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Finals Week 3 – GWS v Western Bulldogs: The Halted March of the Orange Army

GWSvWBD

 

When I was heading towards the Sydney Showground with the rest of the Giant Orange Army last Saturday, there were a cluster of stories behind us and in front of us.  For me, I remembered the early days of heading down to where my now wife lived, in West Footscray. I could recall with fondness the Whitten Oval, Sims Supermarket and the glorious Sun Theatre in Yarraville.  But here I was, part of a club that could well cause the eighth straight Prelim Final loss for the Footscray Bulldogs.

 

One Way

 

Also in my head was the story and journey of the Giants into the western suburbs of Sydney.  I was someone who grew up preferring Aussie Rules to the rugby league I was being forced to support.  I’d be out and about, talking Parramatta and picking up the lingo in order to appear normal.  But then at home, I was following Carlton, then the relocated Swans.  Aussie Rules, however, was still a distant sport. The SCG was a long way away for a lone teenager.   The move by the AFL to tackle the western suburbs and make the game grow in my part of Sydney was an incredible and surprising gift. This is why I have felt more and more comfortable coming out of the football closet and wearing Giants gear, talking AFL, being proud of being AFL.  And here we were, all marching together with pride.

 

Swimming around in my head as well was all the negativity coming out of the largely Victorian media coverage and social media chatter prior to the game.  We didn’t deserve a team. The AFL should have just done a second Brisbane Bears and give us uncompetitive players.  That the club was just part of a focus group tested advertising plan.   All of these narratives denied us, the fans, the supporters of the Giants, any agency. We were blanks as far as the narrative was being told.  According to such a narrative, we only go to games because of clever focus group tested advertising.  Not because we have an ingrained love of the game.

 

Such talk made me and others upset because the supporters in the Orange Army aren’t robots, paid actors, nobodies.  The reality is that the supporters love the Giants, love the club. They are people like the mother and son team of Paula and Steven Strother, originally from Adelaide and loved the idea of a team in their adopted home. They had been to every game of the Giants thus far.  Every single one. Even those 100+ point floggings. They are also Kath and Seb Dell’Orifice, who too loved AFL – Seb from a Victorian perspective, Kath from a Sydney one. They are the ones people may have seen on TV with the bright orange sparkly outfits. Their home features a stunning shrine to the early days of the Giants’ merchandising efforts. There’s few more passionate people about football than Kath and Seb. Then there’s out the front of the Army, the capo of the Cheer Squad, Michael Shillito, training us as a cheer squad to shout out support, build an atmosphere, even in those days when there were crowds of 6,000 or during away games where the only supporters are the Cheer Squad.  He, like me, was a westie who converted from the Swans.

 

Ultimately, however, those thoughts were flying away as we marched from Giants HQ to the Showground.  The main thought dominating during the parade was the old Rex Hunt line “How Good Is This?” Except this time, the people who were happy were the massed Orange Army, much bigger than it has been before – a culture building from our diverse western suburbs.  To an extent, what happened inside the Sydney Showground, while important, was only a part of what the club had achieved during 2016.

 

The game itself was the most intense game of football I had seen live. From the first minute, it was clear that this was going to be a tough game. The Giants weren’t being allowed to play their usual running game and that all goals would be hard earned.  It was difficult to escape the conclusion that this was the first of many finals between these clubs, a bit like the Swans and West Coast in 2005 – 6, except this time, it wasn’t so much a clash of vastly different game styles, it was a clash of two young, fast, dashing, exciting clubs butting heads like two mountain goats.

 

It will be a game that will pass into the folklore of both clubs. On our side of the fence, people will remember the heroics of Scully, Kelly, Shaw and Shiel.  The calmness under pressure of Patton. The outstanding clunked marks of Lobb (as well as his inexplicable fall). The defensive brilliance of Haynes’ marks.   There will also be talk about the free kick count and the balance of the deliberate out of bounds calls – that’s a rule interpretation that has never provided a happy time in any game in 2016. That talk, though, will be just that, and will go into the folklore of a club that has relished its underdog status for its first five years.  That status is, however, well and truly in the past – something we all have to cope with into the future.

 

Giants’ home supporters also got a big taste of what it is to enter an arena where you are a hated club.  Swans fans have been intense during our bigger derbies, but the Dogs’ fans took that intensity up several levels.  There were columns of red white and blue booing everything the Giants were doing – going onto the ground, leaving at the end of the game. There were bays of supporters crying “Bulldog, Bulldog” when Callan Ward was knocked out cold.  There were intense, guttural roars the like we have never heard when the Dogs scored their goals.  These just spurred our still growing Orange Army further with empassioned cheers that didn’t let up, just like the game.   And then, it happened. The loss.  And with that, came this moment from Kath and Seb Dell-Orifice, Kath’s body heaving with tears. Seb had slumped moments before.

 

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Despite it all, despite the loss, despite the talk of umpiring calls, the Dogs deserved their victory, their first moment since 1961 to win a flag.  Theirs is the irrepressible narrative of 2016, coming from  seventh to get to the Grand Final. I am very happy for all of those Dogs fans who have been there for their club for all this time.  This is the club of Bob Murphy, the club of the working class, now culturally diverse Scray.  This history, however, won’t stop me cheering on the red and the white. My wife – the one who lived in West Footscray, shopped at Sims Supermarket – is a Swans supporter and will be at the game.  I will cheer louder if what I have characterised as #Towersmentum means that the Enigmatic Dean Towers gets the winning Grand Final goal for the Swans. That, however, isn’t entirely likely. What is likely, however, is that the Giants and Dogs will face each other again in a final. And that the next time, the Giants will Never Surrender, Fight Until the End and the banner sledge will be about the supporters, not the AFL.

About Preston Towers

A GWS Foundation Member who grew up as an Aussie Rules fan in deepest darkest Western Sydney. Also blog a bit about politics, music and other stuff.

Comments

  1. Beautiful piece. Words like this will never be heard in the mainstream media where it’s easy to dismiss the Giants with cheap shots. The fans are the heart and soul of all footy clubs.

    The highlight for me was seeing Jon Patton perform with such confidence and be a force to be reckoned with. Just over a year ago he tentatively returned to footy after a horror run with injury, and earlier this season was still building confidence in his body. Inspiring stuff.

    Bring on 2017.

  2. Great perspective Preston.
    The giant voice that roared! GWS came of age this year and are a formidable team, there was a great deal to like in your post, cheers.
    Can I ask why do you think there was so much sniping from GWS players? I know they were jibby against Swans in the early days but Saturday’s game was very noticeable. Is this the Hawthorn blueprint they want to follow, unsociable football? Too much talent to be tarnished by cheap shots!

  3. Bloggs12345 says:

    What an interesting piece all you needed was the violins and hand wringing, GWS army could not sell all 6000 odd tickets they got allocated,had areas of the seating covered in Orange sheeting tied around the seat to look like its occupied its on Twitter.
    From what you say your just a bunch of lost Victorians,there are more GWS supporters in WA than Sydney Plastic team set up by the AFL then foisted onto Blacktown where like the carpet baggers of old they took the money and ran.
    GWS is just a waste,bit like the Suns no crowds not a lot of interest in the area,loved the bit where you were forced to support Paramatta? some one put a gun to your head? nobody is forced to support something they don’t like, get real look at the right winger you have in charge Tony Shepherd. [this sentence has been removed – Ed] There a nice column in Crikey which bells the cat you should read it

  4. My contacts at the game reckoned the “local fans” treated it more like a BBL than a Prelim – probably not bad news for the AFL’s turtle-necks. didn’t feel like a big game until the second half’s dramas unfolded.

  5. The ponytails at the AFL can pump out all the hype they like about GWS being vital for the AFL’s future quest for world domination, and they may well be right, but for their point to have any traction they have to first convince a hell of a lot more people that the quest is something they need to support, or at least give a monkey’s about. Without that, their mantra comes across as an arrogant, entitled whinge.

    GWS will be the AFLs pet, love child, etc, until the punters decide otherwise.

  6. Any side can garner support when they’re winning (well…let’s see with Melbourne Heart), but the real test is how a club endures through the tough times. That’s why Brisbane is unsustainable without collateral damage elsewhere. Also why Richmond, Freo and, yes, the Doggies are fantastic – real supporters don’t go to attach themselves to winners but to be there for the journey. Early days for GWS but their competition seems to be with the Wanderers and Parra.

  7. I love how the commentators above missed the entire point of the article. *slow handclap*

  8. bring back the torp says:

    Excellent prose, Preston -and a suitable, informed antidote to some of the myths and barbs circulated about GWS. The GWS success could never be pre-ordained -look at the Gold Coast! GWS has had to work very hard, had to be very smart, and had to develop a good culture. There is a long history, over the last 30 years, of many Round 1 draft picks not becoming successful AFL players.

    This prelim. will be regarded as a classic for generations to come -tough, hangers, great snaps under pressure, palpable desperation, ebbs and flows, going down to the wire, the WB heroic finals campaign, respect for GWS after years of constant thrashings.
    Record Foxtel AF rating of about 574,000; an additional 1,700,000 on FTA. The 2,300,000 is probably the highest ever for a non GF rating. Good for AF, and the comp.

    What many Victorians don’t understand was that the VFL Admin. and some Victorian clubs were nearly broke in the late 80’s. The $4,000,000 Fee paid by each of the early expansion clubs saved the VFL/AFL Admin., and some Melbourne clubs. Unfortunately, the AFL could have saved Fitzroy in 1996, but did not.
    Gaining the greatly increased TV rights, from 2003, for a NATIONAL comp. has guaranteed the future of the sometimes borderline insolvent Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, and North Melbourne. All 18 clubs’ futures are now secured.
    53% of Australia’s population live in NSW & Qld. Half of our top 100 companies are based in Sydney, all the media companies, and most of the advertising agencies.
    Australian Football would not be the top sport in Australia, with a generally thriving 18 team comp., without the 4 northern expansion clubs.

    GWS was regularly, until 2015, belted. Despite its horror first few years, it now has a membership of 15,300, which is very strong compared to many NRL clubs. Swans have also risen to about 55,000, so GWS rise is growing AF’s popularity, and is not therefore at the Swan’s expense (despite their protestations). Since GWS started, grass roots player registrations in Western Sydney increased about 50%, from a very low base in a population of about 2,100,000.
    There has also been a rise in player registrations in the ACT, after years of decline since 1990 (following intense competition from the creation of the Raiders and Brumbies).
    Also, since GWS formation, players from the Riverina have a clear pathway and are being drafted. None were drafted in 2012, and there were a general decline in Riverina recruits in recent years. The northern clubs are adding to the player pool, and growing AF. This is a must, due to the “go home”facto which is to their constant disadvantage.

    The Gold Coast demographic, cf Western Sydney, is far more receptive to AF. The Suns were getting crowds of up to 21,000 when they were competitive, much better than the Titans in a RL heartland. The Suns membership was also higher than the Titans, and some Sydney NRL clubs.

  9. You’re a lot more diplomatic than me. Well said sir. Great read.

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