Hope and Glory

“The miserable have no other medicine.  But only hope.”
William Shakespeare (not the glam rocker)

Whoop it up Geelong and Manly fans.  And jubilant Sky Blues for that matter.  You may never see your team win the big one again!

Ridiculous notion?

Perhaps, but let me remind you lucky sods of the numerous dearly departed Demons who should’ve downed a few more whiskey and sours after their last grand old flag.  Six cups in 10 years, then virtually half a century later and bupkis.   At the rate they’re going the Dees will be waiting another fifty.

Likewise Dragons and Rabbitohs’ faithful – more flags than a Republican rally, however their Gen X-Y-Zees would doubtless trade a bunch of them to see one in living colour.  As for Chicago Cubs fans, the afterglow of that last triumph 104 years ago must provide as much warmth as a candle on the moon.

The saying ‘all good things come to those who wait’ must be hard to cop for certain AFL loyalists locked in a race between the grave and the gratifying payoff they deserve.   And now with an 18 team competition, 50% less likely than it was just a generation ago.

Typically the ‘Aints garner the most pity; 26 wooden spoons over 114 fruitless years (139 if you count pre-VFL/AFL), St Kilda’s first and last flag arrived with decimal currency.  Arguably just as tragic, the Western Bulldogs have made the big dance just twice in 87 seasons, their drought stretching back to the Cinesound Movietone newsreels which reported their finest hour.

Even worse, the last time Norths had cause to unlock their NRL trophy cabinet the Sydney Harbour Bridge was nothing more than an engineer’s rendering.  The Bears are out of hope now, having been booted from the national league in 1999.  Of the current constituents, poor Cronulla’s plight is a parody of The 40 Year Old Virgin.  In third place having just pipped the Storm, perhaps a Hollywood ending this season isn’t out of the question?  The unbridled relief won’t be too dissimilar (cue footage of popping champagne bottles).

Bears and Cubs; North Sydney c1921 had one more flag in them (in 1922), but not so Chicago’s 1908 champs

A good proportion of English Premier League fans do it really hard.  The title odds for more than half the competing teams this season were worse than the conclusive proof of the Loch Ness Monster or the Archbishop of Canterbury confirming the Second Coming of Christ.  Only half a dozen were rated a better chance than the irrefutable discovery of aliens!

What is it about the human condition that elicits such faith and devotion in teams that suffer perennial pigskin allergies come spring?  Or simply don’t have the wherewithal to ever seriously compete with the big boys.  Tribalism and brainwashing aside, that the likes of St Kilda and Richmond still command such passionate and widespread support is a question for Colonel Ripley.  Elsewhere Newcastle United has also garnered an enviable following given they last won the top division in 1927, and few minor trinkets besides.

England’s Magpies were also champs in 1927; “8 bloody one!” Barnestoneworth United’s familiar pain.

Australia’s own Magpie ‘Toon Army’ wrote the book on hope, with and without glory.  Collingwood have teased and tormented their ‘loon army’ for half a century.  Just twice in their past 13 attempts have they defied cruel misfortune and excruciating meltdowns in the big one.  But unlike the aforementioned, at least opportunities at the ultimate success have regularly presented.

Given the constant turnover of players and coaches, it’s difficult to fathom how clubs might be so burdened by the sins of the past.  Psychologically, is it possible that the weight of history, expectation and silly notions of curses and bad karma could possibly impact upon professional athletes focused on the job at hand?  Personally I don’t buy the ghost of Norm Smith wearing any blame for Melbourne’s ongoing woes, and I believe in coincidences not Colliwobbles.

Say it is so!  Were the White Sox cursed between 1917-2005?;  Offloading Babe Ruth in 1919 was another spectacular blunder, the Red Sox’ drought stretching between 1918 – 2007

As the ‘Pies could attest, a number of planets must align to snag a flag and luck cannot be discounted.  A favourable draw, injuries, umpiring, suspensions… the list goes on.  Timing is another.  During St George’s astonishing stretch between 1956 and 1966, only poor old Wests ever seriously challenged, yet hit the same immovable object every time.  Last year the Woods achieved a sensational 22 win season; problem was, so did the Cats.  The best opportunity for a peaking side to stock the shelf occurred between the Brisbane and Geelong hegemonies.

Consistent failure may be a self perpetuating manifestation though.  When the natives have been restless for decades, the doomsday clock always reads two minutes to midnight.  Those striving within and agitators lingering on the periphery all have their theories on how to reach the pinnacle.  So desperate for success, the prospect of sticking to long term plans requires patience that was exhausted long ago – the next upheaval just a few phone calls away.

‘Never again like this’.  Like Man City, the Cats also endured a 44 year wait, but there was no divine intervention for the Saints at the 44 year mark

NRL and AFL administrators know too well what awaits the vast majority each year, and for some, most of their lives.  They try and ween us onto a broader football ‘experience’ to cushion the disappointment on the scoreboard.  Generous yet ultimately predictable final eight series act as a crash mat for mediocrity, although in most instances do little more than inspire false hope and emptier pockets.  Although carefully massaged competitions featuring drafts and salary caps certainly encourage more sharing of the love than soccer leagues monopolised by the world’s biggest tycoons.

Furthermore, the disillusioned can take solace in the occasional parting of the waters.  Baseball’s Red Sox and White Sox, the Sydney Swans and Wests Tigers to name a few.

And if you’re still lamenting a lost cause, consider one shirtless bookmaker in the early 1960’s. His 1000/1 that man wouldn’t walk on the moon by 1970 seemed like a pretty safe offer at the time. As Saints fans will forever ruminate after being bowled a wrong-‘un in front of the Ponsford Stand in 2010.

‘Missed it by that much!’

JD’s Sport Rants

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Great piece Jeff. The (Footscray) Bulldogs have a surprise win on Sunday arvo. Man City back from the dead on Sunday night. The hope of the hopeless. Made the Saints good things last night. This morning the Federal ALP get an 8 point bump in the polls (sort of like junk time goals). Why do I only see these signs in retrospect?
    Now if a pretty girl propositions me today………..??? I’ll know that Craig Thomson has maxed out his credit card.

  2. Jeff,

    Man City were very lucky. Although they had 81% of the play they lapsed twice in the second half to allow Cisse to goal on the break and then Jamie Mackie (when down to ten men) another. Another stirring Blue and white hoops performance.

    After Stoke City scored a penalty to level with Bolton Wanderers the R’s hung on untill they had confirmation of the the result at Brittania Stadium and that they would stay up (soccer term for ‘not going down’. )

    As the result came through on radios to the two thousand vocal QPR fans they erupted and the the players knew they were safe.

    They were then faced with the terrible reality of Man United winning the cup (we have an Australian equivalent senario) and let two goals in an a few minutes.

    Another example of blue and white hoops saving the world (There was an Australian secario recently)

  3. Speaking of bad karma, Cronulla have only been at the big dance twice, losing on both occasions in 1973 and 1978 to Manly. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that they will meet in the Grand Final this year (and it surely must be so if Cronulla are to be there), magnifying the pleasure or pain of victory and defeat for all concerned. For Cronulla fans, to be defeated by the same team (and my beloved – and despised in some/most quarters – Manly no less) three times would surely be tortuously demoralising and soul destroying – then there would justifiably be talk of curses. One would wonder at the collective karma of the Shire that could bring such misery to bear. My long-suffering brother endured 31 inconceivably long years of drought between 1979 and 2010 including cruel failures at the last step (1999 springs to mind). I have been lucky with eight premierships since the 1970s. Perhaps such good fortune cannot continue indefinitely and I will know sorrow. I have yet to know the indignity of the wooden spoon, something Parramatta supporters know only too well as it has (dis) graced their mantelpiece 10 times since 1947. Still, I can remember a time when Queensland were destined never to win the Sheffield Shield.

Leave a Comment