. I'd become resigned, fairly early in the season, to the fact that we just hadn't got it together. We couldn't get on a roll. We couldn't play four consistent, sustained quarters. Bont looks sore and injured. Our confidence seems down.The magic of 2021 had fizzled; maybe the Demons (I don't like them either) had inflicted a fatal blow to our souls.
Against the Hawks we got over the line, in workmanlike rather than brilliant fashion. The ho-hum display was distinguished only by an exciting performance of one Sam Darcy, clunking marks at a critical juncture and slotting goals. What a player he could be! If 2022 isn't our year, it is consoling to think that surely with such young talent on our forward line - Naughton, Jamarra, Weightman and him floating in - brighter times must lie ahead.
It was preferable to think that way; too too much to hope that Carlton could implode to allow the Dogs into the finals. They surged to a 25 point lead in the last quarter. We all began, with typical defeatism, to adjust to another squandered year. Debate was already beginning among our fans, even as the match at the G still played out: did we need a full rebuild or the more modest refresh? should we blame our leaky defence, or our overly attacking midfield? How come we've never made finals after making a Grand Final (from a full sample size of four attempts?) Was Bevo...?
Conversations, soul-searching, and analysis suddenly screeched to a halt. The Blues were choking, their panic-stricken inability to kick a goal reminiscent of that Preliminary Final That Must Not Be Named. In incredulous tones, the words "GO PIES" were being uttered in homes, streets and pubs across the west. The Bulldog Tragician cheered for DeGoey...that's how unique the situation became. The Blues collapsed. And by the barest, slimmest of margins, the Dogs squeaked into the 2022 finals.
Any previous philosophical comments by me that "we'd only be making up the numbers" were instantly shelved, especially when I saw Our Boys leaping around with joy as they too, rode every last heart-stopping moment. I watched the footage like a proud parent; okay, perhaps more than once. I laughed to see our beloved captain jumping up and down like a kid in a toyshop, hearing his team-mates' jubilant hollers, seeing their excitement, just like an under-10 team. I realised that my occasional grouchy wonderings of whether they really CARED as much as we do, were unjust. Getting to finals is hard. Just ask the Blues, and Bombres, now (again) on premature Mad Mondays, while for us, there's still a chance. Still just a chance.
With the bye approaching, I've had plenty of time to dutifully complete my daily ritual of pressing "like" on the '"Days Since Essendon Have Won A Final" twitter account (now surpassing 6500, in case you're wondering, and now of course with a guaranteed 365 more to come). I also had time to ask myself exactly why these two clubs continue to loom larger in my memory than their more recent performances should deserve in reality.
Carlton and Essendon are no longer bywords for success. Each in recent times has much to be ashamed of. Especially now that money, their traditional way out of any form slump, is no longer the way forward.
Carlton, after all, was fined nearly a million dollars for their systematic salary cap cheating in 2002. The names of those who'd tortured us for years with their on-field brilliance - Silvagni, Kernahan and Bradley - were besmirched as recipients of under-the-table illegal payments. The signage of the John Elliott Stand - commemorating the crook who'd sneered at our club as 'tragic' - was removed. There were few signs his club had been humbled by these mistakes, even as it tumbled to its first ever wooden spoon, with four more swiftly following. Used to being able to buy its way out of trouble, the club changed tack and moved onto barely disguised tanking.
Meanwhile, in one race that their fierce rival Essendon would not have been happy to win, the Bombres surpassed Carlton's record fine, and easily glided past them in infamy, when their experimental drug program was discovered. (The majority of fans are disbelieving that they did anything wrong to this very day). They didn't let the Blues have it all their own way when it came to salary cap rorting either, having been found guilty of breaches and tampering in the 1990s - including in their 1993 premiership year. In both these instances the 'Don the Sash' mob have by large remained defiantly unapologetic and, disappointingly to the Tragician, the club remains wealthy in funds if impoverished in spirit.
Yet it's like I haven't noticed that quite apart from these disgraces, on-field these teams are no longer the powerhouses of my memory. In the past 25 years, Essendon has won a single flag and Carlton none. The Dogs have been regular finalists, playing in eight preliminary finals and two grand finals, while our former tormentors wallow in mediocrity.
The Tragician hasn't grasped this new landscape, still at heart fearing and envying them. Somehow their aura persists, well beyond the facts of the last couple of decades.
It still seems to sting more, that the Bombres defeated us by the record greatest margin in 1982 (the Tragician, sorrowfully, was in attendance for the 132 point shellacking) than it does that in 2019 we kicked 20 unanswered goals to thrash them them; or that we have won 11 finals while that mortifying Twitter account number keeps ticking relentlessly forward.
It somehow seems more real, the routine humiliations at Princes Park, than the fact that the Blues too have languished without a finals victory since 2013 - and that gifted to them when Essendon were booted out because of their drug misdemeanours
No matter how delusional they remain secure in their own self-belief and identities as important and successful clubs, the story they continue to tell about themselves In 2008 Carlton unveiled their new slogan: "They know we're coming.'" Their arch rival mockingly posted their own reply: "They know we're waiting."
Yet their bluster proved empty: Carlton finished 11th and Essendon 12th.
And our club finished third.
Six years ago the Bulldogs, rank outsiders, travelled to Perth for an elimination final that only they believed they could win. I still feel emotional thinking about that outlandish, improbable victory: at the time I said it felt like the win we'd been waiting for, forever.
In those rooms in Perth, Luke Beveridge gathered the players - how gallant they had been! - and said to them: 'This story is our story.' He, and they, were about to transform and overturn everything we thought we knew about our club, bringing us a new confidence, a pride in everything we stand for - not the least of which is an identity as winners.
Our Boys have another chance, this week, to write more of that new story, which I sometimes still struggle to believe. But as I eagerly (and apprehensively) await, I think I'll savour, for a moment, the fact that Essendon and Carlton each now have more wooden spoons than our Bulldogs. And that Carlton were in the eight for the whole season of 2022 bar the few seconds after the Magpies hit the lead. And that when we hoisted the cup in 2016, Essendon (lucky to even be still in the competition in my view) finished last, with just three wins and a percentage of 46 per cent.
(Click image below to go to the story of our win against the Eagles).
It's quarter time in our match against the Hawks and my feelings are ricocheting around from melancholy to exasperation. The Bulldogs are sitting outside the eight, with a very tough run home. Yet in this, the so-called most winnable match in the series, we had dished up one of those lamentably bad first quarters. The not-switched on, haphazard, bumbling and fumbling quarters, that we've seen rather frequently in our inconsistent 2022 season.
Quite apart from the looming fatal blow to our finals chances if we lose, it irks me further that the Hawks look good. Young guns, a team on the rise, playing an attractive brand of footy. Weren't we supposed to have swept past them imperiously in the premiership pecking order after 2016? surely our era was just beginning, while after their fabled three-peat, they were due to fade meekly away, and endure a much more lengthy stint as one of those inconsequential non-entities at the bottom of the ladder?
I shift my irritation elsewhere from the frustrating efforts of the men in red white and blue. It's easy enough to find a new target for my wrath. A Hawthorn supporter and his children are somehow sitting right in our midst. In our area, the place where we pay good money to ensure we're shielded from any unwelcome opposition contact. (Banter with the opposition has always seemed to me an overrated aspect of the spectating experience).
I much prefer to be wedged in with my fellow supporters, my people, those with whom, over the past 20 years, this little pocket, originally so alien to our Whitten Oval home, has gradually become 'ours'. Heaving with indignation when there's an umpiring decision against Our Boys. A place of black humour: one Bulldogs fan used to hold up an ironic sign: "Peter Rhode: our mastermind!" sign; departing after the final siren of another abject loss led by that coach, I saw it torn to pieces and trampled in the aisle. Together, we watched still, silent, bereft, when Bob did his knee, when Mitch Wallis broke his leg so horrifically. We've seen babies who came along in mothers' arms turn into gangly teens; together we have often created a raucus Bulldogs chant. It's where people are familiar and 'family', even when we've never learnt their names
It's a violation that people dressed in brown and gold should be allowed to penetrate our little fortress. I had taken an instant and irrational dislike to them as, politely, the dad showed his ticket to confirm that this wasn't some sort of mistake, and he and his offspring, all attired in puffer jackets and Hawthorn scarves, plonked themselves down within our ranks.
I was even more peeved when I observed that these infiltrators were watching the game in passive silence. Strangely it was more annoying that he (I'd decided he was either a boring accountant or a taxation lawyer) showed no emotion while his team put us to the sword. Of course (there's no pleasing the Tragician) I'd have been fuming if he'd been jumping up and down celebrating. Yet somehow his lack of passion, his stony, stolid presence, observing rather than participating in the match, irritated me even more.(I was just waiting for him to unwrap some sensible, home-prepared, wholegrain sandwiches from a Tupperware container).
It annoyed me because I feared that this lack of emotion was both a result of - and the secret to - their continued monotonous success over the past few decades Hawks fans don't need to blame success or failure on lucky scarves, Q-Anon style conspiracy theories, or some sort of giant universal alignment of factors designed to make their supporting lives as miserable as possible. There is, surely no need for, no Hawthorn equivalent, of a Bulldog Tragician blog, for what angst would there to unpack, what tortured ramblings could be written, as another premiership is ticked off in a 'mission accomplished' fashion?
Maybe that lack of passion is what actually creates the success that he and his fellow fans of the brown-and-gold had witnessed over the past decades. The result of methodical planning. Calm decision-making. Sensible, careful list-pruning, moving on premiership champions unsentimentally, when required and appopriate. Build, contend, create a dynasty. When the wheel of fortune turns, be clinically prepared to do it all again, with a minimum of angst and no superflous emotion.
Hawks fans can go on, munching those mythical wholegrain sandwiches, with the steady, pragmatic belief that another premiership is always just around the corner, rather than a miraculous, wondrous occurrence. Calmly assured that their current lowly status is just a blip, that good times would return just as they did in...well, they probably couldn't quite remember. Soon, in any case, because there had been so many.
So goddamn many.
(Can you beIieve I managed to cram ALL these thoughts into the quarter time break? I can't either.)
Fortunately a second-quarter turnaround by our team interrupted a Tragician-thinking-spiral.
This change in fortunes was sparked by a 30-year-old man with bad tattoos, an impish Groucho Marx moustache, and a shuffling crab-like gait. Libba (you'll notice I don't call him Libba the Second any more) was suddenly in everything, creating havoc. He found space where there was none. Other players bounced off him as he stood tall in contests. Each Bulldogs goal in the comeback had Tom Liberatore footprints all over it. He even looked like the quickest player on the field, but this was a quickness of thought, a matchless reading of the play, and a competitive spirit that saw him always steps ahead.
When he came to the bench after inspiring the blitz, we rose to give our Libba a standing ovation. I stole a furtive glance at the Hawthorn fan. He was, as expected, impassive, even though their lead had been blown, and the Dogs were now surging again and again, with a best-on-ground Libba at the heart of it.
What an enigmatic figure Tom Liberatore is, with his quizzical half-smiles, his mysterious utterances (what the hell was the 'I made a hundred in The Ashes' comment post grand final all about?) Sometimes he doesn't seem to take the game, or definitely himself, very seriously, always wearing that mischievous expression even in the most intense of battles.
Libba is always the first to fly the flag for his team-mates; many of us wondered if the GWS thugs 2019 mauling of Bont would have happened if Libba had been around. He has a reputation as fiery and feisty - probably a legacy of his dad rather than his own character - yet he has never been reported. He's known adversity though, coming back from two devastating knee injuries. And in 2017 his season was so indifferent that he even spent time in the reserves.
Week after week in 2022 there is groundless speculation that Libba may be 'rested', may need a spell, yet to my mind his footy is better than it has ever been. There is a glint in his eye; maybe it's the same one I saw in the veterans Matthew Boyd and Dale Morris, that knowledge and appreciation that windows of success are precious and rare. Maybe he regrets the carelessness of he and his team-mates in 2017, their cavalier sense that success would just come, their forgetfulness of the bad times and how quickly they can come again. Perhaps he sees the seasons closing relentlessly in, the word 'veteran' now attached to his name, time and opportunities no longer stretching ahead in leisurely fashion. Maybe, playing alongside the champions Bontempelli and Macrae, and with a birds-eye view of the emerging stars Naughton, English and Smith, he senses that there's another flag. Realises that to finish with only one premiership, in this most talented Bulldog group, would be a crying shame.
There's a third quarter stoush. It naturally involves James Sicily, a pantomime villain who plays angry and dares - dares!!! - to remove the headband of Aaron Naughton. (As I announced recently, Aaron is in contention as my second favourite player, though some nitpicking readers have taken the trouble to point out that each week I appear to have 21 other second favourite players, all ranked together just behind Bont).
We're all on our feet to voice our outrage at Sicily's unforgiveable act. I see the Hawthorn "fan" (by now I'm using the word in inverted commas) is also standing but his face remains blank. He's not blindly outraged at any of our pushing-and-shoving players, or even annoyed at the indiscipline of his own. If there is anything it is perhaps mild bemusement; he has risen only to witness what is going on, not, as we are, invigorated as we voice our pointless but heartfelt indignation at Sicily's over-the-top treachery! (The fact that we still don't even really know who and what started it in no way dilutes our anger).
At three-quarter time, with the match firmly in the Bulldogs' keeping, the Hawthorn fan and his offspring politely edge their way down the aisle. It's time for them to return home, at a sensible time, not wasting any energy observing a loss. Not disappointed or frustrated. Not anything really. We don't sledge him, he doesn't sledge us. I wonder exactly why he was at the game rather than watching it on his big-screen TV in his undoubtedly comfortable home (I'm guilty of eastern-suburbs stereotypes and prejudices). I'm quite sure that he and his children, seated on the train by now, will not have impassioned conversations about what went wrong, fume over umpiring decisions, vent their spleen, or agonise about the future. More like: 'Dad, we never did get to eat those wholegrain sandwiches.'
The Hawthorn adherent and family therefore miss an exhilarating goal from Libba, which creates pandemonium the moment it leaves his boot; such a fitting exclamation mark to his wonderful game. They have long since departed when Bont elegantly (only he could) rides a bump from the Pantomime Villain, resulting in another stoush in which Bont acquits himself with aplomb, while Libba is somehow on hand to dispense advice and worldly wisdom. (He explained afterwards that he was encouraging the lad to remember that there is always next week, and not to be disheartened. Which seems about as feasible as that he delivered well-meant and kindly words to Heath Shaw in key moments of the 2016 Preliminary Final).
We are still chuckling at the Libba antics, and his brilliant performance after the match, but in my mind there's just that half-thought about footy mortality. I saw after all the unfolding of the full career of his dad, Tony, the man with the giant heart. We saw him win his Brownlow, forgave his misdeeds, marvelled at his tackling prowess, were in awe of his fiery, never-quenched spirit. His very career was improbable, outlandish almost, a man who looked nothing like an elite athlete, until you saw the fire within. I saw him, of course play his last game, a massive shiner a fitting legacy to a career of courage. Young Tom ran onto the field with his dad that day. It's extraordinary, unbelievable really, that I have been there to see his career unfold as well.
There is a beautiful, haunting book by Cormac McCarthy called The Road. It's set in a bleak dystopian future where some sort of unnamed calamity has destroyed life as we know it and dazed people wander around blindly without hope. (See any number of Footscray/Western Bulldogs seasons/decades for ready-made examples). A father-and-son are amongst the lost souls roaming the scorched earth, just trying to survive in an ugly and scary world of murderers, thieves and cannibals; the father reassures his young son, who has never known a different life, that they are the good guys, because they 'carry the fire.'
Like his dad, Tom Liberatore has never taken a screamer; has no Goal of the Year nominations. His artistry is so lightning quick it's often hard to see. Perhaps to paraphrase one great writer speaking about another, he is one of those who is most difficult to 'catch in the moment of greatness.' Surprisingly Libba has never been an all-Australian, never been in the leadership group, yet a leader he surely is. If he played for another team I guess I'd detest him as a pesky nuisance. But he doesn't. And I don't. For not only is Libba one of my second favourite players, he is also our most important and inspiring carrier of the fire.
'Let's be brutally honest, all I really do is play football. I, for one, am still unable to see why I'd be viewed as anything other than a footballer. Yes, footballers are viewed as role models by young kids but unless the kids know the player personally, this to me is silly." Chris Judd, 2005.
I wasn't all that surprised when this somewhat cold and aloof statement was made, not being at all a fan of the person who made it. Though it was perfectly in accord with the history of his actions and choices during his football career (Visy 'ambassadorship', anyone?).
However I vehemently disagreed. As a smarmy politician might say, "I don't accept the premise of the question."
It's always been just as important to me that our players are people whose public profile makes us proud as that they are good players. I've remained blindly convinced that we have more than our fair share of men of great character, filtering out anything that doesn't fit the narrative. I admit that this has sometimes involved some head-in-the-sand moments. I've been known to perform increasingly desperate contortions to find likeability in those with blemishes (normally, of course, these have been imported to our club, so their bona fides are already in question). I had to take this to ridiculous extremes when Jason Akermanis, - who I'd always detested - came to our club. I was forced into the most feeble of attempts to find a reason to cheer for him.: 'Apparently he learnt sign language to communicate with his wife's deaf parents.'
He was never 'one of us' all the same.
Around the time that Judd made his statement panning the notion of players as role models, our captain was Luke Darcy. Six rounds into the 2005 season, he injured his knee, requiring a full reconstruction. It is part of Western Bulldogs folklore that footy heartbreak struck him down again; in the last training run of the pre-season, days before Christamas, Darce re-injured that knee, and missed that season as well.I have several treasured memories of Darce which are separate from his exploits on the field (though as a 200-gamer, Sutton medal winner, and leader of our goalkicking one year, these were substantial). The first was of on a day when I was at the club's Barkly Street home to pick up tickets and spotted our spindly new recruit. I smiled when I saw his extremely tall frame somehow awkwardly wedged into a suzuki-style car; endearingly, young Darcy was still driving on P-plates.
There was another occasion, 2003, when the Dogs were having a wretched season.. We were playing Fremantle at Docklands and in the first half our team was putting on one of those embarrassingly bad efforts that makes you question exactly why you bother. (That's before I started this blog to try and find out). Though I wasn't exactly enjoying the display, I began noticing with horror, a noise building from the fans as the dejected players trudged off at half-time. It was a noise fortunately rare from our fans, but excruciating nonetheless: the unmistakable and ugly sound of booing. I saw Luke looking up in puzzlement perhaps expecting that the wrath of the fans was, more traditionally, directed at the umpires or some unpopular member of the opposition. Recognition slowly dawned: it was condemnation of himself and his team-mates.
I'm afraid this didn't prove to be some sort of galvanising turning point for the year. It maybe (I've blanked a lot of it out) wasn't even the low point of the season, considering the Dogs won just three games for the year, and added to our wooden spoon collection.
Such miserable moments added a layer of poignancy in Luke Darcy's famous words in 2016. He was then a commentator and it was the final seconds of our match against the Acronyms: Throwing aside any pretence of objectivity, his voice wobbly with emotion; he spoke for all the fans, all the unfulfilled players, as he said: 'I've been waiting all my life to say this: the Bulldogs are into a Grand Final!.' Darce had ,played in only two finals wins in his long and celebrated career. He was there for The Preliminary Final that (still) Must not be Named. And the Other Preliminary That Wasn't Very Good Either.
However my strongest memory of Darce is from an encounter off field. Our family arrived for a match, for some reason we had access to underground parking. Luke Darcy was still recuperating from one of those knee injuries; he parked near us (needless to say, in a more salubrious vehicle than that long-ago clown-sized car). As we gathered our assorted scarves and possessions from the car, we saw a family, decked out in Bulldog paraphernalia, shyly approach Luke as he got out of his car. Their young son was in a wheelchair; his gaunt frame and bald head told a tale, of serious illness borne. Our captain reached out to shake the boy's hand; the parents hurriedly explained that their young son could no longer see. Luke, visibly moved, bent down to speak to the lad at his level, while the boy beamed with delight to hear from his hero. My pride at witnessing this moment of kindness - away from any cameras, no contrived media event - could not have been any greater if Luke Darcy had been - but he of course never was - standing on the MCG dais as a premiership winning captain.
Last week we saw the retirement of one of those who did get to stand on that dais while the red, white and blue confetti rained down. Jordan Roughead rucked that day, as he did in each of our four finals. His participation in the grand final was in doubt right to the day, after he sustained bleeding to the eye in the epic preliminary final win and spent the week in a darkened room awaiting the go-ahead from the medical experts.
He was one of those less celebrated Bulldogs who was important at key moments: wheeling around and roosting a 50-metre plus goal to thwart a threatened Eagles comeback in the third quarter of the elimination final. In the Grand Final, in those frantic moments when a goal from Jason Johanisen was overruled, and we all gulped with that 'this-could-only-happen-to-us' panicky terror; the kickout from the point was marked, in a calm and composed way, by Roughie. We were safe.
It was not just these achievements, though, for which we give thanks to Roughie. He has also been known for his community leadership, his support for legalising gay marriage, and his stances against racism.
And in 2017, Jordan turned up to the Brownlow with an unexpected guest. He brought along a young man called (I'm not making this up) Darcy, who had found himself homeless as a teenager. While the likes of Chris Judd's wife Rebecca preened themselves in readiness of the red carpet, Darcy was being taken by his mentor to the fitting of his first ever suit.
The Tragician loves to bask in the memory of such beautiful moments. You may have noticed, however, my efforts to airbrush out the fact that Roughie finished his career as a Magpie. That for reasons still untold, he asked to leave our club, the one that he'd barracked for as a boy. Troublingly, only a short while after the fabled premiership, he said he was 'stale' and no longer enjoyed that trip over the Westgate to arrive at his home - or had it become just his workplace, and an unpleasant one at that - at the Whitten Oval.
It doesn't really fit with my rosy fantasy of men whose character is on a par with their talent, where brotherhood and loyalty reign in a wholesome and enlightened club environment, where nasty individuals are instantly expelled rather than tolerated because of their ability. (At this point I would also like to strongly deny any "alleged" occasions where I may have risen to my feet and applauded the wizardry of Akermanis..and not just because he learnt sign language to communicate with his in-laws).
Roughie will soon be a dad for the first time - maybe I'll get to see a son or daughter play in our colours one day. Luke Darcy is barely remembered for his playing career any more now that he is a prominent and successful media personality - rumours that he will stand for election by the Liberal Party are hastily dismissed by the Tragician as a likely - make that definite - Herald-Sun beat up. I'd prefer to look forward to the day his son Sam, who towers over even his ruckman dad, makes his debut. Because there's one thing more romantic and exciting than seeing a father-son story unfold, it's the prospect of seeing a third generation Bulldog in our colours.
On Saturday the latest reincarnation of Our Boys - the club of Darcy and Roughead - triumphed over the Eagles. Sam Darcy's future team-mates run amok against the club where Chris Judd won one of his Brownlows, and a premiership. No wonder Judd disavowed being a role model; the West Coast Eagles was a club of far-from-nice guys at the time.
At the ground where last year we tasted the bitterness of Grand Final defeat, goals reined down with remarkable ease. Even defender Alex Keath scored two. More improbably the stern-faced 'Chief', cracked a smile (though not when his exuberant team-mate Aaron Naughton headbutted him in celebration). The Dogs didn't even really miss excitement machine and regular 40-possession accumulator Bailey Smith . (Mothers around Australia could have told him he'd catch a cold if he kept going out without a singlet on).
Courage, commitment and skill were on display; our footy was dazzling and ferocious. Though the opposition (which still have more than a few recent premiership players) were poor, our performance was nonetheless complete. As we racked up a 100-point victory, I remembered what, this year, has not always been apparent. our very best footy is fearsome and when (if) injuries finally abate, we could be challengers again this year.
Yet long after the footies were packed away and Bevo's Travelling All-Stars jetted out of Perth I was treasuring something that was greater than just a percentage boosting win. I know it will last longer in my memory. Two little girls with serious disabilities and their family who have a passion for the Dogs got to meet the team while they were in Perth. I often think how challenging it can be for young men to handle these situations; after all, many in the community struggle to relate to, or be natural and comfortable around, illness and disability, especially in children. But Bont led his team out in more ways than one. They took to the field where the little girls, one of them bouncing for joy in her red, white and blue frilled skirt, were waiting; Bont broke into a big smile before leaning down to speak to her. Moments earlier these guys had been revving each other up in the rooms, bumping and yelling and snarling, preparing for the ferocity of 'battle'; yet now they paused to greet the little girls, to speak gently and kindly to them. They waited, and then these big strong young men carefully lifted the edge of the banner as one so Leah and Abby and their family could go through, precious members of our Bulldog family.
In the watery Ballarat sunshine, Our Boys have tenaciously held on for a hard-fought win. Patches of scintillating footy were interspersed with struggles, mistakes and lapses. The toll of injury and illness which has severely battered our team remains evident. And, I sense, the team still hasn't recovered fully from the devastating blow to our psyche of the 2021 Grand Final loss.
Neither has the Bulldog Tragician.
But for the first time this year, we've notched up two consecutive wins, while the injury list finally begins to shrink. Five wins, five losses - all of those losses could so easily have gone the other way.
I'm feeling cautious optimism, watching Our Boys gather near the race, celebrating the win and the 200-game milestone of Adam Treloar.
Aaron Naughton is one of those who hoist Adam onto his shoulders. The Astro-Naut had lived up to his nickname in a brilliant first half. Is there a more exhilarating sight than Aaron on song, where clumps of players in packs merely form a launching pad for him to soar, sometimes so high that he can mark the ball on his chest? You can hear, now, a distinctive sound from the crowd as we anticipate his flight, gasping when he lands safely with the ball in his mitts. Aaron hasn't lost the exuberance of kids when they first fall in love with footy; oblivious of whiteboard strategies and concepts of running patterns, zones and angles, wanting only to take speckies and kick goals.
Aaron has a swagger. Only he could really pull off the white headband look. In fact, he has just about become the Tragician's second favourite player. (If you're in any doubt about the identity of the first, allow me to welcome you to your first visit to the Tragician Blog).
It's hardly a surprise to see the other man carrying Adam off the ground. The bromance between Adam Treloar and Josh Dunkley has been ostentatious. (At times a little 'cringe', as I believe younger members of our community might say). Yet the curious fact is that neither of these Bromance Buddies wanted to play with us at the end of the 2020 season.
Adam was unceremoniously cut from the Magpies' list, and has made no secret of the devastation and pain of being forced out. He speaks often about his ongoing love for his former teammates in black and white, the club as a whole, and its supporters. This didn't stop those famously parochial fans booing Adam in his first match in our colours against them, weird even by their standards since his departure was so far from his own choosing.
But later in that same match, as Adam stood on the wing, a slow rumble of noise built. Collingwood and Bulldogs fans were joining together to clap and cheer him. It was like a protective circle of thanks and goodwill. His new clan and his old clan joining together. A rare and precious moment of care and appreciation.
Coincidentally enough, at the same time as Adam was forced out, his future best mate Josh Dunkley wanted to jettison his contract with us, making a big play to join the Bombres. The reasons were perplexing and obscure to those of us outside the inner sanctum; undoubtedly a huge paycheck was part of the picture, but there were other vague whisperings. Of a loss of love for our club. Disappointment in things that went on inside the covid bubble. And perhaps more understandably, a desire to get more midfield minutes. And (sigh) to not play in the ruck.
Many things were strange and depressing about all of this - to me at least - but none more so than him informing several team-mates of his intention to defect while they were away on holidays. Vice-captain of the club at the time, he was delivering this blow to his skipper, and some of the other best mates with whom he went out into battle on the field every week.
Our club held firm: Dunkley, our youngest premiership player, remained a Dog. For the fans - or perhaps just this one - there was some sort of fracturing in our bond with him, a feeling of distance or caution replacing the usual blind loyalty and clannish protectiveness that we feel for 'Our Boys.' I noticed that, strangely, I now called him Josh Dunkley rather than Dunks, adopting a business-like and detached attitude to him without quite realising why.
I guess we'll never really know what the emotions were, how things played out, or what conversations were held when Josh returned to the club for the first training session. His performances certainly did not show any signs of 'checking out' or a reduction in the fanatical attack on the ball for which Josh is known. Nor did his team-mates show any signs of shunning him for his attempt to leave behind their 'brotherhood' or the implied criticisms or disillusionment that led him to that point.
Despite outdated 'playing for the jumper' rhetoric, the players' connections to the clubs they play for are complex and multi-stranded in comparison to the simple and unequivocal loyalty we like to believe in. Last week, Adam Treloar played a blinder against his old club. Pre-match he embraced his former team-mates and friends. Then he set out to clinically destroy their finals hopes and shore up the hopes of his new one. While afterwards, as he received his Robert Rose medal for best afield, he again expressed his love for those he'd left behind - or had chosen to leave him behind.
In the same match a former Bulldog was a solid contributor for the Pies; mercifully he was not booed by our fans. A teenage Patrick Lipinski had attended the 2016 Grand Final decked out in red white and blue; he then fulfilled his dream by being drafted to play alongside those he'd idolised from afar.
But last year he made the pragmatic, realistic decision that his footy career prospects were limited at our club, and slipped quietly away in an unobtrusive transfer to the Collingwood Football Club. Yet Pat still lives with Aaron Naughton; and after the match Bailey Smith ruefully acknowledged that his former team-mate, and still great friend, had hoodwinked him into hand-balling to him inside a pack.
Meanwhile there have been strange twists of fortunes (or should I say misfortunes) of the club that tried to poach Josh Dunkley. This year the Bombres (the Tragician's most despised club, if this REALLY is your first visit to this blog) have slid back to mediocrity after our club (smirk) turfed them out of the finals last year. This continues a remarkable streak where they have failed to win a final since 2004.
A recent mauling at the hands of the Swans has sparked a media storm questioning the commitment, desire and talent of the players. And after footage of their high-paid import Dylan Shiel being mocked, with no retaliation or even the most feeble push and shove by his team-mates, the Bombres' culture was called further into question.
Remarkably the ruthless club with 16 premierships now faces dark nights of the soul, their vitriolic fans loudly questioning - in a delicious irony if you've ever stood wedged in, vastly outnumbered and miserable on the Windy Hill terraces - why they should even bother attending and supporting this rabble! The solution advocated by some - Bring Back James Hird! - is an astonishing reminder that there is so much about the Don-the-Sash mob that I'll never even begin to understand.
Much of the red-and-black outrage has been directed at their captain Dyson Heppell. He has recently told critics of his good-guy persona to 'jam it' and defended the fact that post-defeat, he is seen smiling and joking with team-mates and opponents. He has failed to display the requisite degree of wretched despair.
Heppell has been ridiculed in a cruel video from an account called: 'We are Essington' which intercuts footage of his on-field bloopers with the stirring 'Captain! My captain!' scenes from Dead Poets Society.
Even the Tragician has stopped chortling by now, in fact I'm wincing with embarrassment and even pity. It gets me thinking about how club culture, brotherhood and loyalty are built - or more aptly in the case of the Bombres - brutally destroyed.
For Dyson Heppell, a lifelong Essendon supporter who worshipped James Hird as a child, became an unwitting victim of a chaotic and illegal supplements program, while he was a teenager in just his second year at the club.
His 'idol' was coach at the time.
Along with others, Dyson Heppell was eventually banned for a full year; a terrible toll, when he should have been in his prime as a 23-year-old. The 'drug cheat' stigma will be forever attached to his name.
Something cancerous entered their club, and I can't help but feel it is malignantly connected to the fact no-one rushed to the aid of Dylan Shiel. Doesn't it seem reasonable that the players, even those not directly involved in 'The Saga', may pull back a little? Why would they put on the line the bodies that their club was prepared to gamble with?
I wonder about how our team would have reacted if one of our players had been targeted in the way Dylan Shiel was. I may be just a tad biased, but I believe our club has a robust and thriving culture, nurtured by our empathetic coach, and built by outstanding men and one-club-players who have led our club over the same period when the red-and-black mob descended into the 'whatever-it-takes' darkness. We've been led by Chris Grant, Luke Darcy, Brad Johnson, Matthew Boyd, Bob Murphy and Easton Wood. (Yes I've left one out, but perhaps it proves my point, for the defection of Ryan Griffen rebounded mysteriously in ways that only strengthened our club and arguably caused a chain of events that led to the 2016 flag).
And now of course we have the latest in that series, Marcus Bontempelli. There would be no doubt that with him around the hackneyed phrase 'walking taller' actually means something. His leadership of our club, his care for his team-mates is natural and instinctive, authoritative without being pointlessly macho; The Bont learnt from the best.
In the country-footy-ground atmosphere of Ballarat we could hear the thwack of bodies and observe his greatness, even while clearly injury-hampered. We could see how slowly the Bont got up at times - yet hear his voice urging and organising his team. He somehow willed himself to drag down those last quarter marks and slot those goal that won us the game.
There would be at least one other Bulldog team-mate that you could always rely on to rush in and protect you in the clinches (even if it was, as it so often is, a skirmish that he himself had started). It's been a vintage year for our combative, cheeky, annoying - but to us always loveable Libba, recently pictured wearing a 'Honk for the Dogs' sign in Barkly Street. Maybe it was a result of losing a bet; maybe it showed that the frivolity so frowned upon by the critics of Dyson Heppell is alive and well at the Dogs; but there was something uniquely and mischievously Libba about it as well.
He's probably - ok, definitely - my equal second favourite player at the club!
Meanwhile, with a lump in my throat, I see a tweet from the Collingwood cheer squad.
Congratulations Adzy on 200 games today. The Magpie Army loves you. Thank you for taking care of him @westernbulldogs.
Beautiful, classy and elegant. And yes. We will.
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.