On the day after the 2016 Grand Final miracle, after leaving the celebration at the Whitten Oval I had a few drinks (very limited choice as the pub had almost entirely run out) at the Victoria Hotel in Footscray with a friend who had crossed the Nullabor to see the game.
He had spoken to his six year old son in Perth on the phone and his son had said: “I’ve waited my whole life for this.”
So too had his dad, to put it into context. A whole life that had been forty years longer.
We supporters of the Footscray Football Club, as we prefer to call the team trading as the Western Bulldogs, are a resilient bunch. 2016 was the first grand final our team had played in since 1961, and the first premiership since the solitary first one of 1954. I watched us get smashed by Geelong in the 1992 preliminary final, and get robbed by a point by Adelaide in the 1997 preliminary final (which hurt even more). To say nothing of those other prelims in 1985, 1998, 2007, 2008, 2009….
There has been a long while there when winning one final in a series would make the season seem like a success, albeit still the disappointment of falsely raised hopes. But it is our home town team, and we love it, just as we love our home town Footscray, with all its quaint charms and shortcomings.
And then we had 2016, when the theoretical possibility of winning four sudden death finals matches in a row to seize the premiership became a miracle reality.
It is September, and a Victorian football fan’s mind turns to the AFL finals, especially when his team has squeaked in.
We do not quite know whom the Bulldogs will play against in the first week of the finals, whether it will be St Kilda or West Coast. That depends on whether Collingwood wins the final game of the home and away season and leapfrogs past us into 7th spot.
But that we made the finals fills my heart, and that of every Bulldogs supporter, with optimism. 2016 was a miracle premiership, but when something can happen once, it can happen again, particularly in this topsy turvy strange year of 2020. And the team knows it – believing that you can win is the first real step towards winning, something which never really was the case before 2016.
As our Grand Final t-shirts put it in 2016: