It’s a New Dawn
IT’S A NEW DAWN
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
And I’m feeling good
‘Feeling Good’, Nina Simone 1965
The historic Bulldog’s premiership was good for football according to sport’s journalists. Even if they couldn’t predict it was going to happen. The Doggies Almanac in particular showed just how momentous it was for Bulldog supporters from primary school kids to those aged in their nineties.
Four months after that glorious day, I will try and put into words how the football world has changed for someone like me who witnessed the first premiership and then waited and waited for the next one. All the while trying to convince myself that patience was a virtue.
The biggest change for the Footscray Football Club since last October has been the publicity generated in all forms of the media. Just when you would expect the interest about the unlikely Bulldog’s win would start to die down, the AFL women’s competition begins. The Bulldog’s women’s team is regarded as one of the trailblazers of the competition and is predicted to play off in the grand final. There will be lot’s more publicity to come even before the men’s pre-season competition starts. It will be followed by the unfurling of the Doggie’s 2016 AFL flag in Round 2 when reporters and photographers will be sent into overdrive once again.
It was never like this before and it is the reason I’m writing this article. Trying to articulate how the footy world has been turned upside down not only for Bulldog fans but for anyone who follows AFL.
The Melbourne Football Club had all the media-attention during the 1950s. Limited as it was with radio broadcasts, morning and evening newspapers then last quarter replays on TV after 1956. The Bulldogs stopped the Demon’s juggernaut briefly in 1954 and their main rival Collingwood did the same in 1953 and 1958. When the Bulldogs didn’t look like winning a premiership until 1961 and beyond, they were out of sight and out of mind as far as the football public was concerned. It was Barassi, Weideman and their teammates who appeared on Pelaco-Inquest rather than the Footscray players. We had Mister Football Ted Whitten of course, even if he did embarrass us by advertising how ‘roomy’ his Jonco shorts were on one of the kids’ afternoon TV shows. Too much information from Ted as he demonstrated his high kicking action to show of all that ‘roominess’ in his Joncos.
The early 1960s seemed to be dominated by Geelong and Carlton contests. Polly Farmer and John Nichols took up all the newspaper space with photos of them locked in battle. Pages and pages of print were written when Polly did his knee only to be surpassed when Peter Hudson did his knee a decade later. St Kilda bobbed up in 1966 with their first premiership and like the Bulldogs after 1954, they disappeared for a long time except in the minds and hearts of their diehard fans. The Bulldogs weren’t mentioned in the papers until the seventies when they began to unload star players such as Brownlow medalist Bernie Quinlan. Richmond and Carlton ended the decade and during the early seventies by taking turns to win premierships.
Hawthorn started to build their first dynasty from 1971 and along with North Melbourne which won their first premiership in 1975, they dominated the publicity. Who can forget the exploits of Matthews, Scott, Tuck, Knights and co as well as Snake Baker and Doug Wade kicking goals when Doug and champion players from other clubs made the most of the ten-year rule. A new rule introduced out of the blue and then dispensed with just as quickly. With the Bulldogs well and truly out of the picture, I used to collect the newspaper cuttings of the grand-final competing teams for a scrapbook, never believing I would do the same thing for the Bulldogs forty years later. By the end of the seventies, Carlton and Collingwood seemed to always be there on grand final day continuing the rivalry from 1970. In 1979 when Wayne Harmes hit the ball back into play from five rows back in the crowd, his action not only got Carlton over the line, but ensured clubs like Footscray wouldn’t be mentioned again until the mid-eighties.
Richmond began the eighties in a blaze of glory with a then record winning score in the grand final. They appeared once more in 1982 in a grand final before disappearing off the radar, only to be in the headlines later when they changed coaches yet again. In the meantime Hawthorn and Essendon took it in turns to win premierships. The Bulldogs had the chance to stop Hawthorn’s run in 1985 but it became the start of preliminary final defeats that would plague them into the nineties and 2000s. Hawthorn ended the eighties as the dominate club including back to back premierships.
Like Richmond in 1980, Collingwood won the first premiership of the nineties but had to wait another twenty years to win the next one. But compared to the Bulldogs, there was never a lack of publicity for the Magpies. Whether they were winning, almost winning, should have been winning or lucky to win, it would be reported on the front and back of the daily papers. The Coodabeen’s character Sam the Sub manages to include a Collingwood story into his paper no matter how obscure, knowing it will sell more papers. North Melbourne won two more premierships and the Baby Bombers won in 1993. Terry Wheeler had the Bulldogs jumping out of planes creating a bit of publicity with his unorthodox training methods and even getting into a preliminary final in 1992. With the team looking strong and including Brownlow medalists Scott Wynd and Tony Liberatore, I was encouraged to buy a membership for the first time.
Essendon won the first premiership of the 2000s but the Bulldogs at least received some publicity by being the only team to beat the Bombers in the home and away season. Brisbane took over the headlines when they won three in a row while the Bulldogs could only win a wooden spoon in 2003. For us long-suffering fans, this was the time we found it hardest to see much of a future for the club, let alone even dream about a premiership. In 2004, the Bulldogs tried to ‘celebrate’ fifty years since their one and only premiership at a Footscray/Melbourne match at the MCG. I was at that match as players from ’54 formed a guard of honour as the team ran out. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm marking fifty years since winning a grand final. Geelong winning their first premiership since 1963 in 2007 and then two more quite rightly got all the publicity. The Swans in 2005 were also worthy winners after such a long drought.
The Bulldogs always seemed to be in the background as other teams dominated the competition. We remained loyal as fans of course but always envious of the teams that made grand finals. Year after year we saw other teams in grand-final parades and being called up to receive their premiership medals on the big day. On October 1st 2016 everything changed after two hours of football. All that envy and angst of just missing out and raging against an unfair competition suddenly disappeared.
We suddenly got all the recognition and publicity we had craved for so many years. Four months later the Bulldogs are still being talked about. Representatives from the women’s team and premiership heroes are popping up on football panels and commentary teams to give their expert opinions. The football-world has changed. It’s a new dawn. And I’m feeling good.