The day I saw the Bulldogs win the Grand Final.

The Day I saw the Bulldogs win the Grand Final.

This is not a dream…this actually did happen.

These recollections of that famous day in September 1954 are as much about my family as actually watching the match. Particularly about my father and his influence on his seven-year-old son.

Memories can play tricks sixty- two years later and I have tried to confirm some details from my slightly older sister. There is no-one else to ask with my brother being only eighteen-months at the time.

Firstly, for younger readers and hopefully die-hard Bulldog supporters, I will give a snap-shot of that era living in Footscray North as it was known.

Our house was probably built in the late 1930’s. All houses in the street were a step-up from the single-fronted cottages that usually adjoined the many suburban factories such as the Olympic Tyre Factory. So on reflection, I guess they were part of the growing middle-class housing rather than working-class.

My father was still a member of the RAAF and worked at both Laverton and Point Cook. Although we had a car from the early 1950’s, my father quite often rode a fixed-wheel push-bike to work. An absolute clunker! The same bike he offered with pride to me as a seven-year-old to have as my own. When I suggested that I couldn’t swing my leg over let alone actually peddle the damn thing, he suggested I lean the bike up against the side of the house before mounting, with a dismissive, “You’ll get used to it!”

This brief anecdote about my father illustrates how he was a man of those times. Of course I was well into adulthood before I realised where his traits of thriftiness and being practical and careful at all times came from. Suffice to say he came from Warrnambool to the big-smoke at the start of the Depression. The oldest of twelve siblings he first worked in a box- factory taking what ever work was available. He also went to Footscray Technical School where the Victoria University is now located. I’ve said before he was a skilled worker, so much so that I could never compete with his technical know-how and expertise, which led to us drifting apart by the time I was a teenager. He would spend hours in the shed fashioning some masterpiece on his lathe or ‘knocking up’ something on his home-made saw-bench. I was more concerned with how the Phantom was going to get out of a sticky situation in the jungle.

Another anecdote to show he was a product of the Depression was the way he and his neighbours were the do-it-yourselves kings. A lot of the houses needed finishing off particularly with regard to concrete-paths and basic landscaping. The DIY’s not only pitched in working-bee style to help their neighbours but they also made the equipment to do so! My father Ron, Perc and Cliff (how’s that for a couple of classic names from that era ) designed and constructed their own electric concrete- mixer! The same mixer that was used at our new place in Burwood a few years later. As a ten-year old it was my job to keep feeding the monster with sand and screenings while my father trowelled the paths.

So as Grand Final day dawned in September 1954, this gives you an idea of my first few years in Footscray. It was a father-knows-best world where the women-folk stayed at home and did the house-work and cooking and in my mother’s case, she could have easily been featured in the Home Beautiful magazine.

I cannot for the life of me remember the week’s lead-up to the Grand Final. This is probably because of living under the regime of father-knows best where children were not consulted about anything. Not even something as big as a grand-final. There would have been no discussion around the family table at our house at least. My mother and sister weren’t interested in the footy anyway. But of course I would have been walking around twirling the footy (second-hand of course) and wearing my Bulldog jumper with the number three on the back.

Just another quick side-track anecdote about the footy-jumper. It was probably the year before at birthday-time as I lay sleeping hoping upon hope that the jumper would be on the end of my bed when I woke up. As dawn broke and the first faint rays of sunlight settled on the birthday present, I strained to check it out through sleepy seven-year old eyes. Much to my utter disappointment it looked like my mother had knitted the jumper in the wrong colour! In that early sunlight, it looked like the blue was actually a grey colour! I spent the next hour torn between devastation about the wrong colour and how to put on a brave face and not show Mum I was disappointed. Of course in better light later on I could see the jumper in all its red, white and blue glory.

The day of the big match I remember being at the MCG of course but I can’t remember travelling there. We would have had the FX Holden ute at that time transformed by handyman Ron into a more practical station-wagon by adding his proto-type canopy.

I would like to recount a detailed description of the day’s play but as a seven-year old standing behind a wall of gabardine over-coats, I suspect I only got glimpses of the day’s action. The player I do remember was the goal-kicking Jack Collins with his shock of blond hair. With the crowd roaring every time he kicked a goal, it’s not surprising I strained for a better look. As the day wore on, I kept checking with Dad and asking him, “Are we really going to win?” I could only tell if this was true by watching him to see if he was smiling. He was the ultimate pessimist which I will mention later and I knew I wasn’t going to get the old, “No worries son, this is going to be our year!”

But win we did! I can’t remember leaving the ground but I remember the drive home to Footscray. I probably would’ve been asking my taciturn father every five minutes, “Did we really win? Did we Dad? Did we?”

We got to the corner of Ballarat Road and Gordon Street and I saw how the other-half celebrated and yahooed which finally confirmed the win for me. Revellers were pouring out of Powell’s Hotel clutching their long-neck bottles and really going off. Stubbies weren’t invented in those days kids. I have written about this moment before when my tea-totalling father quickly wound up the window after he was being offered a celebratory drink at the lights.

I’ve also mentioned the famous ‘cake’ before that we used as a celebration feast when we arrived home. My mother and sister, as was the custom, stayed home baking as the men-folk went off to watch a football-match. It could have been a match down at the local park as far as they were concerned and not the momentous event that I had just witnessed. My mother would have seen the outing as, “A good chance for Ron to get out of the shed for a while.”

It really was a house of pessimism and the idea that the Bulldogs might actually win was never contemplated. It went against my very nature then but it still took many years to rid myself completely of all that negativity.

My ten-year old sister who was fully indoctrinated with that pessimism had iced the cake earlier in the day and wrote, ”Bad Luck Footscray But You Did Your Best.” How weird was that? Sitting down to celebrate and charging our glasses of soft-drink with that message on the cake staring back at us.

My sister recently reminded me that our night-time celebrations involved attending a fancy-dress party at the local church. She also reminded me that my mother had copped a black-eye accidentally from my eighteen- month old brother as he sat on her knee. Probably from a tantrum head-throw-back. So she was worried about being seen in public. I asked my sister if she was worried about people thinking that Dad might have been the culprit. She said no, she was worried that people might think she was in a drunken brawl with the Footscray revellers celebrating the Bulldogs win.

So there it is. And now instead of wishing and hoping that I would one day see a second Bulldog Grand Final, I am writing this post-script on the eve of that longed-for Grand Final. It’s only taken 62 years. And it’s definitely not a dream.

My sister hasn’t forgotten that famous cake that she iced all those years ago. A message arrived yesterday from Queensland where she lives saying, “ I promise this time I’ll write on the cake something like, “ Good Luck Bulldogs I knew you could do it’.

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. Richard Jones says:

    I DIDN’T go to the granny Neil but I did attend the ’54 2nd semi when the Doggies beat my Geelong.
    Up in the Gods in the old Southern Stand —- no prefix of ‘Great’ back in the day.
    If memory serves Geelong finished 3 games clear on top of the VFL ladder at the end of the home and away (all played on Saturdays, back then of course) but we went out in straight sets.
    The Dogs beat us and a week later we went out to the Dees in the prelim.
    That day I sat with my delirious Uncle Bill, an ESA Bank manager based in Box Hill, and had to endure his hoots of delight.
    All afternoon. And again in the closing years of the Fifties as Uncle Bill celebrated a string of Melbourne flags. The hooting increased when they beat the ColliWobbles.
    Anyway, best of luck for the Big Dance against the Swannies.
    You have to keep Buddy in check. Can’t see an obvious match-up myself. Bevvo will have worked it out, I’m sure.

  2. Neil Anderson says:

    Thanks Richard
    It’s a rare thing to hear about the Dogs beating Geelong. We have had some break-through victories against West Coast and Hawthorn recently but we still haven’t beaten the Cats for a long time.
    Bulldog’s President Peter Gordon was asked at the start of this year what he most wanted to see his team achieve this year. He said I would really like to beat Geelong. I suppose he’ll take a premiership to ease his disappointment about not beating the Cats.
    I think the only way to beat Buddy is to keep the ball away from him. In other words lock the ball in the Dogs forward line as much as possible.

  3. The Ghost of EJ says:

    Zitter here. Thanks for all the wonderful work capturing the Dogs fantastic season, Neil. You saw 54? Wow. Keep digging for reminiscences of it.

    Here’s The Ghost of EJ’s grand final battle-cry. It was channeled to me through a seance

    You have to fight; you have to inspire me. You have to walk tall like ’54.

    You have to fight; you have to inspire me. You have to rule like Doug ruled his wing.

    You have to show me all the guts and determination, and draw upon Irene’s tenacity.

    You have to show me all the guts and determination, and transcend the spirit of Charlie.

    You have to fight, damn it, you have to fight. The way you did in Perth.

    You have to fight, damn it, you have to fight. The way Libba risked his limbs.

    You have to show me all the guts and determination and play with the righteousness of Chris

    You have to show me all the guts and determination and soar for Bob and Bev.

    You have to fight, damn it, you have to fight. The way you mauled the Hawks.

    You have to fight, damn it, you have to fight. The way you did last week.

    You have to inspire, damn it, INSPIRE ; and I’ll have your backs in the Grannie

  4. Thanks Neil a article about the struggles of life at the time as much as about foot,good luck tomorrow are you going ?

  5. Neil Anderson says:

    Thanks Zitter
    I hope Ted was looking down on that parade today. There’s a few champs that need the win tomorrow. A few have passed away and a few like Chris Grant and Dougy that never quite got the chance to play in a GF.
    That speech you amalgamated with your lines was Ted’s final- game speech wasn’t it? I was there for that match as well.
    I won’t be there tomorrow but I will go down to the Whitten Oval if they win on the Sunday.

  6. Jan Courtin says:

    Great reminiscences, Neil. Our only difference is that you got to see one early in your life – albeit, fleetingly and through gaps between the gabardine coats and your Dad’s facial expressions. You don’t seem to have felt much euphoria, so let’s hope you will one day very soon – maybe next year?!

    Cheer cheer
    Jan

  7. Yvette wroby says:

    Go doggies. Good luck for tomorrow xx

  8. The Ghost of EJ says:

    Hey Neil,

    Yeah, it’s a play on EJ’s famous three quarter time rev up in his last game (or so I understand?) You were there for that too, eh? That’ll make a great piece too, if it hasn’t already.

    I don’t know about you, but being a dogs fan for most of my many years has felt like riding along with Steinbeck’s Jodes in that patched up old jalopy. Sure we’ve had devastating hardships and disappointments, but we’ve endured. And just like the Joads, we’ve also had the promise of rosier days, and that has sustained us through our bleakest seasons.

    The end of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is the most astonishing thing I’ve read. (Spoiler alert now.)

    Having suffered hardship, after hardship, after hardship (so much so, you begin to think Steinbeck is a sadist!), the family begins to fracture. Tom is fleeing the law, and Ma and Rose of Sharon are separated from Pa and the others while escaping a flood. Ma and Rose of Sharon retreat to a sodden barn where they stumble upon a starving hobo. Ma – who is the embodiment of every great Footscray leader – gestures knowingly to Rose of Sharon that we people who have nothing can still find a way to give to those who have less (and how Steinbeck keep’s conjuring up characters less fortunate than the Jodes is sorcerous.) Rose of Sharon loosens her top, and frees a swollen breast, which her dead baby never lived long enough to draw nutriment, and allows the Hobo to suckle. The end.

    Wow.

    Now that’s no metaphor for what it’s like being a Dogs fan, but seeing that we’ve been riding in their patched up, coughing jalopy all these years, who’s to say that one day – one very grim day – it might be?

    That’s the journey you take supporting a team with no prospects. We might not win today and if Steinbeck had his way, he’d insist we lose 10 grannies, like 10 prelim, for the sake of the narrative.

    If we do win today? Geez, I think I’m gonna miss that jalopy.

  9. All the best today Neil. Mate you’ve gone into all three 2016 finals as the underdogs, but won all so far.

    Good luck to your team. I won’t be watching the match as we’re taking the grand daughter to Anakie Fairy park, but the radio will be on 774 am when we’re driving.

    PS : I’m having a CUB free day today.

    Glen!

  10. You’re 8 years older than me Neil. We barracked for similarly crap footy teams (my West Torrens Eagles in the SANFL) in our developing years. How the twig is bent. Through the adolescent and adult gloom I used to intone that “a pessimist is an idealist who dare not hope”.
    The move to Perth 20 years ago and the Avenging Eagle beat that hangdog crap out of me.
    Hope today does the same for you. That would really be the icing on the cake.

  11. Neil Anderson says:

    Thanks everyone for your best wishes…it has been a long journey.
    It has been a lot about life’s struggles Rulebook. Following a Club like Footscray has been more of an antidote when those real-life problems suddenly occur.
    Thanks Jan again for pointing out that I got to see a Bulldog granny even before the AFL fan of the year. Euphoria was almost banned in our house in 1954, so I have bottled it up until today. I will hopefully let it all hang out tonight.
    Zitter, I think it’s time I parked that jalopy. The journey’s over and I’ve reached the promised land. No more Henry Fonda cursing all that bad luck and being miserable. It’s a new Dawn.
    Thanks Glen. I know when we talk about 1954 you think of your mother coming down from Corowa This GF is for her and all the past students of Footscray North PS like you and me.
    Peter my wife also beat a lot of the hang-dog crap out of me. To survive in the real world with a wife and kids you have to get your act together and deal with real-world problems. That usually means looking for positive outcomes. In the meantime, the trials and tribulations of a battling football team has provided lots of writing fodder. Who wants to read about a team that is winning all the time?

  12. Neil Anderson says:

    Thanks also Yvette
    Your sister must be really enjoying today and hopefully a few more GF”S in the future.

  13. Richard Jones says:

    MY apologies about the final Top Four standings in ’54, Neil.
    Geelong did finish on top with 13 wins–5 losses–52 premiership pts.
    Dogs second: 11 wins–6 losses–1 draw–46 prem. points.
    So not a 3-match buffer to the Pivotonians of old.
    Just 6 points …. a game-and-a-half.
    The Dees by the way finished 4th on 11 wins–7 losses–44 pts. But beat North Melb. in the 1st semi.

  14. Fantastic Neil so good. I wish you all the happiness. My mind is on my mum, the Cathcart St link so it’s a very emotional time. I need a drink but it won’t be CUB !!!

    Well done Neil, treasure this great moment.

    Glen!

  15. Neil Anderson says:

    Thanks again Glen.
    You probably remember my mate Stuart who lived in Cathcart Street. I rang him at the G and he was very emotional as you can imagine.
    I hope to see him down at the Kennel tomorrow.

  16. Neil, Stuart, my mum, the Foremans the Mansfields, all from Cathcart St, savour a day to enjoy. Far too long a wait. Enjoy !!!a

    Glen!

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