When I moved house recently, I came across boxes of old video tapes. Recorded matches of Bulldogs’ past victories (an archaeologist, trying to unravel their meaning if these were unearthed many years later, would conclude this Footscray/Western Bulldogs team must never have lost. What an anthropologist or psychologist would say, is open to question).
The handwritten inscriptions down the spines made me laugh and wince in equal measure. 'Crofty’s last game (he kicks five!)’ . ‘Historic win vs Bombers (we spoilt their unbeaten season. DO NOT TAPE OVER!!!)’.
Sometimes, in an economy drive, descriptions had been crossed out endlessly until a victory finally occurs. ‘1999. vs Carlton. vs St Kilda. vs Richmond’.
Milestones that seemed like they’d never happen. ‘We win in Perth for the FIRST TIME EVER!!’ (I was big on CAPITALS and exclamation marks!!)
They were records of wins that seemed memorable or hugely significant at the time. Or even just made us satisfied, relieved or hopeful. Yet so few of them can in actuality be recalled.
Over the grind of a season and the passing of the years, their meanings crumble away, or seem like a mirage rather than the magical turning point we often believe. Like a hard fought, gutsy victory in torrential rain and freezing temperatures in Adelaide, assuring us of a top 4 spot in 2010. At the time I was convinced it demonstrated our maturity and sealed our credentials as a premiership contender. In actuality the team got the flu and lost by 100 points to Geelong the next week, before limping out of the finals, depleted and demoralised.
It was our last hurrah, not the portent of a brilliant future.
I'm not sure why so many of those matches got recorded. They're like the mountain of family snaps we all accumulate. They're not all treasures, but in a lifetime of watching the Dogs, they form part of who we are. There was always the chance you were capturing that first vision of that raw-looking kid who would become the next captain. Or the new Wayne Carey, perhaps.
I haven’t yet seen this week's win against the saints. I've been on a sabbatical in warmer climes. I was in a far-off place that, scandalously enough, doesn’t even know there’s a Bulldogs team. Surrounded by locals that haven’t turned their minds to vexed questions like whether we’re over-emphasising contested footy or whether our coach is up to the challenge (elegantly expressed on a fan site after our loss to the Suns: ‘Pack your bags McCartney!’).
So keeping in touch with Saturday’s game was difficult. We weren’t, to be honest, too wholehearted in our efforts to gain a blow-by-blow account. Quite apart from our wretched form, in recent years the Saints have well and truly had our measure. No wins against them since 2008.
Twice, they stood in our path to a grand final — once because we were injured, fatigued, and not up to it (that flu-raddled 2010 team); but once in heartbreaking circumstances where we did everything possible to win — except...win (2009. And special thanks to Umpire McInerney from an embittered Bulldog Tragician. That was NOT A FREE KICK TO RIEWOLDT!!!).
At quarter time on Saturday, we did manage to get a score update. The reaction to us holding the lead was stunned elation out of proportion to this mild but increasingly rare achievement. ‘We’re in front!’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yes, and Dylan Addison’s apparently on fire!’
‘That new recruit scored a goal with his first kick. How do you pronounce his name again?’
At half time after checking in again, our mood slid back to the more traditional: mournful and defeatist. ‘Saints have the lead back.’ ‘Oh. It was good while it lasted.’
Our unreliable internet connection dropped out. No further updates were possible, till three hours after the Victory. I repeat..the VICTORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I was back in Melbourne the next day. Autumn seemed to have arrived all of a sudden in my absence. Having lunch in Carlton that afternoon, I saw a dad out strolling through a leafy park, holding hands with his little daughter. Every few steps they did a little skip together. It was Bob Murphy, the day after he kicked a magical goal to help us to that win.
The match is recorded, on a hard disc these days. I’ll sit down and watch it tonight. There's a good chance that new recruit with the funny name could well be a future captain. And Jake Stringer has a bit of a look of Wayne Carey about him. Doesn't he?
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.