Grand Final 2016 – Sydney v Western Bulldogs: Let’s Talk About Love



Let’s talk about love.


If it’s just a game, why do we love it so much? Why do people hang on every selection, every injury, every kick? Why do they dream in the colours of their club?


The colours felt right today. Bulldogs versus Swans. Blues versus Reds. Simple. Tribal.
So many clubs are run the same these days. Structurally, it’s hard to tell them apart. Blokes finish playing at one club, apprentice at another, then coach at a third.


The Balmes and Swans run this team then that. Hawthorn, and people trying to emulate Hawthorn, who were originally trying to emulate Sydney. But at last we had two genuinely different clubs, different cultures, different personalities.


Sydney, the monolith, with their money and modern success and superstars, The Western Bulldogs, forever the underdog. The survivors, the workers’ club. One team propped up by the AFL, the other flaying from a lack of support from it for decades.


Footscray has always been a poorly run place. The stories make you shudder. All those Brownlow players thrown away. Money wasted. Coaches shafted. A powerhouse recruiting zone wasted. But now they’ve got something right. They’ve done up the Western Oval, made it a modern treat. Put a café in so supporters can mix with players and coaches every day of the week. Re-found a stand alone VFL team, their ‘54 jumpers. Fully embraced where and who they are. Simply, they’ve re-found the love.


The passion.


The history.


What it means to be Footscray.


After which success has come.


Up against Sydney.


The old, painted as new, versus the new, painted as old. Sydney, the hardened unit, that crunches when they don’t have it, and measures when they do. That plays to structures better than anyone bar Hawthorn. The Bulldogs, who run in packs and do Captain Hook handballs over their heads and kick all over the shop. Sydney, who are so good with their feet, yet, in trying to emulate the challengers, were often sloppy with their in tight handballs. Western Bulldogs, who were so brilliant with hands and running and delivered like a drunken darts players.


A team with key forwards against a team without.


Buddy had his colours lowered, but that had more to do with the way the Dogs played as Sydney brought the ball out of defence. The Swans were given no room, no run. They had no flow, could not find one player with Roadrunner legs to break the lines. Buddy would get caught in the suck up the ground, chasing the chip kicks on offer. The few times it did come in long, it was never quick, never out front. It was on top of him. Three or four Dogs about.


I think Tippet played. I’ll have to watch the replay to be sure.


Both teams had marking backs, but the Western Bulldogs more so. As a backman, I find it’s a joy to see the double-fisted spoil is all but dead. Third-ups were everywhere. One-on-ones. They held their ground, they leaped, they ran back with the flight, they took marks. Matt Boyd was nothing short of brilliant. The Swans defenders often got numbers to high contests, but went the punch a bit more, spoiled each other. Not a lot, but in a game of millimetres, every attack from defence counted. They played great football, but the football of now, not the future.


Grundy tried hard for Sydney, but for the Doggies, Boyd, Morris, you name them, they went for their grabs and did what the on-ballers did; played on sprayed their kicks, and simply backed up again and again.


The tackling was the best I’ve ever seen, from both sides. Hard, relentless, bone crunching. It was violent. Primal football, again and again and again.


As someone who loves the physical side of the game, it was three hours of non-stop heaven.


I could watch the first twenty minutes of the second quarter, where wave after wave of monstrous crunches prevented a single clean handball or kick.


It was just pressure, speed, desperation, pain, courage.


To me that’s love. Football, sport, at its most impossible, its hardest.


Just when you thought both teams would be dead on their feet, deep in the last it happened again, in the Bulldogs forward line. This time it went for a minute. No time, no prisoners. Tackles, smoother, tackle, spoil, slap, grab, crunch.


Out to Picken. Of all people to finally find two steps of air, the best scrapper of them all, the same bloke who laid half those tackles, who smashed about in the heart of all that body politic, for a goal.




The Norm went to a surprise. Johannisen. An outside player. Good on the kid, what a dream. He was in the clear, crisp on a shitfight of a day. But give me in and under. Give me pack marks, too. One good pack mark, turning chaos into order, gives a team presence. Roughead smashed it in the ruck and plucking contested ones around the ground. He was not far off my Norm.
For a half, Kennedy painted a false picture of the game. Just about the best finals game you could bare witness to. He won the hardest balls, backed his strength to shrug tackles, never handballed in panic, kicked goal. Through force of personality he ploughed, he drove, he dragged his whole club back from the brink to the lead. 22 touches and two goals to half time, on the hardest day of them all.


There was no way he could keep that up. Superhuman just doesn’t last for four whole quarters. To me, the Western Bulldogs always had the inside running on the last. They were better at sharing the load.


The respect he has from friend and foe and fans of all shapes and sizes, that’s love. He is the Sydney Football Club.


There was that turning point. The game was evens, there for taking, Swans marching. The ball was chipped into Papley’s path, running towards goal, Dale Morris dove, body on the line, in a game that was relentless for its body on the line, but this time it changed the flow. You could almost feel it.


The Doggies went forward, soon enough they got a goal.


And momentum. You could almost tell the second it happened. From then on Sydney were hanging on.


There are always big hits and six-pointers, and Liam, son of Billy, taking hangers, just hovering up there, but this was the sort of moment the players talk about. It’s the one, as a fan, I’ll most remember.


Then, when Sydney’s back finally broke with about five minutes to go, and they blew the siren to herald in Dreamtime, to put a nail in the game and begin carving it fresh into legend, up Luke Beveridge stepped to the podium. Gracious to the Swans, humble, taking off his coach’s premiership medal from around his neck, where most people would tattoo it on for life, and called up Bob Murphy. The one they all love. Everybody.


Tears crossed the country. Droughts, premierships and otherwise, were broken.


In a moment of corporate acknowledgements, protocols and clichés, those two men gave us something human.


Poetry for everyone.


Sydney, like the city, is a fairly glamorous unit. Footscray, then the Western Bulldogs have always been everybody’s team. Always. There is just something about them, from Dougie, to players like Peter Foster, to Bob, the grins of Smith and Johnson, the character of Ben Hudson, to the cool cat feel of Tom Libratore.


Watching footy at the highest level often leads to jealousy. Especially when a premiership is won. We wonder what it would be like to be one of them, in the rooms after such a win, back at the club on Mad Monday, walking down the street for years after? An AFL flag winner!


Yet, after the game, old biddies the world over were sobbing into their grinning faces, past champions were crying with joy, people’s pets, stop signs, pot plants were crying. Old trainers across the country were delirious. Lives were affected. Joy was spread. The world seemed like a better place.


Everybody, Doggies supporters or not, was happy.


With the Doggies. When they win, somehow, you’re one of them.


What I think about when I think about love is something for everyone.






  1. “The old painted as new, versus the new, painted as old.” Nailed it. Captures what I have despised about Sydney since the Buddy and TIppet ‘too clever by half’ purchases Very Emerald City.
    And your Tippet line – do you do standup? But its churlish to deride the many for the sins of the few. Grundy, Rampe, Smith, Kennedy, Hannebery, Naismith, Heaney – were as brave as you would see. They didn’t deserve to lose, but its fitting that they did. Leaders need followers as brave winners need gallant losers.
    AE and I watched the game with Yvette and her harem. We had a hoot. Sharing the love – as you say.
    Melbourne and the Almanac community at Grand Final time is Christmas for grown ups. Every 20 years you don’t have to buy your own presents because Santa left something under the tree,

  2. Yvette Wroby says

    Agree with you Peter and Matt. Best Gran Final I have ever witness. Love on the field, love in my house watching and love of the pure story of it. You have written what I would have written. Thank you!

  3. it was a game of contrasts, no questions.

    i loved it.

  4. It was just superb. The establishment got rolled. The world has been momentarily turned on its head (or at least our world has). Those who believe that the spoils of victory should be shared amongst the powerful on a rotating basis will be perplexed. What magnificent upstarts these Doggies are.

    Wonderful piece Matt.

  5. It was indeed a game of contrasts. The victors, a side the league hierarchy over the years has shunned, tried to amalgamate, generally done their best to run down. However it’s remained a side loved by its supporter base. It always retained its organic links to their community.

    In contrast the runners up have been given untold millions of $$ in support, extensive corporate media support, as it was the prototype of the modern corporate footballing entity. You take the history and culture of a struggling Melbourne club, artificially transplant it in a side that has always derided footy, and sell it as something it’s not.

    This was a great grand final, triumph, where a ‘real’ footy team beat a corporate entity. A win for the true believers.


  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Super stuff, Matt. You’ve set the bar high with this insightful reflection. So many narratives that warm the soul of the fan in the Bulldogs’ triumph.

    My favourite, with bias, is Liam Picken. He started it against West Coast in the first final and the screamer and two late goals were the icing on the cake. Doubting Thomas Boyd may have been the last of the believers, but when the moment came he joined the crusade and left a telling mark on the game.

    Loved Bevo’s sense of theatre at the presentation. Just when we thought he had forgotten about Bob Murphy, he paused and offered the most selfless gesture I’ve seen on a Premiership podium.

    What’s not to love?

  7. Fairy tales do come true
    ….The good news the world needed too
    Go the West!

  8. Whoops an erroneous typo in my earlier posting that may change its whole tenor. . I put side instead of city. It should read as ‘artificially transplant it into a city that has always derided footy.

    Phew, that reads better.


  9. Malby Dangles says

    “pot plants were crying.” Absolutely! Great piece, Matty

  10. Beautifully written, Matt.
    That Dale Morris.
    That Liam Picken.
    That story of the Dogs.
    Love it.

  11. I hope there is some recognition of Brendan McCartney’s role in putting together this Premiership list.

  12. Matt Zurbo says

    Me too Dips. Great call.

  13. Matt Zurbo says

    And, yeah, Phil, agreed.

  14. Superb Old dog,loved the Tippett line the smash bash and crash was just amazing surely would be a record for 1 percenters.Amazing game with a worthy winner and you painted the picture perfectly

  15. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    As I caught the train in to the ground yesterday, I struck up a convo with a Dogs fan maybe 10 years older than me, dressed proudly in club colours.

    When I suggested to him that this was the day he’d been waiting for all of his life, his first response was that he wished his parents were still around to see it. I reckon he had a few mates.

    Well played Zurbs.

  16. So many amazing point about this victory. Where does one start ? How about these two.

    When, in any sporting code, has a side gone into four consecutive matches as the underdogs, then triumphed ? Maybe Australia in in the 1999 Cricket World Cup.

    Has John Elliott made any comments on the ‘sad history’ of the premiers/


  17. Matt Zurbo says

    Haha. I thought the same thing about Elliott, Glen.

  18. Peter Clark says

    As you noted Matt, the Bulldogs “were better at sharing the load”. That is what got them home. As for the Norm Smith, Jason Johannisen’s run off half back was irresistible and incisive, but for mine it was Tom Boyd with his towering marks, three timely goals and his huge contribution to the Bulldogs’ backbone that made the biggest difference.

  19. Dave Brown says

    Yep, Tippett was definitely there Matt. Saw him eating a checkside in the changerooms at half time…

  20. If John Elliot has been mute, wah about Ross, um i forgot his surname, the one who tried to merger Fitzroy and Footscray. Has he commented?


  21. matt
    like all the other comments love ya insight, which we can relate to having been in with it too;
    and am really enjoying your book ‘champions all’ which i am part way through;
    lachlan tighe

  22. Beautiful piece, old dog.

    Go Those Doggies. Go, footy. Go, love and passion.

    (And for mine, Bevo standing back and letting Bob lift the cup hit me even harder than when he handed over the medal. Imagine working your whole life for a moment and then taking a step back to let somebody else have it. Amazing.)

  23. Matt Zurbo says

    Nicko! Agreed!

    Cheers heaps Lachlan!

  24. Well captured, Matt.
    It was a fantastic game of football.

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