I suspect it was around 60 years ago that I became hopelessly entwined in a relationship from which there would be no escape.
This affair of the heart has been tempestuous and fraught with drama and tragedy.
Often I’ve wondered whether it would have been easier to just walk away and seek a new love. But, no, I’ve stayed true, clinging to the hope that, one day God will reward my loyalty.
You might not know it, but I’m one of the Bulldog breed.
I make no apologies that I was at an impressionable age and obviously a bandwagon-jumper in 1954. When Footscray saluted in that famous premiership win – their first flag – there was good reason to believe that it would be the precursor to several more in the years to come.
Alas, success has cruelly eluded us. I and the other Red, White and Blue diehards around Wangaratta (and our ranks are few) have had to contend with generations of raucous Magpies, Blues,Tigers, Bombers, Cats and Johnny-come-lately Hawks, who have outrageously gloated as they revelled in September glory.
Us? We gather in dark corners and, in a state of depression, rue the latest financial crisis, political upheaval or player walkout which has beset our club.
But I sense the beginning of something exciting beginning to unfold at the Western Oval. A crop of talented youngsters are starting to make their imprint on League football. Two of them have received Rising Star nominations in recent weeks. The Dogs have won 3 of the last 6 games. They were brave in defeat against the Bombers last Sunday.
And they’ve got a good’un in Brendan McCartney. ‘Macca’ never played in the big-time, but he’s a wise old father-figure who seemingly treats his boys with such care that they can’t do anything else but play their hearts out for him.
The Bullies have always been good at selling hope, but at present there is genuine optimism for the future.
Then again, we’ve been through all this before………..
I can remember being perched precariously in the upper reaches of the MCG’s Northern Stand in 1961. All that was visible to my young eyes was a blur of Blue (Footscray) and Gold (Hawthorn) figures as they battled it out in the Grand Final.
Footscray, led by that larger-than-life personality Teddy Whitten, did their best but were upstaged by ‘Kennedy’s Commandoes’. Hawthorn have played in a further 16 Grand Finals; my Dogs have not appeared on centre-stage since.
Barrie Beattie was the first Rovers player to head to the Western Oval. He was scheduled to make his senior debut on Queen’s Birthday 1964. A mate, Greg Rosser and I decided that we should be there.
We began hitch-hiking from Ryley Street and had almost reached the bridge at South Wang before a car pulled up. The bloke wound down the window and said: “Where are ya heading, boys”.
We were about to say : “Home”, but Greg commented, more in hope : “Ah ,the Western Oval, in Footscray.” “Good, jump in. That’s where I’m going, too”…We couldn’t believe our luck!
Barrie kicked a couple of goals at full forward and played okay, but was involved in a car crash on his way home from the game and missed several weeks. He regained his place towards the end of the season. Two years later he moved on.
The Beattie story was an interesting one. He came to the Rovers from Thoona and was a strongly-built big man who could take a mark. An apprentice butcher, he played in a Reserves premiership in 1962 and the following season topped the Hawks’ goal-kicking.
He hardly stood out as a VFL prospect, but when he headed to Melbourne to study at Footscray Institute of Technology, he also threw himself into his sport and became a League footballer and District cricketer.
His studies completed, Barrie moved into Local Government, which included a stint as the Administrator for the City of Maribyrnong.
He would later become another in the revolving door of Footscray Presidents, as the Club lurched towards its greatest crisis – and there have been plenty of them!
It was 1989 and Barrie had been at the helm for just on 12 months. He resigned mid-year and was replaced by Nick Columb, who discovered that the club’s finances and membership were parlous.
So poor, in fact, that he sought a union with Fitzroy, with the support of the AFL. The merge was derailed when the people of Footscray, led by businessman Peter Gordon and others, rallied to pay off the club’s debts.
It became known as ‘Operation Fightback’ and it saved the Club.
We haven’t been able to hang our hats on a lot of team success, but there have been a host of champs who have worn the Bulldog guernsey. Ten Brownlow Medallists, for instance and the most charismatic of all,the great ‘E.J’.
But three of the Medallists finished their careers with other clubs and another who began with the Dogs, Bernie Quinlan, achieved his success at Fitzroy.
We have been labelled downtrodden, tragic, impecunious. Our humble ‘home’ was subjected to snide remarks from the footy public who complained that it was decrepit, forever windswept, bitterly cold and inhabited by unfriendly ‘ferals’.
Typical of the fate which befalls Bulldog supporters was that day in 1997, when we were robbed of what looked a certain Grand Final berth. After leading Adelaide for much of the day, the Crows fought back, but a flying shot by the little champ ‘Libba’, in the dying seconds, looked the goods and would clinch victory.
Dog supporters around the nation collectively rode that shot home and joined ‘Libba’ in his celebrations.
In the cruellest of twists, a ‘certain goal’ was adjudged a behind. The Crows triumphed by 2 points and went on to defeat St.Kilda the following week.
We were good enough to play in three consecutive Prelims in the 2000’s, but it was the end of an era and yet another re-build would begin.
Now a new dawn beckons.
Fast forward to Preliminary Final day 2017 ……….”There are only seconds remaining in this game and the Bulldogs trail by 4 points….Wallis takes possession, breaks clear and finds Hunter, who turns onto his favoured left boot………Liberatore’s on the lead, he dodges, weaves into open territory. Libba can kick this….Gooaal….The Dogs are home…….”