Book launch: The Mighty West, March 29 in Footscray
In 2013, I began blogging about the bittersweet experience of being a fan of the Western Bulldogs. It was an attempt, really, to understand the great mystery of what keeps supporters going in hard times. Especially supporters of spectacularly unsuccessful teams such as mine, who can’t wallow in the nostalgia of recent good times and have had precious little basis to convince ourselves that the wheel of good fortune is just one spin away.
The Dogs were in familiar territory, back down the low reaches of the ladder, deemed “irrelevant” as one journalist infamously opined. And we had pitifully few memories of glory days to sustain us. Though we’d apparently ‘come close’ in 2008-2010, that only reinforced, in some ways, a pessimistic sense that success just wasn’t for “the likes of us.” After all, despite three consecutive top four finishes in that era, we played nine finals for only 3 wins. Now, the grand final that had eluded us since ’61 seemed further away than ever.
Already battle-scarred by past implosions – the ghastly ’97 Preliminary Final That Must Not Be Named and its Ugly Stepsister the ’98 Preliminary Final That Wasn’t Really Very Good Either – I and my fellow fans had begun to seriously contemplate if a flag was just something we’d never get to see.
And yet I found myself asking how much that actually mattered. Much more mysterious factors are surely at play in those of us who stick by our clubs ‘through thin’, despite the AFL’s determination to turn us into “stakeholders” who must be “engaged.” Western suburbs tribalism, family connections and memories – maybe even just the quixotic nature of our ridiculously long wait – they surely accounted for all the times that, knowing my team faced a hiding, I dragged my lucky scarf from the wardrobe and set off for a match, more with grim determination than a sense of enjoyment or hope.
In the first two years of my blog the Bulldog Tragician, my team’s dismal performances and tediously unattractively game plan gave me plenty of space in which to ponder, if not resolve, these great existential footy questions. When we reached the nadir of 2014, with our captain Ryan Griffen blindsiding us by asking for a trade and our coach was promptly sacked, it felt like some of the other things I’d clung to in bad times – the hope that somehow, the players valued and shared our love and loyalty for the club – were just a bad joke.
When Luke Beveridge came on board, I jokingly labelled him ‘Our Saviour’ as I watched the cheer squad hastily updating the ever-hopeful signs that had previously proclaimed Terry Wallace, Peter Rhode, Rodney Eade, and then Brendan McCartney as our deliverers into the Promised Land. I remembered Luke, vaguely, as a mullet-wearing small blur of determination who played a handful of games in our forward line in the 90s. (And I couldn’t get over his resemblance to the Plantagenet kings – though perplexingly, no one but me has ever seemed to notice this uncanny similarity.)
Luke appointed Bob Murphy as captain. We breathed a huge sigh of relief at this promising first sign, for surely Bob was always born to lead our club. Then he announced Matty Boyd would be trialled in the backline. That raised a few wry chuckles. Well, at least the new bloke wasn’t afraid to mix it up a bit.
What followed, of course, was the most thrilling, exhilarating ride any supporting group could ever have imagined. And as Bevo Our Saviour transformed our club forever, I found my blog narrative delving into uncharted territory. A battle between what I’d dubbed ‘defensive pessimism’ – the (well-founded) Danny-from-Droop-St fatalism – and the desire just to believe, as our players so vividly and evidently did, that all things were possible – raged. Was it paradoxically, I began to wonder, actually easier to plod along, comfortably, as the poor old unthreatening Bulldogs than risk, again, the heartache of failure?
Yet that defensive pessimism was finally smashed to smithereens on a balmy night in the outer west of Sydney when like 1000s of other Dogs’ fans who’d taken to the road, daring to finally believe, I saw our team finally win through to a grand final – an experience that many of us will always maintain was even more emotional and thrilling than our eventual premiership the next week.
The journey of our club, and the fans as documented in my blog, is now collected in my book: The Mighty West.
My book will be launched – in the western suburbs heartland naturally – on Wednesday, 29th March, from 6pm. I hope to see many Almanackers there to share with me a glass of champagne, with our own John Harms doing me the honour of saying a few words. I would love you to join me if you can!
Where: Railway Hotel, 35 Anderson St, Yarraville
When: Wednesday March 29, kicking off at 6.00 pm – 7.30 pm
There will be champagne on arrival, and after the event ends, my family and myself are staying on for a meal. Please rsvp to: email@example.com and if you are planning to stay for dinner, please let me know that too.