Success has brought life back to traditional roots

 

The recent premierships for the Western Bulldogs and Richmond Tigers have brought disbelief from the football community, and their fans. In 2016 the Western Bulldogs came from down and out going into the finals to will their way to a historic flag, while Richmond built momentum throughout the season to win a historic flag of their own. During both Finals Series’, Footscray and Richmond streets transcended into their team colours and caricature’s of mascots on shops, walls, and homes. It brought football life back into suburbs that’d lost some of its atmosphere and character due to on-field failure and centralisation.

 

The first story of the Western Bulldogs was remarkable and emotional. After having such an impressive start to the 2016 season, injuries cursed the club. During the season stars such as Robert Murphy, Jason Johannisen, Matthew Suckling, Tom Boyd, Luke Dahlhaus, Marcus Adams, Jack Redpath, Mitch Wallis, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae, and Easton Wood all sustained injuries. For Murphy, Adams, Redpath, and Wallis they’d be season ending. It was deflating for the club as they finished with a record of 15-7 finishing 7th on the table. Usually a 15-7 record would see a club finish in the top 4, but due to the competitiveness of the season they fell to 7th, only two wins of top team Sydney.

 

Going into the finals campaign the Bulldogs returned to Perth, the scene of their worst loss of the season, after an 11 day break for an Elimination Final against the red hot West Coast Eagles. The Western Bulldogs shocked the football world by demolishing the Eagles by 47 points. The Bulldogs would then go on to defeat 3 time reigning premiers Hawthorn in a semi-final, the GWS Giants in a Preliminary Final, and Sydney in the Grand Final.

 

The Western Bulldogs broke their 62 years premiership drought and the suburb of Footscray gained more and more momentum every week with the team. Each training session attracted larger crowds, culminating to an estimated 12,000 for the last training session before the Grand Final. With each game, more cars and more shops became draped in red, white, and blue, whilst paintings were popping up everywhere on walls in the Western Suburbs. Streets in Footscray, and nearby suburb Yarraville, were flooded by fans for the Preliminary and Grand Finals as they celebrated long-awaited success. Multiple pubs such as the Railway Hotel (Yarraville) and the former Savoy Hotel painted themselves red, white, and blue to celebrate the moment. At the family day, the day after the Grand Final, players returned to the spiritual home of Western Oval to celebrate with more than 10,000 fans.

 

After 2016, Richmond finished 13th with off-field rumblings that included an attempted board take-over.

 

Richmond took advantage of a dream draw to start the season, and knocked off up and comers Melbourne, in an ANZAC Day blockbuster at the MCG. After 5 losses in their next 7 matches, 4 to finals teams of last season, Richmond managed to build themselves towards finals. With a hiccup to St. Kilda, losing by 67 points, they got back on track and got better as the weeks got by.

 

After finishing 3rd and inside the top 4 with a double chance, they played off with Geelong in the Qualifying Final. Although it was Geelong’s home game, due to the limited capacity of Kardinia Park the game was hosted at the MCG. Richmond took full advantage of playing at the MCG and after a tense first half, managed to break the game open and win their way to a Preliminary Final – Richmond’s first finals victory since 2001. Richmond went on to defeating GWS in the Preliminary, and then Adelaide in the Grand Final in almost identical fashion.

 

Similar to the year before with Footscray, Richmond, its fans, and its suburb continued to gain momentum throughout the Finals series. The pub district of Swan Street, and Bridge Road got busier as the finals series went on and shops, and pubs coloured themselves Yellow and Black with paint and posters. All this culminated to a burst of energy on Grand Final day. Swan Street as per most Grand Final’s was a buzz, but it was different this time as the team representing their suburb was on centre stage for the first time for 35 years. When the game was won the street erupted with the theme song being belted out at regularity, and fans crowding the road. As the post match celebration, and Killers concert at the MCG begun to near its end, even more fans packed the street and it was eventually closed off. Celebrations went long into the night with free ‘Dusty Cuts’ at a local Richmond barber.

 

Whilst multiple Melbourne clubs have lost some their suburban identity due to moves away from traditional suburbs such as Collingwood and St Kilda, the last two seasons have shown the unity and strength of others. Not only has the success of the Western Bulldogs and Richmond Tigers brought financial reward to the clubs, but also to their local suburbs. It has helped create new energy in area who we thought were left behind during the centralisation of Melbourne teams to, what some describe as soulless, Etihad Stadium and the MCG.

 

With Richmond in walking distance from the MCG, and Punt Road Oval a stone’s throw away, the club was always able to maintain its close connection with the suburb. For the Western Bulldogs it was more difficult, but with the introduction of the VFL team hosting games at Whitten Oval and a pre-season AFL game at the venue in 2015 it helped set the platform for the events and energy in September 2016.

 

Both clubs are continuing to work on re-connecting to their suburbs with the Western Bulldogs AFLW team playing all their home games at Whitten Oval, and Richmond’s new AFLW team, due to enter the competition in 2020, may play games at Punt Road Oval. Both clubs have suggested re-developments of their local grounds with Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon suggesting a return of AFL Home and Away games to Whitten Oval isn’t impossibility.

 

Premierships have helped open a new future, and a new pathway to these Melbourne clubs, and hopefully other suburban AFL clubs.

Comments

  1. bring back the torp says:

    The loss of the VFA, a powerhouse in Melb. until the mid 1980’s when the VFL broke the VFA’s Sunday game monopoly, has also significantly led to a decline in suburban identity & football tribalism.

    The VFA demise has also diminished general football culture today. There has been a SIGNIFICANT per capita AFL crowd decline in Melbourne, cf 1970 (Melb. then had a population of c.2,300,000, VFL average H & A weekly crowds of 131,000, VFA average weekly crowds c.22,000+. Melb. population now is c. 4,800,000, average Melb. -inc. Geelong- H & A weekly crowds less than 200,000 pw).
    And Melb. stadia are centrally located, far superior facilities now!

    The 5 metro national current FTA/Foxtel ratings are also down cf 1997, when they were attracting c. 3,500,000 average viewers pw. Much less now.

    Some would argue the ugly, congested, scrappy, short kicking, low scoring (& no gun full forwards kicking 80+ goals pa) game styles since c. 2004 have contributed greatly to football’s sad decline.
    Will the AFL scrap/greatly reduce the interchange?

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