THE WEST IS RISING…………

The Dogs are barking!!

It’s still sinking in. How does an old Scragger cope with the range of emotions coursing through his veins after a few days of high drama and celebration ?

Disbelief is one of them.

It’s difficult to comprehend that we’re still up and about in the rarified ‘air’ of Grand Final week. After all, it has seemingly been our destiny to perennially lurk around the lower reaches of the ladder, helping to prop it up whilst the glamour clubs jostled for the glory . ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

You’ll be well aware of the way it has usually been – pinching the odd win here and there ; being a hindrance to the VFL/AFL because of our impecuniosity and our complaints of being marginalised ; then providing a ready-made recruit for a cashed-up club to pilfer from us.

Remember our Brownlow Medallists, like Kelvin Templeton, Gary Dempsey, Brad Hardie and Adam Cooney, who craved the success that had eluded them and moved onto fresher pastures. And the others we reared – Brian Wilson, Bernie Quinlan and Barry Round, who developed into such superstars in other guernseys that they also took out the coveted ‘gong’.

Far from being the ‘people’s favourites’ that we have become, for generations past we’ve been ‘on the nose’.

Our ground, perched in the industrial area of the derided western suburbs, has been labelled with many unsavory nicknames and detested by opposition fans and players alike.

The wind, howling down from Geelong Road, would make it near impossible to kick goals at that end. Except for the Dogs, that is, who were used to its nuances and could slot ‘sausages’ from the most obscure spots, a’ la Eddie Betts.

The rickety old grandstands and run-down buildings added to the ‘retro’ effect. But you could sniff the atmosphere when you submerged yourself amongst the Footscray faithful on match day.

The old ducks, festooned in Red, White and Blue and busily knitting their Bulldog scarves and rugs. And the blokes – can in hand and draped in their favourite duffel-coat, many of them claiming to be on first-name terms with the legendary duo, Charlie and E.J.

I know we probably haven’t helped ourselves over the years. There was always a crisis brewing not far from the surface, a rumoured challenge to the Board, or the threat of a player walk-out.

But the situation was never so dire as it was in those early October days of 1989, when the financially-stricken club faced the possibility of being wound-up and merged. Once again though, the Dogs were ‘Too Tough to Die’…………

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I can remember tuning in two years ago, to catch a scheduled important press conference. There had been talk of player dissension and murmurings surrounding coach Brendan McCartney.

Surely, I thought, President Peter Gordon, will be putting all these rumours to rest and announcing that ‘Macca’ has the full support of the Board.

Alas, the coach was gone………and so was the captain, Ryan Griffen.

Oh no, we’ve imploded again…………

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Fast forward to last week-end……….

We remove ourselves from the throng of bustling commuters and the cacaphony of rattling trains and step into the main bar of Spencer Street’s Savoy Tavern Hotel.

There’s a buzz of expectancy among the large, rowdy audience. The 5.15 pm start has given them the opportunity to ‘wet their whistles’ with a few ‘heart-starters’, to get in the mood for this much-anticipated GWS-Bulldogs Prelim.

It’s a bit of an eerie feeling. We have this ‘love-child of the AFL’ seemingly headed for an era of dominance and hosting the game on their own ‘dung-hill’, which hands them an sizeable advantage.

Pitted against the young Dogs, who have overcome so many obstacles throughout the season. They have fallen at this Preliminary Final hurdle on the last seven occasions. Surely the odds are stacked against them this time, aren’t they ?

But no, they start confidently enough and do most of the attacking early. It’s a desperate tussle and every score from the Bulldogs is greeted with a huge roar from the crowded Bar.

It’s magnificent stuff, the next best thing to being at Spotless Stadium.

There’s nothing in it at three quarter-time. But a couple of goals to the Giants swings the pendulum in their favour. The Bulldogs are not be denied and their work in close is superb. ‘Libba’, Jack McCrae and Dahlaus are feverish in the clinches.

When the silky Jason Johannison streaks forward and spots ‘The Bont’ in the clear, the wizard’s resultant major brings the house down.

And the super-cool McCrae slots a pressure goal to give them a telling advantage in the dying minutes.

The last quarter has been the stuff of legend and when Jake Stringer breaks clear, you’d think he wouldn’t be able to resist eyeing the big sticks, to ice the game.

But no, he spots Tory Dickson on his own and slots a perfect kick in his direction. It’s disciplined stuff from ‘The Package’. The siren blows while Dickson still has the ball in his hands. Normally deadly accurate, his shot hits the post, but it matters little – the Dogs are home.

It brings forth joyous celebrations from the patrons in the Bar. One girl, who has been prancing around for most of the last quarter, decides to dispense with her top, much to the mirth of those around her.

Five minutes later, the majority of the crowd, which has been bubbly and excited and, you’d think, would have been settling in to review the game, have downed their beers and disappeared.

The TV screens have switched over to the Storm- Canberra Rugby League Final. We race back to the motel to watch another hour and a half of Fox Footy reviews of the game and still can’t get enough of it. It’s been a memorable day for the Dogs………..

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The action continues the following day, at Etihad. We’re there bright and early to see the Murray Bushrangers fight all the way, before going down in the dying stages of a quality clash against Sandringham.

This paves the way for the Footscray – Casey Scorpions VFL Grand Final encounter. Casey won their last encounter by 70 points and are warm favourites.

By game-time the crowd has swelled to more than 17,000 – a huge attendance by VFL standards, but totally understandable, as the Stadium’s full of doting Bulldog fans, still on a high.

They offer a generous round of applause to the veteran Will Minson when he appears on the oval for the warm-up. A cheer goes up for the wounded star Lin Jong on his courageous return and all of his team-mates are warmly welcomed.

The match is in the balance at half-time, but Footscray run away with it in the third term, slicing the Scorpions to pieces in a dominant display.

Dogs fans roar. They’re becoming quite partial to this unaccustomed run of success. They belt out the theme song with gusto.

More than 10,000 faithful followers converge on the Western Oval to watch the final training session this morning. Most of them, I’d imagine, are rusted-on Dogs fans who have vivid memories of the bad old days. ‘Libba’ (the old fellah, that is) reckons he played in front of crowds less than this.

They’re exciting times, that’s for sure…….. Now for the ‘big one’…………

 

 

 

 

 

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