AFL Round 1 – West Coast v Western Bulldogs: Unlucky Dan

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“There was once upon a time a youth called Unlucky Dan. Wherever he went, and whatever he did, and with whomsoever he served, nothing came of it: all his labour was like spilt water, he got no good from it.” Ukrainian folktale

I rode my pushbike at dusk through Melbourne’s industrial heartland, trying to hold my nerve as trucks rumbled past me on the trip from Sunshine to Yarraville. Will, a Bulldog-supporting mate, had invited me round to watch the first game of the season, my first game as a Doggies supporter. Danny, another Bulldog mate, was making the trek over from Carlton to witness the conversion. It was a bit awkward on arrival as the last time I’d watched a game here we were with Will’s housemate Dave, a Bombers man. Dave was like most Essendon supporters I’d spoken to, sympathetic to my disgust with the club, but never contemplating acting on it themselves. To Dave I was like a general without an army, charging into battle with no clear path to victory.

The contrast between this game and Essendon’s was stark, even in the scheduling. Friday night in prime time on Channel 7 versus Sunday night on Foxtel at the fag end of a two-week opening round. The pre-game talk was all about Robert Murphy’s 250th. Both Dan and Will were reminiscing about witnessing his first game, where he’d kicked the winning goal. Just before the bounce Will’s mate Nerida arrived. She mentioned that Footscray had just made the district cricket final for the first time in 34 years. It wasn’t hard to tell she was a proper Westie. I couldn’t imagine a Bombers fan discussing how the Essendon cricket team had fared, but then, had I ever met a Bombers fan who was actually from Essendon?

Stubbies were cracked and there was hope in the room as the ball was bounced on a new season. It took 7 seconds to feel the pain of being a Bulldog fan, a lightning clearance out of the centre and an instant goal to West Coast. I had my first hint of the fatalism that lies just beneath the surface of every Doggies supporter, as they groaned a tired and well-worn groan. Two minutes later the Doggies got one back and hope was restored. The season had started, a goal had been kicked, and anything was still possible.

Crameri was looking likely and when he slotted one I jumped out my chair, and told the others he was Essendon’s best forward and they were going to love him. Crameri got half a million dollars when he switched from Essendon to Footscray. So far all I had was an ill-fitting members hat and two stubbies from Will’s fridge.

After that things got pretty grim. I definitely felt passion for the team, but it was expressed as frustration. Half way through the 2nd quarter I uttered my first ever “We” when referring to a team other than the Bombers. After another failed sortie forward I yelled,

“Why don’t we have a bloody forward line??!!”

All three Doggies fans laughed, and started an obviously familiar refrain; Forward line, why would you have a forward line? Well there was Barry Hall. Ah yes but he came too late. Maybe if we’d kept Acker and had Barry Hall, maybe we could have won a prelim. Another group sigh. Prelims. Prelims are the end point of most Bulldog conversations. 97, 09. These were traumatic events that no Bulldog fan seems to have in any way come to terms with.

The Eagles, led by that crafty Frenchman Le Cras, extended the lead past 6 goals.

Nerida mentioned her Pop had forked out for Foxtel this season so he could watch all the Doggies games. Waste of money, she said with a bitter laugh.

I thought this all seemed a bit grim for round one, but Danny, who’s wife’s Ukrainian, pointed out that though they were Western Bulldogs their outlook was very Eastern European. Where Essendon have our King Arthurs and Camelots, the Bulldogs have only tales of shifty foxes and cruel Czars, of faint hopes tragically dashed by evil stepbrothers.

At half time the pizza arrived and we got talking. Nerida and Will were born and bred Westies, Nerida in Footscray, Will in Williamstown. Danny had asked his football agnostic Mum to buy him a footy jumper when he was a kid. A Footscray jumper was what came back from Northcote K Mart and he’d been Footscray ever since. They talked about obscure games from 2004 the same way Bombers fans talked about Premierships. Already they were discussing when they could check out Footscray in the VFL as a way not to think too much about the hiding they were copping in Perth. Ah well, I said, at least Bob Murphy’s playing well, and we all agreed.

In the 3rd quarter the ball was fumbled across half-back and Nerida cried out, I miss Addison! Will was shocked and amused, Addison? I know. Sorry. That must be one of the saddest phrases in the English language.

The game was clearly a goner, and we were talking over the top of it now. Will was philosophical, It’s OK when it’s like this and you know it’s over early, it’s when they give you hope it really sucks. The others murmured in agreement and I asked them if they’d rather have Essendon’s moral problems or the Footscray’s football problems.

“Football.”

They all responded in unison.

It was at this point they all made it pretty clear they wanted me to shut the f*** up about Essendon and allow them to wallow in the loss. Giansiracusa was subbed on and again Nerida was the harshest, Gia always likes to stand up when it doesn’t count. He’ll probably kick 3 goals now.

There were a few glimpses of a better future as the game petered out. Young Libba started to get the ball, Jake Stringer took a mark in the forward line and I said I thought he looked like a likely lad.  Will responded, yeah and he’s only 19!

The game finished and I was starting to contemplate the ride home, the trucks now coming at me from the pitch darkness, when Danny offered to give me lift.

On the way home Danny and I talked about anything other than footy.

“Thanks for the lift mate.”

“No worries, you comin to the game next week?”

“Yeah mate, I’ll be there.”

 

Comments

  1. Great yarn, Sir. Lots of tension, remorse and laughs. Just the way footy fans like it. Good luck for the balance of the season! Ukraine and footy continue to enjoy a robust relationship.

  2. Ukraine? I hear that Essendon are planning to annexe the northern part of Braybrook and call it Far South Crimea.
    You could have a foot in both camps then JF.
    Top stuff – you had me feeling sorry for you for a couple of paras.

  3. cowshedend says

    Brilliant! And just for the record, Footscray play …….you guessed it Essendon in the district cricket final.
    And Peter, good luck if the Bombres tried to annexe Braybrook there would be no meek resistance there!

  4. You’re stuffed again this weekend JF. I just tipped you, based on a belief that the limited but whole-hearted could beat the serial offenders.
    Best of luck.

  5. Neil Anderson says

    Welcome to the rollercoaster that is watching the Bulldogs play. Only the strong survive (supporters that is ). Some of us are veterans of sixty years. Not quite from the first Crimean war, but close. We talk about brave campaigns rather than victories such as the famous push into the Adelaide stronghold during 1997 and 1998. The battle against the Glenferrie Goths in 1961 and the Bombers brought down in 2000.
    We have our reunions at the RSL ( Returned Supporter’s League ) via the Bulldog Tragician website. All are welcome especially anyone who has survived watching their first game which ended in a shelacking.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Well done joefloh good to see your sticking to your morals ! As a crows supporter I am just angry at how stupid and incompetent they were over the Tippett affair ( back room deals are done all the time in sport and business how in the he’ll are you dumb enough to have a paper trail ) that the Essendon saga , the Melbourne tanking ( arrogant and ridiculous by the afl hello the Kreuzer cup etc !! ) I have just lost interest overall and developed a indifference to afl Footy v rarely go now were previously never missed a crows home game . Go the dogs ! Thanks joefloh

  7. Steve Baker says

    You’re a brave soul JF.

    Peter, Rulebook; guess which colors Braybrook wear.

    Yup red and black. Viva la revolucion!

    GO THE BROOKERS!

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