As usual, it was Bob who said it best.
The final on Thursday night, he said, would be all about belief.
"We don't have to manufacture it," Bob said. "It's already there."
My own belief, I know, is a more fragile thing. Too many times it has been trampled in the dust, exposed ruthlessly in finals on the big stage, in the big moment. Too many times there's been heartbreak. Too many times, the Dogs' teams in which we've placed our dreams have not been up to the task.
I've been there for all of those preliminary final losses, including, and since, 1985. Some were devastating, some were humiliating. I've seen our hopes dissolve like a cruel mirage before our eyes. I've watched again and again as our champion players, who gave their all to try and achieve the ultimate success, are chaired off the ground, waving bravely to us the fans, who must move on and transfer our faith to a new bunch of promising kids, a new wave of bright young talent.
And yet at some magical moment in the 2015 fairytale I made a conscious decision to jump on that rollercoaster ride again. I strapped myself in, eyes scrunched half-shut, doubt and fear banished - if not fully, as firmly away as any battle-scarred Bulldogs fan can ever manage. I signed over, again, my peace of mind to a bunch of blokes running around a football field. For who could resist this new breed's enthusiasm, their joy in playing beside each other, their talent, their determination to write a new narrative for our club?
And so I listened to the fighting words coming out of the kennel in the lead-up to Thursday night's final with hope, and beat down my own ("well, they would say that, wouldn't they?") cynicism. I resolutely shut away the doubts that threatened to creep in whenever I heard (over and over) those dismal statistics about our record of winning away games, in particular our horrid recent record in Perth. Not to mention the endless recital of how many goals a certain bearded full forward had kicked against us.
I blocked out, as much as I could, the memory of the one and only match I'd ever attended in Perth. It was 1991. I'd arrived at the match late due to a delayed flight. The smug taxi driver was pleased to inform me that the Eagles had already kicked seven goals without the Dogs troubling the scoreboard. Peter Sumich went on to kick 13 - double what our entire team could muster. The Eagles slaughtered us by 113 points. The crashing wave of the Eagles chant and the claustrophobic din of a one-team venue are my lasting memories of the night.
Unsurprisingly, I've never returned.
These are all in the past, I try and say, preparing to ride the wave of belief that Bevo Our Saviour and our team keep talking about.
"I'm itching to get out there," says Dale Morris.
Dale has played in 226 games. Missed 18 months with a broken leg. Played in ten finals of which we've only won three. Achieved just one Brownlow vote. Dale's smile is as wide as any starry-eyed first-gamer as he says those words.
Five players will be coming back into the team which looked lost, and out of ideas, against Freo. Bevo wouldn't commit the cardinal sin of finals, risking unfit players, I boldly declare. (But does Libber look like he's limping as he collects his bags at the airport? Is Jackson Macrae's face, as he steps down from the team bus, that of a young man who is fit, determined and focused, or that of one who's unsure if that torn hamstring will hold tight when he starts loping around in his characteristic way on the Subiaco turf?)
Sheez. This striving for positivity stuff is exhausting.
The drawn-out build up finally comes to an end. The "Libber Sisters" (if you don't know the reasons behind our nickname, the explanation is here) take up their traditional positions on the couch. We have a proud record of 100 per cent success - including two stirring, against the odds victories against the Swans - when we've watched matches together in her apartment in Footscray's Rising Suns apartment block (Only a couple of hundred metres from the Whitten Oval, it was formerly a working class pub where the locals gathered to celebrate our wins and share the gloom of a loss. It still proudly spruiks its status as 'Official supplier of beer to the Footscray Football Club').
Thousands of miles from our western suburbs heartland, our players line up for the anthem. I'm trying to decipher their faces, read their expressions. Is that nervous tension or steely self-belief?
And why on earth has a line, mangled from the Paul Kelly song "To her Door", popped into the Tragician brain. Can Our Boys "make a picture, and get it all to fit?"
The early minutes unfold with a depressing familiarity. We look switched on, brave, committed...and wayward.
Lately we've struggled to score. In a sudden-death final, maybe we won't get too many more of these relatively simple opportunities.
And then we botch what should be a simple clearance out of the Eagles' defence, Shane Biggs launching a kick that nestles gently onto the chest of That Bearded Full Forward we've all been trying extremely hard not to think about all week.
The Eagles quickly surge forward for another. For all our hard work, we're exactly where we feared we'd be. Goal-less. Trailing.
What follows is something that may just transform our club forever.
Instead of heads dropping and morale slowly seeping away, the Dogs ramp up their energy. So many opportunities keep being created that a goal surely has to come. Liam Picken, the gentle father who dances to 'Frozen' with his three kids during the week but morphs into steely-eyed assassin on the field, has started brilliantly; he's the man to spark us after a gutsy contested mark. When his goal sails through, something is unleashed in our team.
The Men of Mayhem make a dizzying, triumphant return.
As well as Liam, relentless pesky mosquitos such as 'Celeb' Daniel, Luke Dahlhaus and Clay Smith swarm everywhere. Our tackles are immense, extraordinary. The skills that had slowly vanished throughout the interminable winter are back. Slow, hesitant ball movement, tentative forays forward, fumbles and over-use of handballs - well, apparently that was so Round 23.
When I'd decided pre-match that I simply must 'believe', I was counting on a low-scoring, dour arm-wrestle, perhaps 42-39, in which I hoped that we'd prevail. We would be gritty, determined, strangulate the Eagles with our pressure. None of us, surely, expected that resolve, that courage, to be re-united with our trademark crisp ball movement, precise kicking, creative vision and daring run - all the things that had slowly disappeared from our team as the injury toll mounted.
The Libbers don't know what to think when we're four goals up at half time. There isn't much conversation as a packet of chocolate mint slices is broken out (we need to keep our strength up for a testing second half).
We're both thinking, but afraid to say, what we expect will happen next. The Eagles will surely regroup, come at us hard. The intimidating roar will begin. This has been too good to be true; it simply can't last. The only question is whether, and how, we can withstand the challenge that is bound to come.
The second half begins to unfold in line with the script. The Dogs are put under pressure for the first real time in the match. But the Eagles' rally is unconvincing; it's snuffed out before it really comes to life.
There's a critical turning point, where the Eagles center the ball to a player alone in the middle of the ground. Out of nowhere comes Shane 'Porn Star' Biggs to effect a spoil. A player materialises to rove that spoil beautifully. It's 'Celeb' Daniel, whose presence has been so ubiquitous that at times I wondered if his NAB ad look-alike had been spirited onto the field. We goal from the fast break, quelling the immediate danger. A minute or two later Jordan Roughead takes a powerful mark. Before we can speculate on what he might do, he pivots around with the nimbleness of a rover to roost a wonderful goal.
His team-mates run from every part of the ground to celebrate. It's only in retrospect that I realise that, even though it's still halfway through the third quarter, this was THE moment, the moment the game was well and truly won.
We were there, you see, too many of us, for The Preliminary Final That Must Not Be Named. I know the Libbers aren't the only ones; our fans in bars, in lounge-rooms, from all corners of Australia, are nervously checking the time, mentally calculating ridiculous and far-fetched possibilities, Ole Tom-style scenarios, that could, we feel, only happen to us. Power failures forcing the match to be replayed. A wrongly completed team-sheet with overly zealous AFL officiating dramatically ruling us ineligible. Our score to revert to zero because of a botched interchange.
Yes, hard as we try to let go of those same old sad Bulldogs tales, wins like this have never seemed to be for the likes of us.
Untroubled by any such thoughts our Dogs keep hunting the ball as relentlessly as ever. Our lead keeps building, out past 40 points. I didn't even know I was still holding my breath, until Bont kicked his monster goal 20 minutes into the last quarter, and pointed to his chest. For heart. For belief.
I notice for the first time a sound has been slowly building. The Dogs' fans are small in number. Now their roar reverberates around the stadium.
It feels like we have been waiting for this win forever.
The Libbers count down the seconds till the siren sounds. The players are embracing on the ground. A commentator says: 'Who would have believed in their wildest dreams that the Dogs could win so convincingly?' And we know the answer. Our Boys did.
They make their way off the field after acknowledging the deliriously happy fans. They pound out our song, with the fiercest joy I've ever seen.
There are so many stories in the room.
Of "Celeb" Daniel, constantly overlooked and derided for his height.
Of Joel Hamling, unable to break into the team for most of the year, singing the song with extra vim. His opponent, That Certain Bearded Full Forward, managed only 13 ... points in total.
Of Libba, who missed last year, and came back, and then busted his ribs, and had wire put in his ankles so he could be out there. Luke Darcy reckoned only one per cent of players could play through the pain he did.
Of Bob, walking around the boundary touching hands with the fans, beaming all the time with infectious joy. His composure only faltered once. That was when Matthew Boyd bear-hugged him in the rooms.
Of Luke Beveridge, the journeyman player. His mysterious alchemy with our players and our club has brought us this moment.
There are stories within stories, too, of the people in the rooms celebrating with Our Boys.
There's John Schultz. He played in our last Grand Final, 55 years ago this month. He couldn't have foreseen, as we lost that game, that our club would have failed to featured in another. Or that he himself would never run out for a final again. He is a revered figure around our club, sending beautiful heartfelt emails to the players. 'Celeb' says: "He's the best man I've ever met. I love him to bits."
There's Rohan Smith, our formerly dashing half back who now oversees a stingy team defence. Rohan's 301st - and last ever - game was in 2006. a final against the Eagles, at this very ground. We lost by 74 points.
There's Daniel Southern. Daniel played in three losing finals in a short, injury-riddled career in the '90s. He will be forever remembered for the headlock he applied on the aforesaid Peter Sumich in 1994. (Luke Beveridge - and Rohan Smith - and Tom Liberatore's dad - were in fact his team-mates that day). But to us Daniel is the quirky, thoughtful man who converted to Islam and narrowly escaped the chaos of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. The man who had to retire, aged only 25, with knees that were completely shot. Daniel Southern is the defender, sidelined by injury, pictured crying in the MCG grandstand after his team-mates lost the Preliminary Final That Must Not Be Named. I guess we'll never know if his presence - maybe just one timely fist punching away one of the Crows' forward entries - would have been enough to thwart that two-point loss which has haunted us so long.
We see Daniel embracing Tony Liberatore, his 1997 team-mate. The littlest, most feisty Bulldog of all. His legacy continues, not just in the competitive, iron will that he's passed onto his gifted son Tom - but whenever our current number 39, a dashing, athletic South-African-born defender, sees his name, and the words 283 games etched beside it, on his locker at the Whitten Oval.
Seeing these men together with the winning team is like a collage of our past, present and future. A Footscray-Western Bulldogs dreaming, with the poignancy of a Leunig cartoon.
Later, the club releases some behind-the-scenes footage. We get to see the boys, in the room with Bevo, post-match. You can see his emotion as he thanks the playing group; they are so heartbreakingly young when you see them off the field. They are the ones who really did 'make that picture, and get it all to fit'. We're just bystanders watching, hoping they can give us our dream.
Luke tells them they've been brave; they made each other, and us, proud.
He says; 'This story is our story. And it's got a long way to go.'
14/9/2016 10:48:24 am
I found myself reading this in my head, before long I was reading it out loud. Alone in the house, my voice became louder, I felt like I was reading it to a crowd. A crowd who I wanted to boast to about our brave, courageous Western Bulldogs. Tears were welling then dripping down my cheeks. I couldn't sleep that night, 3am still found me looking on line for anything about THE game. I left comments on everything I found, no I'm not a serial pest but an old bird who has followed the Bulldogs since a child. THANK YOU boys, and all who got you there! Thank you Bulldog Tragician for this FABULOUS article! Bless you all! We've got our tickets for the game, somewhere near their cheer squad aarrrrrr, no matter, we are very loud and will drown them out! BULLDOGS are going to win!!! ❤️🔴⚪️🔵 ❤️ dsdimsim Instagram
14/9/2016 11:46:19 am
Agh, Dimi, your comments made ME cry! It's great to hear this, and to know that my feelings about our fantastic boys are shared far and wide. Let's hope the smug Three-Peaters are left with nothing to cheer about. BT
14/9/2016 06:13:19 pm
Thank you bulldog tragician you put into magnificent words what every bulldog fan has experienced in their journey with this and every doggie team over the years
14/9/2016 08:44:01 pm
So good. Thankyou.
What a brilliantly written story thank you Bulldog Tragician, you have eloquently captured the feelings of the true red white and blue Bulldog faithful, everyone connected to the Bulldogs! I like many others were watching the game on the tele with faith that our boys would do us proud. There truly is something to be said about under promising yet over delivering. Our boys did that and then some!
19/9/2016 03:42:14 pm
Very well written,,, was reliving the whole emotions again
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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.