The Dogs to play in the 2016 AFL Grand Final.

Forget the emotion. No tears, no fears. Just do what you have shown us you can do. Go out there and win. Do us proud. Good things happen to good people. It’s now our turn. Bring that flag back to the West.

By Melbourne standards, I came to football quite late. By football I mean Australian Rules football, or AFL (formerly VFL).

ADVANCE WARNING: This piece contains many personal revelations.

As the son of immigrant parents, speaking passable English, I entered the education system, knowing very little about the game.

My dad did not encourage any interest in the Australian game. He was brought up on the subtleties and nuances of soccer. He readily admitted not understanding the local game…

How can one team score 100 points? Where was the goalie?” he would sometimes say.

Needless to say, my dad never took me to a football match.

As an aside, in his later years, dad has warmed to the game. He now proudly supports the North Melbourne Kangaroos and goes to the games when we take him. Such is the influence of this game on the unsuspecting.

Accordingly, there was little hope for me in the schoolyard. Our student population was divided between “wogs” and “skips”. Given my heritage, I belonged in the wog grouping. While the children of immigrants generally followed the round ball game, even in our ranks, there were those that supported Carlton and Collingwood.

I grew up in the ‘70’s, an era dominated by Tom Hafey and his Richmond Tigers. They played in Grand Finals in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1980 and 1982 and won in 1973, 1974 and 1980.

With no family influences to help me choose a team (as you must choose a team) I became a Tiger fan. Everything was yellow and black. I wore Royce Hart’s no. 4 on my back and each Saturday I sat by the radio listening to the Richmond game before we were bundled into a car and whisked off to Church

Television coverage was spasmodic. I sometimes saw my heroes play on the black and white screen. I recall the game was different then. The grounds were muddy on wet days. Play was haphazard. Play was rough. Forwards dominated the game and could kick with unerring accuracy in all conditions.

I remember Lou Richards and Jack Dyer on the telly. I don’t recall any intelligent commentary about the game, any set plays, zones, strategies etc. Games were won with grit and determination.

I had a grudging admiration for those kids caught up in football mania. They wore duffle coats draped in badges depicting their heroes, and signage spelling out their loyalties. They went to the game on Saturdays and related their experiences each Monday.

We collected trading cards. They came in our sliced bread loaf or in chewing gum packets. We kicked a brown plastic football around the playground (leather footballs were a rare sight). We spoke the language of the “specky” or “taking a Jezza” or “stacks on”.

And when the Tigers won, we sang the song, arguably the best anthem in the competition, where you only need to know three words “yellow and black” to join in.

I grew up in North Altona, west of Melbourne, under the shadows of the tall cracking towers at the Petro-chemical refinery. When later I read about William Blake’s “dark satanic mills” my mind always turned to those cracking towers and the perpetual dirty flame burning above them.

But as I grew older and began questioning the way of things I asked myself.

Where the hell is Richmond?”

For a boy who had never crossed the Yarra River except to travel to the city, this was a serious question.

My sister, seven years my junior and my cousins, supported the local team Footscray. I knew Footscray as that was where mum shopped at Forges. I also knew them because despite their lowly status they had a knack of beating the Tigers whenever they played them.

So at about age 13, I abandoned the Tigers and joined the Bulldog faithful. I don’t remember the change. Football didn’t figure largely in my life at that time. I was dominated by books and study. Even at University I had more important interests to pursue.

But I do remember attending my first game. It was 27 April 1985, I was 21. The Dogs were playing the Bombers at the Western Oval. The Bombers were the reigning premiers.

I stood under cover on the city-side wing. The crowd was loud and passionate and I was immediately caught up in the atmosphere.

At half time, the Salvation Army walked around the boundary, banging a drum and carrying a bed sheet as supporters threw their spare change at them.

I recall the food on offer was nothing to write home about. There was pies and pies and hot dogs. I grew up with a deep-seated distrust of meat pies. The occasional press report of a rat’s tail found inside that pastry case served to confirm my suspicions.

The Bulldogs won convincingly (41 points). I remember watching Steve McPherson kick for goal from the half forward flank. I sat directly behind him and was amazed to see him launch a spinning missile that did not deviate one centimetre from its preselected path.

I had waited too long to go to my first game.

I remember attending a game at Arden St. The Bulldogs lost that day. But I was entranced by the magic of the Krakouer brothers. They stood head and shoulders above every other player on that field. I was saddened by the racism of some supporters. Some things never change.

I won’t relate in detail my growing passion for the Bulldogs through the 80’s and 90’s but some important events are worth noting.

In 1989, the club was brought to its knees. The VFL were prepared to sponsor a merger with Fitzroy. Lions fans were not enamoured with the prospect of a merger but they were in a worse financial position than the Dogs.

I had a slight panic attack at the time. The club I was growing increasingly fond of was about to abscond with a brazen hussy donning maroon and gold plumage.

Peter Gordon, well known Footscray lawyer and advocate for the downtrodden, rose to the occasion and led a campaign against the merger. Through his efforts and those of a dedicated band the club narrowly avoided the merger proposal. It is fitting that he should now be President as the club faces its first grand final appearance in over 50 years.

In this period the club enjoyed many highlights. The club earned Brownlow success – Kelvin Templeton (1980), Brad Hardie (1985), Tony Liberatore (1990), Scott Wynd (1992).

It had Coleman medalists Kelvin Templeton (1978) and (1979) and Simon Beasley (1985).

But no Grand Finals let alone Premiership success. I tell my sons you need to have inner strength to be a Bulldog fan, strength to overcome many disappointments.

In 1985, the Dogs lost their Preliminary Final to Hawthorn.

They were not to play another Prelim until 1997. That year will go down in Footscray folklore as a dismal year indeed.

Under new coach Terry Wallace, the Dogs rushed into the Preliminary Final against Adelaide at the MCG. Early in the game, Adelaide’s star spearhead Tony Modra suffered a debilitating knee injury. Play was delayed as he was stretchered from the field of play. During that time the collapsing of his knee and leg was replayed on the big screen at least a dozen times. One could see the spirit of the Adelaide players and fans evaporate into thin air.

St Kilda had won their way into the Grand Final and we knew we could beat them.

We went into the last quarter with a winning margin. But life is cruel….especially if you are a Bulldog fan. With minutes to go and the end of the drought within our grasp, a disallowed goal was followed by some quick goals from Darren Jarman and then that blasted siren sounded. Adelaide were through by two points!

The Adelaide fans stood up as one. Arms in the air screaming with delight. Where did they all come from?

I witnessed this Greek tragedy from the Southern Stand. The siren released tears that streamed down my face. Tears of quiet despair.

My son, aged 7, looked up at me and asked:

Are you alright daddy?”

Still sobbing I replied,

Son you have no idea what just happened..”

The following Monday our captain Chris Grant, won the Brownlow but didn’t. He was earlier disqualified for a dubious striking charge in a game against Essendon.

The Dogs made the Prelim in 1998 but again they were beaten by Adelaide who, again went on to win the Premiership. The Dogs were never in the game.

They lost Preliminary finals in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The loss in 2009 against St Kilda brought back painful memories of 1997.

Club champion and captain, Brad Johnson played in five losing Prelims. Stars of the game such as Gary Dempsey, Bernie Quinlan, Kelvin Templeton, Doug Hawkins, Rick Kennedy, Simon Beasley, Brian Royal, Tony Liberatore, Scott Wynd, Chris Grant, Leon Cameron, Rohan Smith, Scotty West, Luke Darcy, Simon Garlick, Nathan Eagleton, Lindsay Gilbee, Daniel Giansiracusa and Adam Cooney never played on Grand Final day, let alone won a premiership.

But our time in the wilderness is over, as this Saturday, some 62 years and 7 days or 22,653 days after our Premiership victory in 1954 the Dogs face the Swans in the 2016 AFL Grand Final.

On Brownlow night, when the winner, Patrick Dangerfield was asked for his premiership prediction, he said that over the last few weeks he thought something special was happening at the Whitten Oval as the team was coming together. I think he is right.

In 1954 we beat the VFL powerhouse, the Melbourne football club. They wore the red V. Melbourne went on to win the 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1964 premierships.

On Saturday, we face a modern day AFL powerhouse the Swans, also donning the red V.

Forget the emotion. No tears, no fears. Just do what you have shown us you can do. Go out there and win. Do us proud. Good things happen to good people. It’s now our turn. Bring that flag back to the West.

Go Dogs‼!

http://markjattard.com