Memoir: A Life Following the Dogs
by Les Currie
Early in the year of 1955 my family re-located from Sandringham to Seddon. I was immediately caught up in the swirl of emotion that engulfed the suburb after Footscray’s first Grand Final win the previous year. My nana, whose home the family moved into, told me stories about how people danced, sang and cried outside the Footscray Town Hall after that great win. I had watched my father play footy for Black Rock in the Federal District League and had swapped footy cards with my mates in the playground at school at Sandringham but really didn’t know much about League football. I was told by my new friends all sporting red, white and blue jumpers that Peter Box had won the Brownlow Medal that year and I thought of some brown metallic medal, not knowing at all the importance of that event.
I was soon roped into going to my first game. From that moment on I was hooked and went whenever possible. I collected empty bottles to make enough money to go the following week. My boyhood passion took shape. I would trudge off on my own to games at Collingwood and Fitzroy and Glenferrie Oval with my trusty thermos and cut lunch. Mum and dad took no interest in the footy but were happy for me to go. I would come home from games exhausted and full of complaints about the umpiring and occasionally very excited by a win. As a youngster I sat in the John Gent Stand at the home games and roared with everyone else as the trainer waived the red white and blue towel to gee up the crowd as coming home for a win with the wind seemed a possibility. I loved the Hyde Street School band, the peanut man, the jam doughnuts and the scoreboard being changed as we kicked a goal. In those days a score over 70 win or lose was pretty good and the score 11 – 11 – 77 stuck in my mind as I think we kicked that score a lot. I had a fascination with crowd numbers and could guess a crowd down to about 500. I particularly loved watching crowds stream over the footbridge from the West Footscray station into our beloved Western Oval. I always hoped for a packed house as I thought my Bulldogs deserved that. I was proud of them and wanted thousands to see how good they really were as I was confident, this week they would win. One year mum bought a year’s supply of Kornies in order for me to get a Junior Membership. The family ate stale Kornies for ages as Mrs Ross had to rip the top off 20 packets to send in for the ticket. I will never forget that membership ticket – royal blue cardboard which folded out like a book with the silver Bulldog logo on the front, the fixture inside and numbers all around the edges which were clipped off each week as you went through the turnstiles.
They were wonderful years and an escape from the booze and gambling and poverty that pervaded much of the area during that time. Mum took me to the Geelong /Dogs and Collingwood/ Dogs finals at the MCG in 1956 but apart from those two times she never saw a game. Dad never came. Nor did my siblings. I was the only one to adopt the Dogs for life. Unlike my friend’s parents, mum couldn’t afford a jumper with Teddy Whitten’s number 3 or Jackie Collins’ number 2 but she did knit me a really long scarf. Unfortunately it has long gone. I’m not proud to say that it rolled over at the edges into a thin tube and didn’t keep me particularly warm and to my mind it wasn’t as good as the bought ones. Sorry mum, I know how dedicated you were in making it for me during a very difficult period of your life.
Toward the end of 1960, for reasons not known to me at the time, just like the move from Sandringham to Seddon, my family moved to Queensland. I later found out that the move was inspired in both cases by a lack of money, the wrong environment and seeking better opportunities, but it took a long time for mum and dad to achieve that peace and security they craved. Queensland was a no-man’s land as far as Aussie Rules football was concerned. I was ridiculed by my new school mates for playing ‘Aerial Ping Pong.’ I wasn’t much good at footy (I didn’t inherit dad’s skills) but I could kick an ‘up and under’ and run like the wind so I was accepted into the Rugby League fraternity. However, that next year I collected the pink Saturday Sporting Globe every week to get the Doggie’s scores and read the write up. I wouldn’t get the paper until Tuesday but did see the score in the small print of the Sunday Mail. In fact, buying the Sporting Globe on a Saturday night was a ritual in our house whilst living in Melbourne. Dad would send me around to the shop to wait for it to arrive about 7pm. Dad wanted it for all of the race results as he would spend his spare time studying the Form Guide to work out his own system which he was sure would bring home the bacon one day (it never did). Me, I just loved seeing the highest and lowest scores on the front cover, delight in reading descriptions of all of the games and occasionally seeing the banner outside the shop announcing a Footscray win. In fact the publishers of the paper were very clever. They would print off six headline banners, one for each winning suburb, a sure way to sell more papers that week. Of course I didn’t know that at the time and was thrilled that all of Melbourne was reading about how good the Dogs were.
A scrap book of the Dog’s 1961 year was my proud testament to that second Grand Final appearance, but like the scarf, it too has gone. Dad did me a big favour in hooking up the radio to get short-wave and in-between crackling I heard the broadcast for the game and was devastated by the result. What was more incredulous was when a few weeks later hitchhiking into Brisbane I got a ride with a bunch of young fellows. I was too dumb-struck to tell Graeme Ion and a few others that I was a Bulldog supporter, as far as I knew the only one in Queensland.
Years later I returned to Melbourne for work and delighted in re-connecting with my old school mates and watching games from the forward pocket near the scoreboard at the Geelong Road end, standing on a little ledge of stones and empty VB cans we set up so us small fellows could see the game.
Many years later whilst living in Sydney I was delivered a bunch of papers for the café I was running at the time and was given a Sun Herald banner ‘Bulldogs To Merge’. Like all Bulldog supporters I was shocked and paid whatever spare money I had into the Fightback campaign.
Fortunately that campaign was successful but the enormity of possibly losing my football team really hit me. I wondered how I would have coped. In a moment of inspiration about eleven years later I approached Peter Gordon and a number of people responsible for the Fightback Campaign, interviewed them and wrote a film script for a proposed film about it. It didn’t eventuate mainly because I wasn’t a good enough writer, but Peter in particular was very supportive. He thought my ending with the credits going over footage of the Dogs winning their second premiership was a bit premature. He was right, but now if I were to have another crack at it, the ending would be real and the crux of the story – crises and how people react to them could now have a happy ending.
It was not until we comprehensively beat Hawthorn and headed into the Preliminary Final against GWS that I thought maybe this is the time. I had attended the previous Preliminary Finals and was shocked at how lots of our supporters ‘bagged’ our players. By not seeing games live for many years I had by-passed that shocking habit. But on the night, fortunately this time all of the noise was positive. The faithful finally were faithful – they were true believers – they really believed the team could win, as did I. I had the greatest feeling of solidarity with our mob that I had ever felt. The Grand Final was almost an anti-climax. I really felt we were going to win. The possibility of still being a loser for supporting a team from the western suburbs was going to disappear forever. Losing was just not an option. It didn’t enter my mind. I had seen the Dogs beat the Swans live in Sydney twice. I knew they could do it.
I thought I would cry once we won it. But I didn’t. I just rejoiced. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders and a permanent smile settled on my face. One of my favourite musicals is ‘Stop the World I Want to Get Off’ and one of its most famous songs is ‘Once In a Lifetime’. I don’t want to get off the world. I want to see many more Doggie premierships. Three in a Lifetime, Ten in a Lifetime. The possibilities are endless. The world is OK. It can go on turning and this little Bulldog will hang on by his paws for dear life. I’ve hung on this long. Why not go the full Ride?