If you ask a Bulldogs' fan under the age of 65 their most fondly remembered victory, they will almost certainly cite the epic night in 2000 when we toppled Essendon and spoilt their unbeaten season.
It could, of course, be a sorry reflection on our far-from-glorious past that the best we can muster is a home-and-away win.
But with finals wins not exactly thick on the ground (and even the best of them overshadowed by some degree of heartache-inducing performance either before or after), Bulldogs' fans must resort to 'Schadenfreude'. This is not a long-forgotten nuggety half-back-flanker, but as my dictionary defines it: 'pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.'
Trying to sum up my antipathy to Essendon I once wrote:
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.
It's not merely the fact that they inflicted on us two of our top three worst defeats. (Regrettably, I was there for every wretched moment of both). It's also their aura of arrogance and smug success; their frequent thuggery under Kevin Sheedy; and the behaviour of their fans (the Coodabeens once labeled them as 'Collingwood supporters who can read and write').
In my experience their fans have been the most contemptuous of us, the most mocking of our failures, the most cruelly relentless in delighting in our frequent misfortunes. In 1989 the Collingwood and Richmond cheer squads marched to the Western Oval in solidarity with us when our club's very existence was in peril; our northern neighbours were nowhere to be seen.
In my childhood, our horizons were small enough that travelling to matches at Windy Hill felt like entering a foreign and exotic landscape. Compared to my home suburb of Deer Park - our house was at one point just about the last house on the outer fringe of Melbourne before the then rural town of Melton - just seeing the streets around Essendon, manicured and immaculate, was an eye-opener. Forget Toorak and South Yarra - these streets were impressively wealthy and powerful in ways that were foreign to working class kids like myself.
The well-kept red brick Californian bungalows and serene streets with established flower-filled gardens looked prosperous, respectable and complacent. They could not have been more different from our windswept paddocks strewn with the Deer Park 'purple thistle' emblem, and the ICI explosives factory at the end of the street.
While that's my personal story of why I've always loathed Essendon, I suspect some variant of these sentiments explains why every Bulldog fan spent most of the first 20 weeks of 2000 secretly hoping that we'd be the ones to wreck their quest to go in the history books with an undefeated season.
That night Terry Wallace introduced the 'uber flood'; it has been described as the match that changed football. Perched on a third floor eyrie, I had a clear view of the baffling sight of our players, not standing toe-to-toe with our star-studded opponents, but instead grouped around like toy soldiers, guarding space not men.
Just before half time Brad Johnson was spotted suddenly, mysteriously, lying prone on the turf. The hostile all-out melee which broke out was an eruption of that boiling dislike that never seems to be far from the surface between these two clubs and their fans.
When the melee ended, it was the team in the red, white and blue, with a spring in their audacious steps, and led by chief antagonist and tackler extraordinaire The First Libber, who sprinted off the field and up the race, looking thoroughly pleased with our efforts and only too happy to have succeeded in 'poking the bear.'
Late in the last quarter, the Dogs trailed by a few points, but Wallace had released the defensive brakes and we were storming home. With under two minutes to go, Chris Grant took a free kick deep in the pocket. (As a sidenote, the person who kicked it out on the full was Dustin Fletcher, no pimply teenager, but already with seven years of footy under his belt).
We had a superb view of the moment that our champion moved to his left and snapped the miracle goal.
The instant where the ball sailed through was the purest moment of football elation I've ever felt and the greatest din of sound and joy and fury that I've ever been part of in a crowd. It eclipsed even the moment, some 90 excruciating seconds later, that the siren sounded and the win was ours.
In between wildly hugging every other Bulldog fan in sight, we paused just long enough to join in the cacophony of jeers and hoots when the ever-smiling Brad Johnson dropped his affable mask and launched a tirade, complete with a flipping of the bird, at Essendon ruckman John Barnes (who may have been in the vicinity at the time he had previously been felled).
His fury was uncharacteristic.
But Jonno grew up a Bulldogs fan too.
Fifteen years on, and Bob Murphy is the only one from that epic match still playing. Then a teenager in his second only match, his fresh-faced appearance in the 2000 match made 'Bailey Dailey' look grizzled and care-worn.
The Dons went on to win the 2000 premiership, ample compensation for being denied their place in the history books I'd imagine. They were grand finalists again the year after. But since then there has been an insidious decline. Regular finals appearances are no longer the prerogative of the men in red and black; winning in finals has proven more difficult still.
There is no fearsome 'Windy Hill' factor involved to our encounters any more; this is in fact a 'home match' for the Dons. Somewhere, Bombers' fans are sitting in our seats and cheering on their men, who kick towards the 'Lloyd' and 'Coleman' ends. The 'Doug Hawkins wing' has been packed away for the occasion.
Though we haven't beaten them since 2010, the Bulldogs are raging favourites. This means of course that every fan of the red, white and blue anxiously dubs it a 'danger game' and frets at the prospect that it could be our hated opponents, of all clubs, that could deal a mortal blow to our fairytale finals path.
A stalemate in an appalling first quarter heightens our fears. But when the dam begins to break, it does so quickly. We begin scoring goals effortlessly. Every player begins to partake in the picnic; at one point it seems that even Dale Morris, who's ventured down the ground just for the hell of it, is going to build on his stellar career tally of three goals in more than 200 games.
Jason Johannisen puts in a particularly eye-catching display, gaining our team more than 800 metres through his run. The 'Wee Man' Caleb Daniel delights us by taking two marks inside 50 (it doesn't seem that long ago that two marks inside our 50 metre zone for the entire match would have been cause for jubilation). He nails his shots with composure too.
From where we are sitting we get a front row view of the electric turn of speed that The Lair can put on when he puts down the after burners to kick one of his four goals. We watch soaring, breathtaking marks by Easton Wood and more surprisingly, Luke Dahlhaus.
I can't believe how subdued and lifeless the Essendon fans are. Gone is the virulent, ferocious spite that I believed to be their hallmark. They seem resigned, almost apathetic, as though the events of the last few years have drained even their formidable self-belief and blood lust for the contest. One guy who leaves early even shoots us an apologetic smile as he walks past and says: 'I'll leave you to enjoy your win.'
It's as though the defiant energy of their blind support and 'StandByHird' mentality has been leached slowly away. Not, as you might think, by the endless court proceedings and revelations of what was happening behind closed doors in their 'Whatever it takes' era, but by their team's declining performance, list management woes, and a slowly dawning realisation of where the slavish devotion to James Hird has led their club.
Unlike the last time we played, there is no booing of their former player Stewart Crameri. (I liked this joke from one Bulldog fan. 'Why did the Essendon fans boo Crameri? Because they don't like drug cheats.') He plays his best game in our colours, marking cleanly; one of those games where the ball seems to find him time and again, and he's always in the right spot. He kicks seven goals (it doesn't go unnoticed that this is more than the entire Essendon team) and he radiates a quiet delight in his own performance, though he refrains from Johnno-style theatrics towards the crowd or any of his former team-mates.
We leave the arena, 87-point victors, and in fifth place on the ladder. The result has left us , to coin a phrase, 'comfortably satisfied'.
And with just a sliver of Schadenfreude in our hearts.
6/8/2015 01:56:57 pm
We're gradually ridding ourselves of these traditional enemies. I was so busy hating Carlton I forgot about Essendon. Collingwood, Carlton, Essendon, Adelaide won't concern us so much in the future. I think we have turned a mighty big corner,
8/8/2015 02:23:27 am
My other great favourite game was the 2006 Elimination Final when we snuck into 8th and pumped the 5th placed Pies. From the moment that Monty got up from the hit inflicted by Brodie Holland and kicked the opening goal it was a glorious day that not even Cam Wight could wreck. The joy of watching the black and white army retreating faster than the French out of Moscow from about the 10 minute mark of the last quarter will never be forgotten
10/8/2015 01:00:03 pm
Bill and Neil thanks for your comments, I agree that the '06 defeat was sweet indeed. I was almost about to say that lately the Pies supporters are very tame. Almost..then I recalled a final against them in 2010 when they were in full flight and we were a broken down unit - their incessant jeering of poor Johnno, who was a sad shadow of himself, was horrible to see, as was their needless provocation of us poor fans who sat there helplessly.. They lived down to every cliche about themselves that day.
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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.