It might have only been the 184th AFL match in their existence but it could easily be described as Greater Western Sydney’s best.
The Doggies Almanac: The story of a magnificent premiership, edited by John Harms and Mandy Johnson, came out just in time for Christmas – not that a Dogs fan needed any further motivation to buy it.
Harms would be well known to most Roarers as an occasional panellist on the popular ABC sports discussion show Offsiders.
He also hosts The Footy Almanac website, where mostly amateur writers review games of footy, which are then bundled together to form The Footy Almanac for each premiership season (an NRL version is also produced).
Harms has an eye for the poetic, for the transcendent character of sport, for its ability to rise from the mundane to the sublime, and thus it is no surprise that this season, it was decided to publish an almanac focusing exclusively on the Dogs’ memorable season.
The other-worldliness of what the Dogs achieved in 2016 fits in well with Harms’ broader views on footy, that it “is a more glorious concept – an ongoing dream, a phantasmal reality, not necessarily tangible nor obviously real; and yet real.”
I’d say most dogs fans felt like this throughout September, even if we weren’t able to express it as eloquently as Harms (on that note, I encourage all to read Jay Croucher’s excellent piece again).
The book opens with a poem written by Bruce Dawe, ‘The High Mark’ “then the fall back to earth (guernseyed Icarus) to the whistle’s shrill tweet”.
It continues with an introductory series of essays, which follow the theme of amazement and incredulity, with an obvious Dogs bent, often about the family aspect of being a Bulldogs supporter.
Harms commences proceedings with a fantastic piece where he zeroes in on a key contest in the game, one of those make-or-break moments which decide and define premierships. He then talks of Luke Beveridge, what he has instilled in this young group, observing that he has taught them “not to fearfully not-lose the game”.
There is a story recounted by Russel Griggs and Donna Hannan, newly arrived to Footscray from Brisbane, who unexpectedly got swept up by the over-whelmingly community spirit which grew with each Bulldog finals win, appropriately entitled ‘Resistance is futile’.
No footy book is complete without a real life and death story. In this case, Rob, aged in his sixties, suffers a heart attack up in the stands, just as the Dogs are taking control of the match. By the time the siren sounds, he is in the hands of the paramedics, but manages a thumbs up as the 100,000 strong crowd erupts.
The actual week-by-week matchday reports were written at earlier moments in the season, before the inexorable race to the flag from seventh position.
Reading some of these reports, the prescience expressed is remarkable. For example, Andrew Gigagz writes after Round 1, “There will undoubtedly be tears along the way but I think Bevo and his boys are about to take us on one hell of a ride.”
Saints supporter Yvette Wroby writes after Round 2, “For years, they have seemed about eighteen months ahead of the Saints in development. They can win the flag first because they’ve waited longer.”
This is a book that supporters can really connect with, not just because we all went on that very same ride, but because if you come from the local area, you can relate to some of the stories and you are going to see a surname you recognise among the contributors.
Neil Anderson writes of returning to the Western Oval the day after the win, not having visited his former haunt for many years. He includes a photo of his old milk bar: “It still operates to this day, only two Bernie Quinlan drop kicks down the road from our family home.”
It’s that sort of book. No Bulldogs supporter can read it without wiping away a tear or two.
As the back cover notes, “Ultimately, this is a story of love.”