The majority of AFL supporters have reached for their default second club setting and jumped aboard the Western Bulldogs bandwagon.
If you haven’t already, don’t be shy but you better hasten your pace as room is quickly running out.
Fresh from defeating Lex Luther and the reigning three time premier Hawthorn, there is all types of sunshine and rainbows surrounding the Whitten Oval, but there is no tippy toeing around how daunting a challenge they face. Coach Luke Beveridge has simply instilled belief into this player group and their supporters finally do believe in fairytales.
The controversial bye weekend before the finals was just the tonic needed to refresh this exciting young group who have been hit hard with injury throughout the season. Players have reinvented themselves, picking teammates off the canvas in Fremantle before dismantling the West Coast Eagles in Perth, before showing a steely resolve to come back from three goals down against September stalwarts, Hawthorn.
Many are singing the praises of Greater Western Sydney and their over-talented list, but this hard working Bulldogs outfit will have the support of every other club behind them. Whilst the league will be secretly supporting GWS, footy needs a Western Bulldog story more.
Over the last few seasons the league has become stagnant, predictable and almost too business-like and subsequently lost a stream of grass roots support in key areas. The VFL has become a more enjoyable option with fans being able to identify with clubs and suburban grounds once again, whilst entering the turnstile of Etihad Stadium for an early Sunday afternoon has grown cold and tiresome.
No group of supporters would be more deserving of a premiership, or at least an appearance at the big dance, than the Bulldogs. Their last grand final was back in 1961 and the last time they tasted the ultimate success was in 1954, their sole premiership. Flags aren’t decided by popularity contests but if they were the Bulldogs would be a mile in front.
For those who have braved a windy rain soaked Western Oval, or placed a few coins in the tins being rattled in the late eighties, this week is for you. Some will brave the bus trip to Western Sydney, or even fly cattle class to the game, but many more will watch from their favourite pub or lounge.
You can see the glimmer of hope in the eyes of those passionate supporters who stood in ticket queue’s this week when you watch the news and you realise just how much this team means to so many people. The Western Bulldogs encapsulates hard work and togetherness. It is a brave footy club. Most Bulldogs supporters know the feeling of disappointment. Hopefully 2016 is different.
The demons of the 1997 preliminary final will linger in the memory for those old enough, and if Bulldogs fans are a few goals up at three quarter time, it might be poignant to remove any valuables from their reach.
I was at the Melbourne Cricket Ground that day and the memory still haunts, even as non-Bulldogs supporter. Second only to the World Cup qualifier in the same year between the Socceroos and Iran have I witnessed such a stunned supporter group. Nineteen years on Spotless Stadium presents a chance for this group of players to not only bury that memory but change the lives of Western Bulldogs fans forever.