As the oldest player I took it upon myself to do it. So, with pint in hand, I stood on a bar stool (precariously) and spoke about history and community. It’s a little hazy, but the basic message was this, “For those of you lucky enough to have medal around your neck, you may have a sense of how significant this achievement is, but I would ask you to reserve a space for the fact that it might be a lot bigger than that. For the older guys who have a medal around your necks, you may have an even greater appreciation for the significance, but I would also ask you to save a similar space for the possibility that it’s even bigger than that.
“You blokes have changed the identity of our club, inflamed imagination and possibilities but also given a sense of peace to a supporter base that has endured a lot. In some cases, you have allowed our supporters to die happy.”
I got down off my stool and thought I’d done a good job.
Immediately, Matthew Boyd sidled up next to me: “Bit f—ing morbid bringing dead people into it, don’t ya reckon?” Brutal truth.
He was probably right, but he should have added, “And you should leave some space in your own thoughts for the fact that none of us know just how much that victory would change all of our lives.”
When you join a football club you feel its history before you read it or are told about it second-hand. At least, that’s how it was for me. To play for a club like the Dogs meant that you felt the heaviness. The struggle.
We celebrated our great players and hung our hat on our ability to scrap and survive against the odds. Our one and only premiership was from 1954 and the video from that day is jumpy and scattered, like a football Zapruder film. We’d had a lot of good teams, made preliminary finals, but grand finals and premierships seemed a long way away for the most part.
Hawthorn are mountain climbers. A premiership for the Bulldogs was like landing on the moon.
I describe it like this: Hawthorn are mountain climbers. With each premiership, they stick their flag into the peak of a mountain and immediately lift their gaze for the next peak. The climb starts instinctively and quickly.
A premiership for the Bulldogs was like landing on the moon. We are astronauts. In 2016 when that magic carpet took the side all the way to the MCG to meet the Swans, our flag went into the white powdery surface.
In the days, weeks and months after that, I suspect every person attached to the club went through their own personal version of ‘where to now?’
The headlines were predictable after the team fell short of the finals in 2017. ”Premiership hangover”. I always thought that was a little too convenient. This wasn’t a celebration that lingered too long, this was closer to something like an identity crisis. Who are we now?
These are typical thoughts to share in hindsight. At the time, everyone inside the club was consumed with the task at hand, but I wonder if others shared a similar feeling to me, that something was just a bit off. The challenge, of course, is to remove the spacesuits, get our feet back on Earth and put on the hiking boots, but challenges with identity can take a little time.
I don’t know if the last two weeks of inspired football by the Bulldogs are just that, a good fortnight or the start of a walk up the mountain path, but I can’t ignore the feeling I get when these young Dogs play with so much heart and spirit.
Maybe this is a new identity, something we’ve never been before, but maybe not.
Apollo 13, the ill-fated trip to the moon that almost cost the lives of three astronauts due to an explosion on their spaceship, was depicted in a Hollywood film. Towards the end of the movie, while NASA is trying to navigate the crew a safe journey home, one of the staff at Houston wonders aloud whether this will be NASA’s darkest moment. But the man in control quickly fires back, claiming that the safe return of the astronauts might be NASA’s greatest ever achievement.
In time, we might ponder the same for these Bulldogs. The mountain-climbing Bulldogs.
Former Western Bulldogs captain and Age columnist