60 Years Is A Long Time In Football

After reading Phil Dimitriadis’s memories of Victoria Park starting in 1979, I wondered what young Knackers would make of it all.

If they were a bit taken aback about the drinking, the smoking and young Phil learning a whole new language, what would they think about going to the footy about 25 years earlier than that?

This is not so much a look at the Western Oval in the 1950’s and more about a suburban kid from Footscray and how he became attached to a football club.

Hopefully it will answer why someone would follow a club through so many lean years. This year it is the 60th anniversary of those mainly lean years.

The starting point for me of course was the 1954 Grand Final. I was taken to the Grand Final virtually as a last minute decision by my father who gave up his afternoon working in the shed. He would have known Melbourne was hot favourite to win and so he would have preferred to finish that welding job. But he gave in to his eager young son.

Commentator David King was talking today about players having their playing positions on the field determined by the age of 23. He said they have their DNA stamped by that age.

My DNA was stamped as a Bulldog supporter after that glorious day in September 1954.

I lived about two miles from the Western Oval and I went to a local school where every one of the thousand kids barracked for Footscray. Well, maybe the migrant kids didn’t initially, but they soon become assimilated into the Red ,White and Blue.

My memory may be playing tricks as I get older, but I was sure that every kid in the school used to wear a Bulldog jumper…usually with Ted Whitten’s number three on the back. But on checking the photo below there were only two wearing them on that particular day.

Maybe notes went home to parents indicating that students should not wear footy jumpers on photo day. Note the class had 54 students which was typical baby-boomer numbers in 1956. That’s me fifth from the left in the front row and my best mate Stuart on the far right in the back row.

He was going to be Batman when we grew up and I was going to be Robin because he was the taller of the two. The last time I saw him briefly in the mid-sixties I ended up taller so I realized we would have to reverse roles.

This was only year-two of the premiership drought that was to follow. These young innocents had no idea of the ‘long wait’ ahead of them.

Neil Anderson School

The year after this photo was taken I shifted to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It was like going to another planet. All the kids were wearing Melbourne jumpers because it was during Melbourne’s heyday. Brick veneers instead of weatherboards and I was miles away from friends and the Western Oval.

Being the last of the true believers in my family I made the journey out to see the Dogs play in Footscray by taking a bus and two trains. Glenferrie Oval was the nearest ground to visit when Hawthorn played the Dogs.

In my late teens and early twenties I would drive across town to stand on the terraces at the Western Oval with a few mates as well as my reluctant younger brother who would watch his big brother and his friends in action but couldn’t care less about the football. He was only three when we lived in Footscray so he never did have his Bulldog DNA stamped.

This would have been before young Phil was learning a whole lot of new words out at Victoria Park but I don’t remember a lot of ‘the filth and the fury’. It was more good-natured banter and smart remarks yelled out from the crowd rather than the swearing and the racist stuff. The crowd was quite often the best entertainment.

Plenty of drinking of course. The best cans to stand on were the big sturdy ones which would have contained about two litres of beer. Naturally they had to be consumed before they could be transformed into mini-stools to stand on. So there was many a last quarter when the details of the match became a bit fuzzy, but it was amazing how a few ‘tubes’ would provide the insulation required against the wind, the rain and the sleet. Happy days.

As young supporters we were teased with a Bulldog Grand Final appearance in1961 before they went into the wilderness until the mid-1980’s when they played in a Preliminary Final. More wilderness until 1992 when Terry Wheeler with a little help from Scott Wynd and Tony Liberatore revived the Club and made us believe the Bulldogs could match it with anyone.

The Club seemed to be on an upward trajectory after the failed merger in 1989 and I took out a membership for the first time even though I was living in South-Western Victoria. I hadn’t been to the Western Oval for a long time and as I have written previously, walking through those turnstiles again, it felt like I’d come home.

Occasionally during the ‘long wait’ for the premiership some things occur to ease the pain. For me it was discovering the Almanac two years ago which connected me to other Bulldog supporters who were feeling the strain but still wrote about their loyalty to the Club. The other website dedicated to the Dogs plight to achieve another premiership is the Bulldog Tragician edited by Almanacker Kerrie Soraghan. Both of these sites have made me feel less isolated as a supporter living in the country and especially having family members who don’t follow the Dogs as seriously as they should.

Kerrie also encouraged me to join Facebook as another form of keeping in touch with Bulldog matters. The first person I tried to find listed on this new-fangled system was old school-mate Stuart who I mentioned before in the 1956 class-photo. But with his fairly common surname, I was unsuccessful finding him with my first attempt.

Two weeks later and 250 ks away in Melbourne, as I found out later, another friend of Stuart’s asked him has he ever been in touch with any of his old school-mates. Stuart said not for quite a while, but that night he went home to his own well-established Facebook-page and typed in my name to find me.

He saw the name of the High-School he thought I most probably went to and then after seeing the Bulldog logo in the sports section, he knew he had found his man.

Several emails later and after catching up on the last fifty years of our life, our first get-together will be on Saturday in Geelong. The Footscray Bulldogs are playing North Ballarat at Kardinia Park for some reason so it seemed to be the most obvious place to meet.

We are both Bulldog members and Stuart now has links to the Almanac and the Bulldog Tragician so there will be no shortage of conversation. Just two old survivors from the class of 56 who decided to contact each other at about the same time, fifty years after they last saw each other.

Like I said, occasionally something occurs to make the long wait more bearable.

About Neil Anderson

Enjoys reading and writing about the Western Bulldogs. Instead of wondering if the second premiership will ever happen, he can now bask in the glory of the 2016 win.

Comments

  1. Sweet read Neil, hope you and Stuart have a great day.

    Don’t give up the Batman and Robin ambitions though, there’s still time!!

  2. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi Neil, lovely tale. I’ll be at the Bulldogs early with my sister to watch the girls play before the main game. Lookng forward to seeing some good footy all day. Glad you have reconnected with your mate.

    Yvette

  3. Neil Anderson says

    Thank you Sean and Yvette.
    While I’m on a roll, I might keep going to Melbourne and see the Bulldogs play on Sunday.
    More spookiness and coincidence to see Footscray (Western Bulldogs) play Melbourne…the team we beat in 1954. I suppose I’ll just have to get there early to see the girls play as well.

  4. Neil- this is a wonderful memoir. It is a celebration of your commitment to the Bulldogs, the power of the Almanac, and the joy of finding lost friends. Thanks.

  5. Peter Fuller says

    Neil,
    Thank you for this lovely reminiscence. Like Yvette, I’m thrilled for you that you have managed to restore contact with your primary school mate, and I’m sure that you’ll have a grand day together on Saturday.
    I’m inclined to correct your recollection in one minor respect. I’m confident that the Bulldogs would have been warm favourites on 25th September, 1954. Melbourne had come from fourth on the ladder, winning two competitive games on the way to the Grand Final. Yes, they eliminated Geelong, who had won two flags and been runners-up in the preceding three seasons, as well as being minor premiers. Melbourne’s margin in the Preliminary Final was 17 points, but the Bulldogs had beaten the Cats by 23 in the 2nd semi, and enjoyed the advantage of a week off.
    I suspect that your impression of Melbourne as a daunting rival owes more to what happened subsequently, when they won five of the next 6 Flags. When they met the Bulldogs in ’54, they were beginning their rise to dominance (they were wooden spooners, three years previously).
    So I’d infer that your Dad’s taking you to the match was probably influenced by the prospect of a great moment in Footscray’s football history, which he wanted to experience himself, as well as offering you an unforgettable memory.

  6. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks Mickey and Peter.
    Mickey, I’ll never stop being grateful for discovering the Almanac.
    Peter I bow to your knowledge of details of the lead-up to the 1954 Grand Final regarding who was favorite etc. I was only a kid so what did I know. I did think after reading the bios of EJ and others that Melbourne was favourite to win, but I may be wrong.
    What I am sure about was my father’s attitude towards that match. I have written before that he was a pessimist and he would be thinking Footscray had no hope, but he was a good family man and so he took me to the match. I suspect my mother might have given him a push and would be glad to get him out of the shed for a while.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Superb Neil, fantastic story, enjoyed every word.

    I wanted to be be Batman too when I was growing. Still hold out hope (of both donning the cape & cowl, and of growing up!).

  8. E.regnans says

    Well played Neil and also to Stuart.

  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Neil,
    You’ve made my day. I hope you get to see the long-awaited flag. But, it’s not only about winning is it? It’s about belonging and caring about where and why you belonged and why it meant something.
    I always felt that there was some kind of empathy between Footscray and Collingwood fans. Is it a class thing? I don’t know, but apart from being given the bird in 1984 when Gubby Allen kicked across goal and Simon Beasley nailed the winner to set the Western Oval into raptures, I’ve never felt antipathy towards the Bulldogs.
    Thank you for a wonderful story mate. Cheers.

  10. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic Neil so rapt you found , Stuart have a great day , Saturday ! I concur re finding the almanac ! To quote the great man , Fred Chocka Bloch Ad Uni FC legend
    If winning is all there is we don’t want to have any part of it . I totally agree .
    Good luck , Neil

  11. Well done Neil. I’m curious which primary school the photo is from. I went to North Footscray, so it looks a tad like that, but to my recollection West Footscray did not look too disimilar. Re catching up with old school mates, i have not seen any body from my primary school for quite a while, but a mate from my secondary years at Maribyrnong High School, Mic Rees, is a long time almanac contributor. The six degrees of seperation.

    Glen!

  12. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks Luke, but there is really only room for one Batman..I’m sorry.
    My role-model Batman, way before your time, was the black and white character from the Saturday movies…yes before TV. A bit Darth Vaderish complete with fake scenery in the back-ground. He definitely wasn’t like that woosy camp Batman on TV.
    Thanks E Regans, Phil and Malcom. Stuart’s Facebook page has gone off with comments and we are both looking forward to the footy on Saturday.
    Yes Glen, it definitely was Footscray Nth Primary School. If you click on the photo it should blow it up to see better. Stuart went to Maribyrnong High School and if I had too, I would have gone to school with Michael Leunig.

  13. Bob Speechley says

    Neil

    Thanks for the memory. I too was there in 1954 and the memory lingers on. A remarkable school photo which looks hauntingly like mine from the same period ( I am away from home at present otherwise I would post it). I was at Williamstown South State and later at the High School where there was a strong representation of Footscray supporters & some players – Merv Hobbs, Cyril Beamish & Gus Baxter
    I will be writing a piece on allegiance later this season.Meanwhile GO DOGS!

  14. Ta Neil, i spent 6 years at Footscray North Primary School, followed by 6 years at Maribyrnong High School. One of our neighbours in Maidstone, Wayne Foreman, former Footscray and Essendon player, was at Maribyrnong High School circa a decade or so prior to me.

    Glen!

  15. matt watson says

    Neil,
    What a wonderful story.
    I am always interested in how people came to support their club. For you, it was a family link.
    I could’ve been a Footscray supporter. My father supported Footscray. He speaks fondly of the Western Oval, the rain, wind and fog, of drinking with mates.
    Unfortunately for my father, I played junior football for Oak Park, and the club colours were North Melbourne.
    So I bucked the traditional trend and picked North. The first game of footy my father took me to was North v Footscray at Arden Street in 1978.
    North lost.
    My father’s emotions must’ve been torn that day, happy that Footscray won, sad for his son.
    Not long after, my father switched from Footscray to North. He said he could either support his team or support his son.
    He chose his son…
    Thanks for the read. I hope your passion keeps infecting many more generations.
    Cheers

  16. Thanks for a brilliant read, Neil.

    And I hope you and Stuart don’t argue over who should be Batman!

  17. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Bewdy Neil

  18. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks to all above. The growing up in the suburbs with the twelve teams only to follow seemed to strike a chord with a lot of Almanackers. I almost pushed Browny off the front page for a while.
    Could be a bit awkward if Stuart and I both turn up in our Batman suits. I might have to send him back to the bat-cave to change.

  19. Luke Reynolds says

    No worries Neil, I can be Nightwing instead if you already have Robin.

    Is your Batman the one from the 1943 and 1949 Movie serials? I have them both on DVD. Very, very dated but very entertaining, as long as you excuse the racism in the 1943 serial (the villian was Japanese and it was WW2).

  20. Neil Anderson says

    Now you’re making me feel really old, but yes the serials would have been from that era.
    Talk about deferred gratification. We had to wait until the following Saturday afternoon at the flicks to see who survived when that car went over a cliff or if one of our super-heroes managed to untie himself on the conveyor belt heading for the buzz-saw.
    All jokes aside, that limited drip-feed entertainment and our back-yard re-enactments created the imagination to write stuff. In my case it took a while but that’s where it all started.
    My favorite Batman was the one portrayed by Damian Callinan in the Skithouse series. A down on his luck Aussie Batman sometimes out of work, sometimes breaking up with Robin who had found a new love in Captain Terrific. I was lucky enough to meet Damian at the Almanac launch in 2012.

  21. Luke Reynolds says

    Damian Callinan’s Batman was very funny. Christian Bale is my Batman, though my introduction to the character was through repeats of the Adam West TV show in the late 80’s. Nervously awaiting Ben Affleck’s turn in the role in 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”. Not a B.Affleck fan. Hope he proves me wrong.

  22. Great read, Neil. My dad was a Bullies supporter having been born and spent his early childhood Footscray. He was never a fanatic of VFL follower, but still cared how they went. I remember his absolute joy in ’54 when the team wont its one and only. I followed Prahran in the VFA and didn’t have a VFL/AFL club until the Crows came along in ’91. While I’m a member and go to all home games and some interstate, I still have a soft spot for the old Footscray and when they ain’t playing us I wish them well.

  23. I’m a bit late to this piece Neil but great read and once again really enjoying the conversation in the comments thread. Definitely something special about the Almanac.

  24. Neil, a great read. I lived near the Western Oval too ( in the other direction). You’re the same age as me going by the grade you where in in ‘ 56. I know a few of the kids in your grade pic from my two years at Maribrynong High. Ray griffen in the top right hand corner and a couple of others.
    Of course I was a dogs man wore 11 on my jumper (Arthur Edwards) I lived in Pickett Street.

  25. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks Ian. Not sure how you picked up on a story from two years ago but it was interesting to read how the Almanackers were hoping like me that the Dogs would make it to the big dance one day. 2014 was a rotten year for the Dogs, so who would have thought we would be in a Grand Final on Saturday.
    My school-mate Stuart from Footscray North PS went to Maribrynong HS from 1959 so would know some of the students you know. Stuart is on the far right in the top row. He posted a shot of his GF tickets on Facebook.
    Thanks again for your comments.

  26. Good luck saturday Neil. I can’t help, but yet again, draw the link between my mother and your clubs fortunes. THe year she moves from Corowa to the West of Melbourne they win their first,and so far only, flag. Will they win again the year she died. Some sort of symmetry there.

    All the best Neil,

    Glen!

  27. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks Glen
    There does seem to be lots of symmetry with the Dogs in the GF. Whether it is my reunion two years ago with school-mate Stuart whom you met at the Almanac launch, or even more recently being in contact with another Footscray neighbour who was best friends with my sister. That wonderful 1954 Footscray era is now back in focus.
    I keep saying and thinking that just seeing the Dogs in the GF is enough and anything else is a bonus. Then I remember the Bont saying, ‘Why not us’? So why not us.

Leave a Comment

*