The brief rise and inevitable fall of the Bulldogs
John Weldon wrote this piece for the Age in 1998. It's from a different time and speaks to a sentiment that's missing across all of our top-line professional sports today. And poor deluded John thought his Bulldogs were on the verge of a great era. Oh well.
I’ve been a Bulldogs fan since the late seventies. I watched them from the terraces at the Western Oval through various combinations of wind, hail and rain, and never once were they in any danger of tasting real success. Sure there was the odd finals campaign, but nothing which promised a future. That is until the appointment of Terry Wallace as coach, two seasons ago. He has brought levels of skill, endeavour and self-belief to the club the likes of which I have never seen before. He has the Doggies looking like winners, and I’m not sure if I like that.
I can’t truly enjoy the current run of success because I’m not used to it, and I don’t trust it. It’s hard to shake off that old feeling that it’s never too late to lose, (see last year’s preliminary final as proof of this). To make it that far last season and to fail so miserably was heart breaking, and as each victory takes the team closer to September glory I become more and more apprehensive. I worry about them like a parent whose child is ambitious and over-reaching, and like a parent I will feel their pain more deeply than they do, if they fail.
At times like this I wonder why I chose, as a boy, to follow such a troubled team. When I took an interest in football in my early teens, as a recent pommy migrant, teams such as Carlton, Hawthorn and Essendon were playing magnificent, awe inspiring football.
My first match was a Hawthorn vs. Footscray game at the Western oval in 1979. The dogs were hammered, but somehow they wormed their way into my soul. Even attendance at that years grand final, a stirring stoush between Carlton and Collingwood, couldn’t sway my heart, it was already beating red white and blue. Even before I understood what the game was about I understood what the Bulldogs were about. The crowd was full of pommies, wogs, paddies and others like me; I felt at home.
A fellow fan once said to me, “You don’t choose to barrack for Footscray, you’re geographically marooned out there. You have no choice.” This seems to be true, as all my friends from the St. Albans days, who barracked for the flashy teams of the eighties, have drifted back to the Bulldogs as they’ve grown older. Maybe it’s the fact that the other teams always hated coming over to our side of town. Somehow neither our ground nor our team were good enough in their eyes. As you become older you become more aware of that stigma, and you make a choice either to retreat from it or to wear it with pride every weekend at the game.
This most unfashionable of clubs now has over 20,000 members and is therefore guaranteed to survive, and I love that, but I resent the Johnny-come-lately’s in their brand new jumpers who stand in front of me in the outer. It’s not that I am afraid of change, I’m petrified of it. I find myself on the wrong side of thirty, wondering if the Bulldogs I supported will disappear forever. Will the newly won young fans of today turn out to be the self-satisfied Carltonesque fans of tomorrow? What will they know of standing on the sodden terraces at the Geelong Rd. end watching Brereton, Plugger and others carve up the hapless Bulldog defences of yesteryear?
Trooping out to the game week after week only to see your team destroyed, or almost make it, or nearly get it right, teaches a youth how to lose with grace. A win was a bonus. We were satisfied if we saw one great baulk from Douggie, a thumping tackle from Libba or a speccy from Chris. We were happy simply to be able to watch our team play. Perhaps winning is still too new a feeling. It’s hard for old timers like me to come to terms with
Strangely we revelled in the hellish conditions. The colder it got, the harder it rained and the more purplish and numb our extremities became the more we enjoyed ourselves. Success and the possibility of a premiership cannot replace that camaraderie.
The joy of the terraces at that glorious final-game-ever at the Whitten oval against West Coast, when the sky seemed to boil directly above the ground and bitter winds drove inch after inch of freezing rain into our faces. We collectively booed the poor fools who tried to raise umbrellas as we watched our boys play as true Scraggers, possibly for the last time, grinding the greatest of all Johnny-come-lately’s into the mud of Whitten Oval.
Now we face Adelaide, once again, in the preliminary final. If we can o’erleap them and go on to win the flag, it will surely spell the end of old Footscray and will truly herald the era of the Western Bulldogs. The move to Docklands will cement that and will end forever the days of standing on the terraces in the rain. We will sit undercover and in comfort and we will watch a winning team. I’m not sure I’d like to see that.