Hello nostalgia my old friend…
With Hawthorn just finished celebrating their number- eleven premiership, it was time to take stock, perhaps regroup as a member of a club still waiting to celebrate a second flag. As one interstate club finds ten-million for one player, it’s time to remind myself that my ‘small-franchise’ club is somehow still surviving in such an uneven competition.
Time to wallow in a bit of nostalgia. Not looking back with mawkish sentiment, but more in accordance with the Greek definition of ‘a return to home’.
The last time I returned ‘home’ to Footscray was in 1997, the day after the loss to Adelaide in the PF. I didn’t go out to the Whitten Oval that day clearly worried about the carnage I might see in the aftermath. I did however go to the nearby Highpoint Shopping Centre cinema to see the recently released documentary called ‘Year Of The Dog’.
I wanted to surround myself with ‘Footscray’ people before I headed home to my country town where I was the ‘only Bulldog supporter in the village’. The intention was good but unfortunately I didn’t count on there being only six people turning up to surround me at eleven o’clock in the morning.
Lots of irony that morning including still being alone with my thoughts in such a huge theatre, but also watching a film about one of the worst years in Bulldog history. Not the sort of environment to lift my spirits you would think.
However, for nostalgia purposes the film was perfect. To see what goes on behind the scenes was new and eye-opening if you were a Bulldog supporter. A nice change after only seeing newspaper photos of players from the successful clubs and television interviews with players from those successful clubs.
Watching players like Scott Wynd show all the bruises up and down his legs caused by the opposition ruckman crashing into him. Tony Liberatore almost crying in frustration that his team didn’t get over the line yet again.
I had only been in the Bulldogs change-rooms once before and that was by accident. It was after the Bulldogs V Collingwood match, in 1990 I think. The Bulldogs had a rare victory against the Pies at the MCG after Steve Kolynuik ran around Graeme Wright and kicked the winning goal.
I was leaving the ground as part of a great mass of excited and happy Bulldog supporters when that particular great mass suddenly veered left on the ground floor and half of us ended up in the Footscray change-rooms. The elderly door-bitch quickly gave up guarding the door. No sense trying to stop a hoard of Footscray supporters from seeing their heroes after they’d beaten the Pies!
Doug Hawkins was talking to anyone who wanted to chat. He was in no hurry to get showered and changed. Working the room beautifully. No wonder he was recruited by the Palmer Party some twenty-three years later. There was also a skinny young recruit and future coach called Leon Cameron heading for the showers as I hovered in the background pretending to be one of the proud parents.
So this weekend I wanted to recapture the Footscray experience by heading back to the ‘Heartland’ as The Western Bulldogs territory is now known.
What I really wanted to do was to experience what it was like the day after the 1954 Grand Final. Why should all the other clubs have all that fun and celebrations back at their home ground, year after year. But everyone knows that to do that I would have to fire up the old plutonium-powered Delorean.
Well arriving at what I thought was the Western Oval car-park and looking at the sleek new architecture it might as well have been 2054. I would say the year-o-meter in the Delorean must be stuffed.
I haven’t been here since the last AFL match which was against the Eagles when I stood on the terraces in the rain and the sleet and the almost snow. I probably thought then, wouldn’t it be great, say by about the year 2000, if we could play at a stadium with a roof.
A good case of be careful what you wish for. Brian Lake was asked about playing on the MCG and training out at Waverley compared to the Etihad Stadium. He said, “ There’s certainly a lot less recovery time after playing on the MCG, that’s for sure.” I think he just confirmed yet another disadvantage for the Bulldogs in this very uneven competition.
I browsed in the Bulldog Shop which is at least the size of the men’s-clothing department in Myers. I sidled up to the woman behind the counter determined to engage her in Bulldog footy-talk. My opening line was going to be something like, “You know I lived around here when I was a kid.” And then the classic follow-up with, “And I actually went to the Grand Final”. She must have detected the bar-fly from the country approaching and didn’t look up from what she was doing.
I backed off slightly and muttered something about the fantastic photos of the old days on the walls. And then she gazumped me like I’d never been gazumped before. Barely looking up from folding T-shirts she said, “ You see that photo of Charlie Sutton running out on Grand Final Day. Well that young man running next to him with the Bulldog on the lead, that’s my Dad.”
What I did do after I slunk away from more embarrassment, was to walk out on the hallowed turf. Just a couple of young guys having a kick-to-kick at the unrecognizable Barkly Street end and me looking back at all the changes made to the stadium in the last few years. Next year the mighty Footscray Bulldogs will be playing there in the VFL and all they have to do is put a fence around the ground apparently and it’s ready to go. If I lived locally I would definitely go to matches there. The oval surface itself is in perfect condition.
The nostalgia overload wasn’t complete until I drove a few blocks and checked out the childhood home. Thankfully the old house was still standing and looked much the same size, but the street itself seemed like it had become laneway size. I suppose fifty-something years ago there wouldn’t be cars on both sides of the street taking up all the room.
Whenever I go back to the neighbourhood every fifteen years or so, the other thing I check on is the local milk-bar. Fortunately there it was and hardly changed. The place where I’d line up to get the late edition Saturday Herald with all six of the VFL scores up on the right-hand side in red ink.
That was enough over-dosing on nostalgia for one day. Time to set the timer in the Delorean to five hours into the future and land in the car-park at the Doncaster Playhouse. The National Playwright Competition plays were being performed and winners were to be announced.
A bit of moral support from fellow Knacker Peter Fuller and a handful of friends and lo and behold my play took out the first prize. When I was being presented on stage, I was so tempted to do a Paul Roos and sing out, “Here it is!” Except for Peter, I might have been wasting my time with that one.
I can’t really link the playwriting to the footy interests, except that eight years ago I was looking to do something to take my mind off yet another disastrous Bulldog season. I had an idea for a comedy sketch, turned it into a one-act play and sent it off to a competition. Getting a third placing with my first effort was enough to get me hooked.
So tomorrow I can’t wait for someone to say, “ What’d ya get up to on the weekend?” I’ll try and keep a lid on it and say, “ Nothing much. But I did have a trip back to the future.”