By Dan Batten | @battenball96
Sport has the uncanny knack of bringing out a variety of emotions.
For some, it may merely be a pastime or even a distraction—but for others, it means so much more. An entire weekend—perhaps an entire year—rests on their team, favourite player, or they themselves achieving glory in their sport of choice.
Perhaps the greatest thing about sport, is that anything is possible. This is a cliché, yes, but nothing in sport is written in stone—proven eloquently by the Australian Open this year, with the two favourites Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray being knocked out before the quarterfinals.
It is unfathomable that the two who played off in the final at Rod Laver Arena last year were knocked out so early, just 12 months later. But this is the reality of sport; it is unpredictable, and when the impossible ‘holy grail’ is achieved, the feeling for the supporters is surreal.
For loyal supporters who have been starved of success for years, decades, or even lifetimes, this feeling of achieving greatness is even more euphoric. It has a dream-like quality, especially when this triumph seems to be ‘against the odds’.
2016 served as a year where the impossible happened more often than not, and a year where some of the longest sporting droughts were broken. The Western Bulldogs in the AFL, the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL, Leicester City in the EPL, and perhaps the longest drought of them all, the Chicago Cubs in the MLB.
In our great city though, the AFL Grand Final was of the most significance. The Western Bulldogs had not tasted premiership victory since 1954—two years before television transmission began in Australia. This flag in 1954 rendered even greater significance due to the fact that it was the Bulldogs’ sole premiership.
This was last October, when the working class club broke a 62-year drought in the most inspiring and unlikely of circumstances. Since the current finals system had been instated (consisting of eight teams with the top four receiving a second chance) no side outside the top four had ever managed to win the premiership. The Bulldogs finished seventh.
They faced three tough opponents before reaching their unlikely Grand Final—playing West Coast in Perth, Hawthorn, and GWS in Sydney—and in none of these matches were they perceived by the public as ‘favourites’. As they won these games week by week, they soon became the favourite for fans without a team to support in finals (including myself, but this is a common occurrence for me considering I barrack for Richmond).
The growing supporter base dared to dream; could they really do it?
Each win in the finals series was a little miracle in itself for Bulldogs fans. Their penultimate nail-biting victory against the Giants was a brilliant match, and even to the neutral viewer the feeling was surreal. They had made it, against all odds.
I worked at the MCG as a footy record salesman on Grand Final Day. Beginning at 8am, I noticed the familiar buzz and energy about the colosseum. Having worked AFL Grand Final day for the past five years, I was used to this kind of atmosphere, but I distinctly remember it feeling just that little bit different. Just a little bit more special. There was a sense of magic in the air, as the hopeful Bulldogs fans flooded past me, hoping that they could break one of the biggest premiership droughts in AFL history.
A Bulldogs diehard by the name of Matthew Donald was at the ground that day. His entire family bleed red, white and blue.
“I felt the weirdest mixture of nerves and confidence that you could concoct… oddly enough, I managed to get a fair amount of sleep the night before.”
The same magical, phantasmagorical feeling that was emitted pre-match was in full force as the final siren bellowed throughout the MCG, signalling that the Western Bulldogs had defeated the Sydney Swans to claim their second AFL flag. For all Bulldogs fans under the age of 62, this was a first-in-a-generation feat. And they had done it. Finally.
“It was the first time in my life that what was happening on-field had become secondary to what was going on in the crowd. After sticking with the club so, so long without success – my dad was two months old when we won in ’54 and my uncle, who I was with at the game, wasn’t even around in ’61 (the Bulldogs made the Grand Final this year, but lost)—we were finally on top of the pile.”
Such was the excitement of one Bulldogs fan during the last quarter that he suffered a heart attack, thankfully making a full recovery in hospital days later.
Imaginations were captivated once again when super-coach Luke Beveridge invited injured veteran Bob Murphy to the stand to take his premiership medal—fitting, considering the two are arguably the most loved figures in the West.
These feelings of disbelief and happiness were reverberated by fans across the entire competition—well, except Sydney—and similar emotions were evoked for the aforementioned sporting miracles.
“It still doesn’t feel real. I reckon it’s pretty close to the impossible premiership, but that only adds to the magic of it all. Nothing like this triumph will ever happen again, certainly not in our lifetimes, and to think that the Bulldogs and only the Bulldogs achieved it is something very special.”