I’ve always been fond of the Western Bulldogs. Any team that changes its name to that of Napoleon Bonaparte’s great-nephew and loses six preliminary finals in a short space of time deserves some affection.
In 1880 they chose to become the Prince Imperials, in honour of the exiled French Prince Louie, who was killed in the Zulu War.
Then one hundred years later it was as if they’d decided to get as close to making a grand final as often as possible without actually reaching one: losing the preliminary finals of 1985, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The words “nearly” and “almost” haunt the modern history of the poor Dogs.
I really do wish they had made it, just once.
After nearly making the finals in 1984, they nearly got to the Grand Final the following year before nearly making the finals again in 1986, and 1987. They nearly merged with another club, nearly relocated to another State, and nearly became extinct.
It took the club several years to gain entry into the VFL, in 1925, despite a sustained period of domination in the VFA. However the lack of success and exposure throughout much of its history has meant it might as well have been still playing in the VFA.
The only true western suburbs side in the elite competition, it was once defined by poor performances and rough and ready supporters in lumber jackets standing around the Western Oval, with the south westerlies whistling through the gaps in their teeth.
The arrival of David Smorgon in 1996 and coach Terry Wallace in 1997 sent the club into its modern era. With the change of name from Footscray to Western Bulldogs it became a genuine force, finishing third in Wallace’s first year, and second the following season.
Its supporter base appeared to take on a more middle class appearance – dressing neatly and politely waving little flags.
With an attractive blend of skill and aggression they also became many people’s second team. The reason they weren’t many people’s first choice is because we value not having ulcers. After wrapping up the 1997 Preliminary Final, they proceeded to unwrap it and hand it to Adelaide – the eventual Premiers – with a couple of minutes remaining.
The following year they again lost to the Crows in the Preliminary Final but at least they didn’t offer false hope, getting thrashed by eleven goals.
Under Rodney Eade, the Bulldogs became the most attractive side in the competition. Their highly skilled running and handball game was exhilarating to watch. Ultimately, though, finals are won by key position players and mongrel, the two factors that were missing from the outfit.
The heartbreaking result was three successive preliminary final losses.
They are in a rebuilding phase now. For the game against Collingwood, this modestly supported club implored their supporters to turn out for what they referred to as “mission possible”. And staying true to tradition they nearly succeeded.
It’s often said children are gentle, caring and innocent creatures. Don’t believe a word of it. They are the purest expression of animal savagery. They will do anything to win, and if that’s not possible, they will do everything they can to be identified with winners.
With my kids requiring a club to follow and a football jumper for Auskick I suggested they choose the Bulldogs. When asked why, I replied that I like them. When they again asked why, I said: “Because they’re the team that nearly made it”.
One chose Geelong, and the other Collingwood.
When I saw Eade in the box on Friday I briefly forgot he was no longer the coach of the Dogs. He’s the Football and Coaching Strategist now with the Magpies and I just wonder if he felt a tinge of sadness orchestrating the downfall of the club he almost took to three grand finals.