2016 Grand Final – A West Side Story

Grand Final week was a surreal experience. Having attended the parade the year before, I had never in my wildest dreams imagined it would be MY favourite players sitting in the chairs on the back of the utes just 12 months later. My captain up on the stage reeling off all the pre-grand final clichés. Coverage of my boys in the paper and on the news EVERY DAY. Positive media coverage! I lost count of how many times I thought ‘so this is what it feels like!’.

I considered trying for a grand final ticket for all of about two minutes. I knew my chances were slim to none, and even if there was some sort of miracle I couldn’t in good conscious take the spot of the fans I knew who had suffered harder and longer than I had. So I decided to head to the second best venue to watch the game: Western (Whitten) Oval. As I stood in the queue that snaked around the perimeter of the ground waiting to get in I started to worry that the crowd would be too much of the new inner west types, interlopers not understanding of the immense history and importance of this day. I took a spot on the grass and started chatting to the couple sitting next to me. They had just moved to the area and ‘heard it was on and thought it would be fun to check out’. These aren’t the people I wanted to share this day with! Thankfully my fear soon subsided: three burly bearded blokes with a few beers under their belt despite it not being quite midday loped past. Then in front of me I spotted a classic inner west hippie lady wearing the ‘scray colours in the form of blue cords, a white tshirt and a red knitted jumper. She had brought along a tambourine to shake in lieu of clapping. A lady to the left of her pulled out her knitting. These were my people, the true people of the West. The West really is best.

The crowd was excited and nervous… and rapt to get their hands on free stuff from the sponsors. I tried to remain calm and take it all in. Most of the match was a blur. Why is the game so long? Why do they even bother with the first two quarters? At the 20 something minute mark of the last quarter I remember having the same thoughts I’d had at the same point in the preliminary final a week earlier: How far ahead do we need to be for this lead to be enough? Is there too little time left? Or too much time? WHAT IS TIME? Then Picken kicked that goal, and we leapt to our feet and stayed there. The broadcast cut to Bevo Our Saviour on the boundary line hugging everyone and all the Danny from Droop Street anxiety evaporated. We won. WE WON!!! It was unbelievable and believable at the same time.

After much jumping and hugging and yelling it was time to move on. I was heading to a friend’s barbeque in West Footscray for some post game celebrations. I had intended to catch an Uber but, as was the experience of a lot of Bulldogs fans that day, my phone’s battery died – worn down by all the nervous texts during the game from fellow fans and then messages of congratulations from well wishers on the final siren (not from fellow fans though, we were too emotional by then to form full sentences let alone type them out). So I decided to walk. And what a walk it was. The scenes on the street outside Whitten Oval were amazing. Every car was honking its horn, some pumping Sons of the West at full volume. People emerged from the surrounding houses to high five passers-by and raise their pinot and craft beer at the honking cars. A skateboarder banged his deck on the footpath, in what I assume is a skater’s version of honking. I spotted an uber driver with a huge grin, no doubt pleased for the passengers who had bent his ears in the last week about how maybe we can do it, I think we can do it, of course we can do it, just gotta hope Buddy doesn’t do it. (Yes I was guilty of this.)

As I headed west down Barkly Street the honking and high fiving went on. I reached the stretch of shops, similar to those found in many inner suburbs of a certain demographic. A bunch of businesses that aren’t all that pretty to look at but represent the wonderful mix of cultures that make the inner west so great. There was the Latin American restaurant that had cooked up a huge paella for their grand final day lunch special. A few doors down was the sari shop where during the week the mannequins in the window had Bulldogs jumpers and scarves added to their already splendid attire. I walked past the Indian restaurant that had set up huge speakers on the footpath cranking Sons of the West at full volume while staff waved flags at the passing cars still honking their horns. Past the shops I was met by an elderly lady standing at the letterbox of her flat, Bulldogs hat firmly on her head, watching the honking cars pass. She wanted to know if there had been a big crowd down at the ground. She was pleased the weather had ‘held off’. We chatted for a bit and then wished each other well. As I continued walking I started crying for the first time that day…at something other than the image of Bob Murphy. How amazing is this sport that I love? What else is there that can bring such a diverse group of people together in such celebration? There’s New Year’s Eve, but that euphoria evaporates as soon as you realise getting a taxi home is going to be a nightmare. This celebration was going to carry on for days, weeks, months. This win was going to give so many strangers something wonderful to bond over. And it was all due to the efforts of my team! The nice team! Not the arrogant, rich team. Not the team plagued by scandals of misogyny or racism. It was the team that is proud of where it’s from, that supports and more importantly invests in local migrant communities, men’s health and women’s footy. In these doom and gloom times of Trump I let myself feel some hope that good can succeed. As much as I would have loved to have seen the boys win the big one in the flesh, experiencing the effect the win had on the people of the west that I love, who live and work within kicking distance of the team’s home, was an incredible experience that I will be forever grateful for. I don’t think this is what it has felt like for other supporters of other premiership teams. This was a truly unique experience, the most amazing dream come true. Thank you Western Bulldogs team of 2016. I will always love you.

About Anne Gilbee

Proud westie and supporter of the sons and daughters of the 'Scray

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