Bulldogs fans can only dream of ‘tomozz’

The week before the Grand Final is a special form of torture for followers of the Bulldogs. Those born before 1961 have not once experienced the fun, the nerves, the trepidation, the euphoria and silliness of simply being there on the last day of September.

Contemplating this 53-year drought  is enough to make us crotchety. I get testy seeing fans streaming around after the Grand Final Parade – the party to which we’re never invited. Grouchy with blokes walking about in business suits and footy scarves (don’t get me started on those smug little flags out car windows). Churlish when I hear anything about ‘long-suffering’ fans in relation to any of the interstate clubs. Peevish with the inane use of words ‘stakeholders’, ‘brands’ and ‘growing the game’ about our sport. Furious at Tony Abbott’s face on TV (sorry, where was I?)

Past injustices and the never-ending ‘what ifs’ come painfully to the surface. The turning points on the field in those lost preliminary finals; the split seconds which might have meant that we too know what it’s like to triumph on the big day – or even just be there, even once. The ‘names of shame’ who’ve stood in our way: Shane McInerney. Darren Jarman. Billy Brownless. Nick Riewoldt. That  goal umpire who adjudicated the Libber point (we all know who I mean).

The fact that Shane Ellen is a premiership player and Brad Johnson isn’t.

Or the dismal stats showing that recently retired star Daniel Giansiracus and his great mate, Bob Murphy, share another bond. They occupy first and third places on the cruel ‘Ladder of the Unrewarded’: the list of current AFL players who’ve clocked up the most games without having played in a grand final. The other pair of Bulldog brothers, Matthew Boyd and Daniel Cross (I refuse to acknowledge that he’s no longer a Dog), also feature prominently in this most depressing of performance measures. In fact, the top ten table of retired players who never saw a Grand Final is also studded with Bulldog names. Brad Johnson. Doug Hawkins. Chris Grant. Scott West. Rohan Smith.

Solace is hard to find, especially when our season ended with the proverbial whimper (it certainly did not resemble a bang)  – an ignominious, lethargic loss to GWS. When the highlight of the season’s end was sheer relief that none of our players was involved in a spot of Mad Monday dwarf-burning, you know you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.

It’s not surprising, then, that so many Dogs fans swarmed to the VFL Grand Final, desperate to have the novel experience of seeing the words ‘success’, ‘premiership’ and ‘Bulldogs’  combined in a single sentence. The Box Hill Hawks’ fans could saunter nonchalantly to the ground, only perhaps interested in Cyril’s hamstring, enjoying the game as a leisurely warm up to the ‘real’ thing this Saturday. Of course they could afford to be blase: this will be the 17th grand final they’ve played in since they defeated us in their first ever appearance in – yep – 1961.

For us, always with our noses pressed forlornly against the glass of  premiership success, there was so much more emotion and hope riding on our VFL team’s performance. We needed a distraction from the disappointing way our season sputtered to a halt; a diversion from headlines screaming ‘Bulldog disunity’. A reason to believe.

The Footscray team did indeed post a stirring win and with the stadium transformed into a sea of red white and blue, we had the rare, uplifting sight of a premiership cup in our keeping. Yet still I feel melancholy, watching as another season without success rolls by.

For me, the only thing that comes close to blocking out the sadness that seems synonymous with Bulldogs history (I once suggested our motto could be: Purveyors of Disappointment) is to dream up a new raft of possibilities — a magic carpet ride that could still happen, after all. To conjure up a fantasy of better times ahead.

Mine drifts along something like this:

It’s the night before the 2017 Grand Final. We’re too excited and nervous to sleep so friends and family have gathered to while away our first ever Grand Final Eve. We’re equipped with the essentials: doonas, potato chips, party pies, red wine and Milo.

Our rise over the past three years has been stunning, though you could perhaps see the seeds in the 2014 Footscray VFL premiership victory. The raw talent of a scintillating midfield has melded together into a formidable unit, playing a brand of footy that combines the irresistible dash and flair of the Rodney Eade-coached sides with a more robust defensive edge.

Our plan for Grand Final Eve had been to bunker down and watch the channel 7 marathon, but instead we’re watching the footage, again and again, of our come-from-behind victory against last year’s premiers, Richmond, in the preliminary final. Even though we know the outcome, every time we watch the cool nerves of Nathan Hrovat as he lines up to slot the winning goal from a 45 degree angle after the siren, we still leap around the room in our Bulldog pyjamas.

Thank heavens the team had plenty in reserve, having coasted to an easy victory in the qualifying final and earned the two week break.

Though we’ve looked forward to this occasion for so very long, it’s proven more taxing than we had imagined. Firstly, there was the anxiety about getting tickets. Then there was the worry about whether Will Minson’s innocuous tap to the stomach of Jack Riewoldt at a critical point of the preliminary final might be viewed unfavourably by the ever-unpredictable Tribunal – even though a straw poll of impartial friends and family had reached a decisive conclusion that there was absolutely nothing in it. Sure, Tom Campbell’s been in all-Australian form, but Will’s experience and brawn would have been sorely missed. It was a relief when newly appointed Tribunal Chair Dale Morris adjudicated that there was, well, completely nothing in it.

There’s also been the worry that Marcus Bontempelli’s Brownlow win could distract the team, but the gifted Boy Wonder, still just 22, has taken it in that long loping stride of his. He’s been best afield in the two  finals so far;  as a proven big occasion player he’s now short-priced favourite for tomorrow’s Norm Smith medal.

When we’ve finally snatched some sleep (and Mylanta) and Grand Final Day dawns at last, we double check for the 20th time that we have our prized tickets before heading to Footscray for a coffee. There are red, white and blue streamers waving exuberantly everywhere you look in the inner west. The Footscray Town Hall has a massive ‘GO DOGS’ banner. Messages of support and congratulation in Sudanese, Vietnamese, Eritrean and every language under the sun decorate the Barkly Street shop windows.

It’s still early, so we take a walk around the Western Oval to calm the nerves. A solitary figure is practising his skills out on the ground. The wobbly punt style quickly identifies him as Daniel Cross, the recently appointed coach of our Footscray VFL side, who has been credited with the rapid development, work ethic and exemplary character of our young guns, though perhaps not their devastating foot skills.

At  West Footscray station the re-formed Hyde Street band is playing Sons of the West as the train pulls out of the station. It’s jammed with others in Bulldogs’ colours, yet there’s a strange silence on the way in. Everyone is deep in thought, wrapped in their own reveries and anticipation, hushed rather than exuberant.

My thoughts keep coming back, again, and again, to Bob Murphy’s column in The Age that week. It just said one word in 40 point font. BELIEVE.

Unfortunately Bob has missed most of the season – which he’d announced would be his last at the age of 35 – with a chronic knee injury. His best, it seems, has been behind him as the young Dogs that he’d helped mentor through the lean years of 2011-14 made their own history. But Bob managed to play the last game of the season and the two finals as a sub. (It was, in fact, a beautifully weighted kick from Murph that had floated like a feather into the arms of Nathan Hrovat with the siren just about to sound in that epic preliminary final victory.)

For most of the week there has been heated speculation about whether this cameo would be enough, though, for the oldest player on our list to retain his spot. He’s been named in the squad, but the papers that morning reported he was still in doubt and had been put through a gruelling training session behind closed doors. As fans, our emotions are torn: should we play our spiritual leader, the guy who ‘gets’ this club like no other, if he is unfit? Brendan McCartney has been uncompromising in his public statements that sentiment would not guide his decision. It looks like Murph won’t be part of this dream, so very long in the making.

At last we take our seats high in the Ponsford Stand of the MCG. Looking down the row I see my brothers, sister, sons, friends, nephews and nieces, all decked out in every skerrick of red white and blue that could be dragged out of cupboards.

My mother – tragically –  is not, however, with us.

That’s because she doesn’t like to sit with her family. She’s concerned that we will let loose with bad language. (I don’t know WTF she’s talking about).

Mum turned 81 this year and is in the Southern Stand, a respectable distance away from her four offspring. She was at the MCG for the 1954 premiership; it was in fact only her third football match. She was a newly arrived teenager from Ireland, about to fall in love with the game and the club. (She’s been reminiscing about that match all week. In 54,  she tells me, you could actually just queue up on the day to get into a grand final. During the week I’d watched again that grainy, strangely beautiful footage of our only ever premiership win, showing that the crowd are actually spilled onto the ground, sitting, rather perilously, inside the boundary line. I picture courteous players pulling themselves up in gentlemanly fashion instead of running full pelt, lest they spreadeagle the fans, wearing their hats and Sunday best. )

My mother’s loyalty and dedication to her Bulldogs since that far away day are the reason that we’re all sitting here today, sick with nerves and anticipation, fidgeting restlessly in our seats. Is this really the wonderful, euphoric, uplifting occasion that we’ve been waiting for all these years?

I really wish I’d gone easy on the red wine, party pies, Milo combination.

On the big screen, they keep showing the scenes inside the rooms. Brendan McCartney looks calm, unflustered, with that slightly bemused expression on his face. Seeing his quizzical gaze, for some reason I imagine that he’s mulling over a text that he may have received from a player. ‘Coach – tomozz will be totes amazeballs!!!’

Assistant coach Daniel Giansiracusa looks grave and thoughtful as he goes quietly around speaking to the players, especially some of the older brigade. He goes up to pat his best friend Bob Murphy on the shoulder. I guess there will not be any need for words between those two today.

The last strains of the inevitable performance of ‘Holy Grail’ are trailing off. On the big screen, we see the players tightly bunched in the race behind our captain, Ryan Griffen. We’ve all risen from our seats but I can’t even seem to cheer with the size of the lump in my throat. The players run towards the giant banner that the cheer squad has toiled on all week. There’s the unmistakable sight of Jake Stringer, the Coleman medallist, looking fierce, determined, and just a tad menacing. Libba, Wallis, and Hunter chest the banner together, the boys who are doing what their dads could not.

The roar of the pro-Bulldogs crowd comes right over the top of me. I can’t hear, mercifully enough, the pompous tones of Craig Willis, the last verse of a song from the recently retired (again) John Farnham, or the Channel Seven helicopter any more. Just something primal, a wall of sound.

Our team lines up for the anthem. Bob Murphy, wearing his famous Number Two, has his arm locked tightly with Griff’s. Brendan McCartney, it seems, is an old romantic after all.

On the big screen they show Brad Johnson, Scott West and Chris Grant seated together in the crowd. Not even Brad is smiling at this most poignant of moments.

I look around the crowd. Everyone’s got their own questions, about whether just being here is enough, whether this will be a day to always remember or another in the rollcall of bitter failure, whether our young pups can carry the crushing weight of all of our expectations and years of disappointment and live up to their own dreams. What it will feel like to win, or to lose. Why 22 men running around after a funny-shaped ball on a football field can mean so much to us. Why football really is, as someone that I can’t recall once said,  the most important unimportant thing in the world.


Author of 'The Mighty West: the Bulldogs journey from daydream believers to premiership heroes.' Available at all good book stores and probably a few mediocre ones as well. Indoctrinated as a fan of the Bulldogs at an impressionable age. Caught unawares by the 2016 premiership, I have been blogging about being a fan and sometimes about the actual on-field performances of the Western Bulldogs at bulldogtragician.com Twitter @bulldogstragic


  1. Beautiful Kerrie!
    ‘Our noses pressed forlornly against the glass’ sums up my emotions this time of year to a tee.
    Some wonderful images there, the simple ‘very Footscray’ image of the Hyde st Band farewelling the trains as they depart West Footscray (a little like Station Pier farewelling troops)
    The mere thought of the day the Scraggers go to the big dance fills me with emotion, joy at the achievement, but great sorrow for the family and friends no longer with us to share it with.
    Craig Willis at least is a Doggies fan, as is Mark Seymour from the Hunters… reckon they could ditch the national anthem and get Mark to sing ‘Throw your arms around me’!

  2. Neil Anderson says

    Amazeballs! Kerri. Thanks for taking me forward to see my second premiership. The VFL premiership on Sunday was a great launching-pad for us to dare to dream.
    I loved the way you included our favourite players of 2014 in the 2017 day of days. Bob Murphy as a last minute inclusion, Crossy as the VFL side coach ( that’s a given ) and Dale Morris as chairman of the Tribunal. The trouble is with Dale he is such a decent and fair bloke he wouldn’t show any favoritism to the Doggy players.
    Interesting to see that McCartney is still coaching and Will Minson is still running around. They must have kissed and made up.
    The other given of course is the Bon’ts Brownlow. This is where your dream suddenly becomes a reality.
    Thanks again for showing your fellow Tragicians a glimpse of the future.

  3. Kerrie Soraghan says

    Did I mention it was Bonti’s second Brownlow Neil?

    I may have stretched credibility by including an ageing Murph in the team. But it is too heartbreaking to imagine that he won’t ever get to experience this dream, even though the odds are stacked against it. But what’s the point of a fantasy if you can’t extend the bounds of probability?

    Cowshedend: you will notice my dream ends with us just sitting in the MCG and watching our team run out. This in itself seems so impossibly wonderful that even my imagination can’t extend one moment further.

    I don’t think fans of any other teams could know how hard it is to have never ever been there in our lifetimes. There’s such a complacency about the idea that every few years it’s your ‘turn’.

    Seeing our fans celebrate the Footscray premiership so exuberantly made me happy/sad. Is it wrong to wonder if any other club would be releasing premiership merchandise for their VFL team? How starved of success we have been, how little does it take for our fans to be thrilled in a way that the Essendons and Carltons of this world can never contemplate.

  4. Does Hyde Street still have a band? They were a feature of every Western Oval game in the 1970’s and 1980’s.


  5. Neil Anderson says

    They were definitely there in the 1960’s as well Glen, along with the guys carrying the tarp around the boundary catching and dodging the coins.
    There was a lot of young kids involved in the band so they would still be available for every function of our 2017 Grand Final week.

  6. After going to every grand final from 1991 to 1996, I could not bring myself to attend the 1997 grand final. I had tickets for 1997, but after the heart breaking loss in the preliminary final I couldn’t bring myself to attend and instead sold them to a St Kilda supporter.

    I swore after that day that I would never attend another grand final unless the dogs were playing.# I knew that may mean that I never see a grand final again, but I couldn’t continue to watch other supporters enjoy such a special day, stand for the national anthem with tears running down my face and think will it ever happen for us.

    I dream of the day that my 14 family members that attend the football together every week, will get to watch a Brownlow Meda count, not with the thought of hoping a bulldog player can win so that we can take something out of the season, but with the thought that the big day is only 5 sleeps away. Tuesday will be spent learning who the umpires are that will have the job of rerighting all the wrongs, Wednesday will be the biggest and longest hump day ever. Thursday won’t go quickly enough thinking of how many people are going to attend the last training session, buying a sausage from the cheer squad and catching up with long lost supporters.

    After working in the city for 20 years and watching EVERY other clubs supporters get the chance to spend the last day before the big game soaking up the special feeling in Melbourne and the Grand Final parade, I want that to be me.

    Yes, I want to be part of grand final day, but I really want to be part of grand final week.

    # I have broken that promise once and attended the 2002 grand final. One of my best friends was umpiring his first grand final and I decided to go and watch him live. Seeing the pies lose made it a special day.

  7. The Hyde Street band wouldn’t need to reform. It’s still going strong, and is in the beat shape it’s been for about 6 years. Rehearses Wednesday nights at the Footscary Yarraville band room next to the council offices at about 7, and never say no to a kid wanting to play, especially those who barrack for the dogs. They’ll be there for the 2017 premiership run. Don’t worry about that.

  8. This was just beautiful. I am still crying. I hope this is not just a dream.

  9. See? it’s not just a fantasy. Thanks so much for letting us know, Ben, that the High Street band are ready and waiting to send us off from West Footscray station. I guess we won’t need our myki cards on our magic carpet rides, though.

    Michael, your account of the week sounds exactly like what I have in mind (I’m not sure we will think the umpires will right all the wrongs, I’m imagining more a collective groan in anticipation of getting a raw deal..again!) And I’m sort of glad I’m not the only one who finds it all just a bit empty, to have to watch enviously and try and be chipper. It seems like a mirage, something that us western suburbs’ pessimists feel is ‘not for the likes of us.’

    Good ole Footscray, everyone’s second team. It wears thin.

    Jacqui – I think my tears will begin from the moment we win a PF. Surely that will happen, one day.

  10. Terri-Lee Ashcroft says

    Absolutely amazing Kerrie. You completely nailed how me and I am guessing a lot of people feel. Dare to dream. I love your passion.. Deb and I were at the VFL grand final and loved it, but also were saying wouldn’t it be just great if this was the seniors team. Not taking anything away from the younger guys as they thoroughly deserved to be where they were.
    At the 2017 grand final Looking along to you guys I could see Deb and myself sitting on the two end seats with a thumbs up , ever the optimist saying we can do this . I hope all of our dreams come true..

  11. Terri-Lee

    how great to hear from you. I promise we will meet up somehow on That Day.

    You gals might need something a bit stronger in your thermos flasks though! See you next year…

  12. Dympna Soraghan I says

    Oh Kerrie, if only it all comes true! Brought back some good memories. So happy we are all still Bulldogs through and through !!

  13. Tigers in 2016 and Dogs in 2017.

    Kerrie – I’m happy with this scenario, even with Hrovat’s last gasp winner, and much obliged that you’re letting Richmond go first. Patience is indeed a virtue – as we well know!

  14. It’s good to have my mum’s endorsement (I knew there was a reason I didn’t kill her off in the story).

    Stainless, while I wouldn’t have said this several years ago, I think Tigers fans have suffered more than enough and so I’m graciously letting you guys sneak a flag in first, before our dynasty builds.

  15. I got all choked up reading this, took a break to make a cuppa and compose myself, came back to finish it… and have ended up in sobs. I’m not exaggerating – actual sobs.

    And get this – I’m a bloody Richmond supporter!

    Well done, you. Glorious evocative writing. Kudos.

  16. Shane Ellen was a Bulldog but was traded to Adelaide, where, in the 1997 Grand Final, he was brilliantly coached and kicked five goals. Plenty have done considerably less and have a premiership medallion.

    Good luck with the 2017 vision. We all run on hope.

  17. Welton, that is high praise indeed. Thank you very much.

    Mickey – I know Shane Ellen’s pedigree and don’t for one moment begrudge him his medallion. I just find it cruel that so many of our players who’ve been so valiant have never got to experience premiership joy.

  18. Neil Anderson says

    Mickey and Kerri, I always feel for those champion loyal Clubmen that never get to experience either playing in a Grand Final or in a winning Grand Final rather than picking out the lucky ones who experience it by chance at another Club. I talked about it in the write-up in Round 20 this year called ‘Graduating With Honours.’
    Also Kerri, my recurring dream is an extension of yours and involves the presentations of medals to the Bulldog boys on that bloody dais where I’ve seen so many other Clubs over the years! I wrote about it in September 2 last year and called it ‘I Have A Dream’ .

  19. Neil and Kerri- I tried to track down the percentage of AFL footballers who win a flag, but without luck. It must be less than 2 or 3%, I imagine. Would love to know. I guess if it was readily attainable, it wouldn’t be so treasured.

    There can’t be many luckier than Aaron Keating whose six game career included a premiership.

  20. Sorry, Kerrie.

Leave a Comment