In this, 2021, the second year of Plague, my AFL team, Footscray (aka the Western Bulldogs) have made it into the Grand Final again, for the first time since our Premiership Miracle of 2016, and for only the fourth time in VFL/AFL history.
It will be very different to 2016, the COVID plague has seen to that. I will not be walking from Footscray Railway Station through Nicholson Street, Barkly Street, the Whitten Oval and Gordon Street til my mother’s home, in the days leading up to the Grand Final, admiring the shop fronts and houses festooned with red, white and blue streamers and balloons and WOOF WOOF signs.
I won’t have a chance to top up my fan gear with late additions to give me further options as to what to wear to the Grand Final. Nor will I be wearing my scarf to work for the section’s Grand Final afternoon tea, where I can proudly stand with the other (and there are surprisingly many of us) Bulldogs supporters.
There will not be banners at Highpoint West in Maribyrnong wishing support to our home town team. The shopping centre is a ghost town at the moment, thanks to the ongoing lockdown.
I will not have a Grand Final parade to attend in Jolimont on Grand Final Eve, where the two competing teams and the Premiership Cup are shown to their devoted fans.
Nor will I be marching with my brother and 20,000 other Footscray people from Flinders Street Station to the MCG on the afternoon of the Grand Final, proudly wearing our Bulldogs colours.
And if, as I fervently hope, we win, there will be no triumphant return to our home town of Footscray, where we will drink the pubs dry of beer by the following afternoon. To say nothing of not being able to celebrate at the Whitten Oval on the Sunday, where the Premiership Cup is shown to us and we have a chance to cheer our team.
It will be different, and the loss of the opportunity for communal celebration of this moment of success for our home town team will sting.
But we are resilient, we Footscray supporters. Even here in Avondale Heights, this northern bridgehead on the other side of the Maribyrnong, the Ultima Thule of Footscray, there are many of us, and we outnumber other supporters in this, our heartland.
This morning, people are digging out their member’s caps, their scarves, their beanies, and starting to wear them, to remind their neighbours and fellow villagers that we are proud of our home town. Member 2021 bumper stickers are appearing on cars, and Bulldog flags are starting to fly from the front of houses. Scarves in the club colours are getting tied to porch posts.
It will not be the same as if this was not a year of plague, but we will enjoy the next 14 days as we await the Grand Final on the far side of the country.
And if we lose, what then? Melbourne has waited 67 years for the chance to square the ledger with us for 1954, and their 57 year premiership drought is something with which we can well empathise. Who would be so churlish as to begrudge another club its own premiership fairytale, when 2016 brought us so much joy? Not I.