Friday 18 March 2022

Desire: Unfreed

Once they're finished studying the Mad Minute, post-nuclear war scientists will sift through rubble for evidence of the 2021 Grand Final and try to work out why Footscray got so upset about that song. For the benefit of brave, radioactive suited types going through the shattered archives at Blogger HQ, the controversy stems from the players of one team singing the bullshit pop song that the other team liked. This caused World War III to break out, as the UN, NATO and International Criminal Court were too busy mediating between the warring parties to stop Russian and America dropping 4000 kilotons of nuclear weapons on each other.

I understand that no rational, highly paid professional, is going to focus entirely on song-based scandal after conceding 16 of the last 17 goals (👍) but they're sure keen on bringing it up. You couldn't read the words 'Western Bulldogs' in 2022 without one of them mentioning how they took offence, even claiming in one magic moment that it was 'their song'. If the tables were turned and our players were publicly going on about this on September 26 I'd have been furious but the Dogs were still talking about it four days before Round 1. Good thing they weren't around in Norm Smith's day, when Grand Finals wins over Collingwood were celebrated by singing a pisstake version of their theme song. 

Now that the rematch is over, let us never hear about this bloody tune again. Until Round 19 when we need another reason to mock them. Or between rounds 2 and 18 when every club in the competition should slip it into their pre-match playlist and see if they can provoke a Don Pyke Adelaide style death spiral. If Bevo going bonkers in the press conference is any indication, it's not far away.

What a time to be alive, when we can unmercifully laugh at the misfortune of the second-best side in the competition from a superior position. If Kid Rock taught us anything he was right that 'it ain't bragging motherfucker if you back it up'. 

Back to the misfortune of others (and the first game of senior, men's Australian Rules football since the greatest day in the history of western civilisation) later, I had to see our coronation as premiers. It was the ceremony they said would never happen, and many of us concurred. Despite seeing the big game in its entirety several times, as highlights multiple more, and now across three different documentaries, the only thing that confirms it's not a Truman Show style prank on me is that it would have been better TV content if we'd blown the three quarter time lead.

All week I was paranoid about missing what could be the only premiership flag raising of my life while 400 deep in a queue outside. People had enough trouble scanning physical tickets, now access has gone fully mobile and you've got to contend with technology strugglers who forget to log into the app, then have the phone lock itself while they're trying to find the right spot for the barcode to sit. Not to mention making people confirm their vaccination status, potentially leaving you waiting for the munter in front to sook about freedom (not, as we understand, from desire).

I avoided these problems, for one week anyway, by showing up as early as I have since the Reserves were abolished. Ironically in a year where I have about eight minutes of spare time a week I had four hours in the city before the bounce, and given that the Shaft Cinema doesn't look like reopening the MCG seemed the next best place to hang out. I'm delighted to announce that you can change stands again, allowing me to clamber up to Row MM for the first time since Oscar McSizzle kicked a goal against the Pies 18 long months ago. Bit of water under the bridge etc...

The time between opening of gate and hoisting of fabric could have been filled with a classic replay. Even I accept that playing the Grand Final would have been an unnecessary provocation of any Bulldogs fans silly enough to turn up before the first bounce, but another spin of Max going off his nut in the Prelim would have been good. Instead, I went old school, read a book, and listened to stadium music so inoffensive that even Footscray wouldn't have complained. I'd have watched the Prelim myself, but was in full battery conservation mode to watch the second half on the train while going home to - god help us all - get up at 3am.

After nearly an hour of sitting there and thinking there must have been something more productive to do, the emotion of the occasion made me lose the plot and engage in what may have been the saddest activity in the history of the MCG. Without even meaning to I started picturing key passages of play from 25/09/2021 as if they were happening in front of me. What's the point of all this virtual reality, 3D shit if they can't make this a reality? Tupac's ghostly hologram turned up a musical festival 10 years ago, there's been more than enough time to develop this important technology. Then if things go tits up in a few years they could wheel it out before home games to keep fans from self-harming.

The big ceremony turned up just in time to stop me charging the ground and rolling around in ecstasy on the 50 metre line. I understand Bulldogs fans not paying for a ticket to have memories of a humiliating loss shoved down their throat, but where were the multitudes who leapt out of the closet as Melbourne fans in September? A Grand Final rematch on a Wednesday night in Round 1 is stupid on many levels but even the MCC was full of gaps. Maybe they were all stuck in the queues I was trying to avoid.

I missed Round 1, 1997 due to teenage misery, so the only other premiership ceremony I can remember was Geelong 2008. They had somebody parachute the elusive flag in, we're classier so opted for it to be carried by great ex-players instead. Fans of history will see some irony in Stan Alves and Greg Wells at the head of the queue, both of who went elsewhere for flags when we were pox. The good news is that they've been pardoned by the post-flag MFC Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Also nice of Stan to accept the invitation after we got him the sack from St Kilda.

Ultimately, it was a piece of cloth being run up a flagpole but I still almost cried again when the video package came on. If I'd known it was just a membership ad it might not have been as close to tears. Suffice to say the raising was a bit more successful than the sad chapter in our history when some DICKHEAD decided to do it at every home game of 2011. Even after a win I described it as a "horrible, gnawing shame tearing my soul apart". A bit over the top, but dramatic foreshadowing about where that season was headed. 11 years later we don't have to pretend to be defending premiers and everything is ok with the world.

The idea that winning it all had ended my capacity to feel about footy was exposed when I got the shakes just before the bounce. I just didn't want to lose, especially to the team we'd just had the greatest night of our life against. It's not like the premiership cup is some sort of championship belt that you've got to hand over, but it still felt like beating them would be the perfect sign off to 2021. We've got to lose again sometime but I didn't want it to be the very first game after glory. In the end, it wasn't, but Jesus H Christ not without a couple of odd twists in the storyline.

Having not seen a live game since the Round 16 debacle against GWS, and only three others since the end of 2019, it took a bit to tune into the fact that I was watching any teams, much less the best two in the country. I'd obviously never seen Jake Bowey in person, but had also missed Ben Brown's two week stint playing in front of crowds in Victoria. Toby Bedford was another new one when he came on, having previously played in front of nobody in Perth and during a complete cock-up in Cairns.

If electrodes had been attached to my knackers I'd have admitted thinking we'd win by around four goals but I was still more terrified of a loss than expected. Nice to know the nuffy gene isn't obliterated by success. It didn't help that we'd already lost Hibberd, Petty and Rivers, then Lever went out late with a crocked foot. If the Dogs were ever going to extract the merest sliver of revenge and kick a big score this was their chance. 

We're told Jake's foot is ok, and that he may even be back next week, but considering how we've never have a foot injury that didn't nearly end in amputation I won't trust it until he comes back and it doesn't fall off by quarter time.

Politely, Footscray paid respect to the fallen heroes with 20 minutes of the worst kicks to forwards you'll ever see. For a bit of the second quarter they acted like Carey and Longmire were down there, but the start was a mess. It was all rushed, high kicks inside 50 that our B-Team had all the time in the world to get to. After encouraging you to buy Joel Smith shares in the pre-season preview I was nervously adjusting the collar after we picked him in preference to Tomlinson, but he was very good. He's not going to do a Lever/May impersonation every week but more than justified his inclusion here. Lever's misfortune allowed Tomlinson in via the side door and he was solid too. It's comforting to know that the system works with generic parts.

So, after a few minutes of effortlessly turning back half-hearted, panicked attacks, and despite our midfield operating at medium speed, memories of Perth came flooding back via four unanswered goals. Going back to the third quarter of that great night that was now 20 of the last 21 goals against the Dogs. For a moment it looked like the inflation crisis had come to footy [include 80s nightclub reference as a tribute to Eddie McGuire] and we were going win by even more than 74 points.

Once Petracca turned up to fulfil all your non-sexual fantasies (and perhaps some of those too), he was a landslide best on ground, but in the early minutes I was in love with Langdon. Three seasons in, nothing he does is surprising but his fanging up and down the soon to be SK Warne Stand wing was a delight. He fully deserved the first goal of the season after working his arse off from the first bounce. 

This led to mini-floodgate opening, with everybody in attendance except the man on the mark knowing Brown was going to run around and Viney standing on his own with three teammates 30 metres out. Then, with the opposition backline in complete disarray we missed the chance to kill them off on the spot. It took our old mate Mitch Hannan going down as the first victim of the Harrison Petty memorial timewasting rule to gift Bowey the fourth. Now he's got eight wins, a flag and a goal. Remember when he got drafted and David King cracked a 'funny' about his height and hair colour? What a knob.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, the wheels began to fall off. Literally in Christian Salem's case, as he hobbled from the ground with some degree of knee injury. Now we were one backline casualty away from David Neitz having to jump the fence and fill in like it was 1995. I felt sorry for May, who survived the Prelim by the skin of his hammy and was now the sole survivor, looking around at his fellow defenders and asking "who are you people?" 

This Casey Demons tribute act held up remarkably well, except for when our midfield went AWOL and the ball started rocketing down there at warp speed. The situation got so grim that Goodwin was finally forced to do what he had resisted for so long (and who's arguing with him now?), play McSizzle in defence. Speaking of the premiership coach, I did enjoy him bouncing back from off-season historic bullying allegations to being the face of a 'free mental health workshop for your club' ad on the big screen. Probably needs to visit the Western Oval and give his opposite number a hug.

We weren't doing much at stoppages, but it helped that there weren't many. I didn't think much of the Dispose of Die rule that gives players the absolute minimum of time to get rid of it before being penalised. Cue a first half of anyone in a pack frantically trying to keep the ball moving by any means necessary. This fit the AFL's desire to create more scoring opportunities but was hardly the beautiful game. It also removes the option for strugglers to stay competitive by clogging the game up, hopefully giving us time to kick a few monster scores while we're still good. The good/bad news is that on the trajectory of most rule changes they'll barely be enforcing it by Round 4. In fact, some of the umpires seemed to have given up by Quarter 4 of Game 1.

I reckon Oliver was spooked by the new rule at first, not doing his usual routine of walking through packs in slow motion like The Matrix and emerging unscathed. He was very good later - except for conceding seven frees - but it felt like he was desperately trying to avoid players who probably wouldn't have been able to tackle him anyway. On a positive note, we learnt our lesson against Carlton and gave away about 1000 metres fewer unnecessary frees. Instead, Footscray pulled off the trifecta of time-wasting, umpire abuse and a 6-6-6 warning while we behaved impeccably. Didn't stop us being crushed in the free kick count, but that's something I've never been able to get properly upset, sometimes things just don't go your way. Everybody's suspiciously quiet on days when the Wheel of Interpretation spins in favour of their side.

There was, however, one free that set a new benchmark for the umpires making things up as they go. Footscray had already calmed us down and squeezed out their first goal via a defender hoofing one from long range, but it looked like we were going to get to the break with a three goal lead. Then Joel Smith was pinged for doing everything possible to avoid colliding with old mischief face Weightman in a marking contest, to the point where if it had been marked people would have unfairly slaughtered him for not going in harder. I'm certain the umpire wasn't going to pay it until the siren went, and if that's the standard for contact Brown should kick 82 goals. That's just Mitch, Ben and his Inspector Gadget arms will get 200.

So that was 15 minutes of total domination wasted, leaving the door wide open for a Stranglewank comeback. I hadn't even completed the Cluedo mystery passage trip from Ponsford to Olympic, ready for a quick exit at the half like the boring old kent I am, when they kicked the first goal of the second quarter, and was barely in a seat when the second went through. Our midfield had disappeared in quicksand, while Aaron Naughton was wearing a headband like Carl Ditterich and marking like Jason Dunstall. 

There was further umpire angst when one of their goals came from Langdon walking straight out of bounds. I don't want them to pay that, but it was one of Ed's few mistakes not to realise that they're going to every time. In the heat of battle he forgot that one of the key skills in the Acting Football League is to pretend you were trying to keep the ball in when you clearly weren't. He just ran it over like a touchdown and was nicked accordingly. Next time raise your arms like you're about to handball but just happened to run out of space and everything will be fine.

Not only did we lose the lead, they poured another two goals on top, and barely halfway through the quarter we were as far behind as we'd been in front earlier. The full body misery I went through at that point proved that while things can never be the same post-flag, watching Melbourne can still affect me physically. My nerves were so shot by this that it proves there's no way I'd have survived a live Grand Final in person without dying in my seat with a burst brain. It's probably better to have missed it. 

If I'd died around 9pm WST on September 25 I'd not only have missed flag, but another great comeback six months later. Like that night we jumped them, ended up in a cavernous hole after going to sleep, then turned it around to win. This ending wasn't as savage, but it went the right way. The revival started with an ice cool set shot from Brown, before Petracca did even better from a more obscure angle. Bless that man, he carried on like the Grand Final never stopped, throwing another 38 touches on top of his celebrated Norm Smith winning rampage. Total possession count is as useful as inside 50s but this was real life match-winning stuff.

And so, as we crawled off the deck to make it a game at half time I was out the door, hating myself all the way. Hooray for modern technology which allowed me to keep watching on the train, leading to remarkable scenes during the third quarter, as we charged into the lead and I made a dick of myself in a public place. When Naughton opted to try a comically bad short pass instead of having a shot I punched my fist in the air in triumph then looked over to see a woman diagonally opposite wondering if she'd had the bad luck to near a nutbag. I apologised and gestured to the phone to explain what I was up to and it was all smoothed over without the law getting involved.

The comparisons to our last meeting were endless, right down to Fritsch being gifted a goal by a massive defensive stuff up. Good luck living up to his last start against them, but this was his only really good period of the game. Still, when you do stuff all for three quarters and still come out with two decisive goals in a win you've done your job.

When Jackson, looking increasingly like I Lost On Jeopardy era Weird Al, got our sixth in a row historical precedent suggested we'd piss it in unchallenged. Instead, we got a frightening glimpse of what might have happened without the Mad Minute and/or kicking a goal early in the last, missing several chances on either side of the break to blow them to bits.

It wouldn't have been the end of the world if we'd lost, but when a one legged Bont hobbled through a snap to make it close again my stress level went through the roof. Can't have reached Chernobyl levels this time as there was no mystery blood nose. Thank god by now I was the only person in the carriage so could carry on like I was still in Row MM. When Naughton, and the genuine fakhari rug wrapped around his forehead, cut the margin to less than a kick I was ready to climb atop the train and make contact with electric wires.

As the Dogs teetered on the brink of a moderately famous comeback, poor old Jamarra Ugle-Hagan was left sitting on the bench with thumb in fundament, wondering if it would have been better to be drafted by a bottom team after all. It probably wouldn't have made a difference if he came on, but after a short break from gifting Rising Star nominations to all and sundry, I was worried about being on the end of a breakout performance. No worries, he racked up a game without removing his tracksuit (why are they persisting with this nonsense rule?) and we successfully defended the lead.

Enter the captain, lifting us out of deep trouble in slightly less dramatic fashion than R23, 2021. He was probably better odds to kick this from 50 metres out on an angle, and after significantly improving the angle he crushed the kick. Last year he did similar against Hawthorn, and even from the other end of the ground it sounded like baseball connecting with bat. I'd like to think this was the same and hate myself for not having the stamina and/or fortitude to stay and see it. I got home on the siren and couldn't sleep anyway, so what difference would it have made?

Maximum's goal brought the curtain down on Footscray, with Petracca bouncing one through not long after. Then Harmes made up for an otherwise blah night by kicking the official sealer. It was a great finish, suggesting that BurgessBall might have died but the less catchy GriffithBall might continue its legacy - e.g. being credited for any great fourth quarter performances and being described as a myth the rest of the time.

Other than a few minutes of the second quarter when we disappeared off the face of the planet, it was a perfectly sensible and professional win that might not have scared the other top sides but should convince them we're not one hit wonders. NFI if it ends in another flag but at a minimum I believe we're going to give it a fair crack. Best sticky tape the backline together again though, we won't get away with this every week. 

Because I'm a middle aged COWARD I was in bed five minutes after the siren, missing all the fun of Luke Beveridge's spicy press conference. Shattered. It's one thing to enjoy the meltdown after, but seeing this sort of thing live is a once in a decade opportunity. Suffice to say he wasn't in a good mood, and waited patiently for the Tom Morris hand to go up before unloading the biggest spray since Mick Malthouse nearly strangled Stevo with a microphone cord.

His shambolic performance was wonderful viewing because he's somebody else's coach. It made you appreciate Goodwin's dull as dishwater public persona and constant use of the word 'connection'. Beveridge's obviously pre-planned comments went to pieces when he tried to kick Tom out of the press conference only to be informed he had no authority to do that, then tried to wrap things up awkwardly before walking out. I felt his pain, having also been involved in arguments where I want to just flat out publicly call the other person a kent but know it will backfire. 24 hours later they probably had to do several takes of the apology video until he stopped referencing Tom's career fatal group chat fiasco.

The undisputed highlight was the alleged smoking gun about Morris being a Melbourne fan, as if he was a sleeper agent a'la The Americans that we'd put into journalism in order to be activated when needed. Maybe the bit where he hosted the club podcast for 10 minutes was part of the deep cover operation, before we set him loose pre-Grand Final to destablise the opposition. Then, because winning a premiership wasn't enough for us, we got the Tomchurian Candidate to help us win a Round 1 game by factually reporting on the Bulldogs' selection shenanigans. 

Now that Tom's been given the arse for sending NQR messages about colleagues we'll never find out how deep this conspiracy went. Did we recruit him as a child, train him to be a Melbourne fan, put him through uni and use our Fox Footy contacts (also part of the vast conspiracy) to land him the job that would possible, one day, allow him to execute an operation that would benefit the club? And where was Tom's grandmother during the lead-up to Pearl Harbour? Did we release the dodgy messages because his cover was blown and we needed to wrap the operation up? And how busy do you need to be to send an audio message to the group instead of typing your response? 

These questions, and more, will be answered at subsequent Footscray press conferences in association with the United Australia Party, we'll just carry on defending the premiership.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Ed Langdon
3 - Ben Brown
2 - Alex Neal-Bullen
1 - Clayton Oliver 

Apologies to Gawn, May, Smith, Jordon and various others.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
I thought it would be hard to beat Petracca's balls-in-a-wheelbarrow finish from the boundary line during the second quarter. Enter your premiership captain and mine, to hammer one through at full power from 50 out just as things were getting hairy. At first I thought he was eyeing off a short pass, before having an almost visible conversion to thinking "it's my job to kick this". When he ran out I had a moment of terror about it being smothered, but he had no such doubts

Matchday Experience Watch
Announcing that the promised fireworks had been cancelled due to 'unforeseen and unclear circumstances' was magnificently sour. The papers suggest it was due to fears that the MCG would go up in flames, but I'm convinced that there were complaints from the sort of narcs who torpedoed our plans for a training facility in Yarra Park. To me, fireworks are the biggest waste of money since Israel Folau but anything that annoys this group of happy campers is ok by me. Park on a nature strip and/or across a driveway next time you're in the area.

Next week
On paper, if we can weather multiple storms and win (relatively) easily here Gold Coast should be slapped around until our collective hands swell. I'm still not taking anything for granted, this is the only time of the year they're any good, and we're always a chance of a dire performance against lesser opposition. Should win, probably will win, but this proves there will never be a game that I go into 100% confident.

As for changes, both Lever and Hibberd are certainties if fit. The 10 day break might see them both right, but after seeing the way our second division of defenders stepped up this week I won't be horrified if they don't make it. Promises to be an interesting night, especially if the Suns beat new COVID superclub West Coast on Sunday.

IN: Lever, Hibberd
OUT: Bedford (back to the sub), Hunt (omit), Salem (injured)
UNLUCKY: Nil until we see Casey.

Final thoughts
The world is a more interesting place when footy's going on. It's even better when we're winning. 17 other teams, feel free to kneel and kiss the royal foot.


  1. Replies
    1. As in the unveiling of the 2007 flag - R3, 2008 when we were expected to lose by somewhere in the vicinty of 186.

  2. Ahhhhh! Thank you. Because, as an original Hawk and (merely) acquired Dee, I know deep down in the marrow of my bones that 2008 was a Hawthorn flag.

  3. Loved Max's goal that was missing, yes definitely missing, then fell in at the last second.
    Enjoyed Nibbler's game as a spare parts midfielder too.


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