They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
I’ve got a small group of friends who have found their way to the heart of Footscray via a steak and a glass of red wine. These friends of mine aren’t Western Bulldogs per se, but this year they have become Footscray Bulldogs supporters.
The Whitten Oval is breathing again. Our VFL team the Footscray Bulldogs has brought competitive top-level footy back to the kennel, and with it a hum of good vibrations.
My motley crew of mates are a shining example of the beauties of a day out at the VFL.
From Fitzroy, they catch the train out to the Station Hotel for lunch and then wander over to Whitten Oval to drink beer from a can on the hill and watch the impressive next generation of red, white and blue strut their stuff, with the city skyline providing the pleasant backdrop.
‘Our VFL team the Footscray Bulldogs has brought competitive top-level footy back to the kennel, and with it a hum of good vibrations.’
The scheduling of VFL games and AFL games has so far made it difficult for me to watch these Whitten Oval games, but speaking to Peter Gordon after the first game back at our home against the Tigers, our president was beaming with pride.
In the last quarter, as the Doggies kicked well clear of the Tiger twos, the “FOOT-SCRAY, FOOT-SCRAY” chant rose high and loud.
Even hearing about this second-hand made me feel warm inside. I couldn’t help think that our own reserves team has put the “club” back in football club.
If the way to a new Footscray Bulldog’s heart is through his belly, the way to a Bulldog’s heart is through a cup of soup.
Melbourne’s cold snap has ripped through all of us in our fair city these past few weeks, and footy training has been a battle against the elements as much as against an opponent.
With a plethora of Sunday games in our fixture this year, our schedule has meant our last training run for the week – or “captain’s run” as it is affectionately known – has fallen on a Saturday. I like captain’s runs. There’s a calmness to the club on the day before a home game, maybe partly because there’s no traffic on the roads at 8am on a Saturday.
Knowing you’re going to play against a fierce opponent in less than 24 hours sees each player go through their private meditation, putting on their emotional armour that will get them through another game. It can be a quiet ritual.
Before a captain’s run, the team and its leaders sit in a circle and the battle lines are quite literally drawn. A football ground is painted onto the carpet of our meeting room and we sit around the boundary.
These meetings are quite tense. One of the dilemmas the modern footballer faces is, “When the game stops, where will I be?” They are also interactive. Thirty-six palm-sized bean bags are moved around the field in the style of human battleships, scenarios are played out for what “might” happen the next day.
This part of the game is known more commonly these days as “structure” or “process”. These words have also become nauseating for a lot of people, and I can understand why, but once the theory is dealt with we sit and listen to our coach and the human element so ingrained in footy culture reappears.
This is when we talk about the emotion or the narrative of the team and of the club. We talk about where we want to go. I sometimes refer to this time of the week as “footy church”. It’s a church built on optimism and togetherness.
By the time we run out onto the Whitten Oval for a short and loose skills session, the voices of teammates chirp like birds in the spring and our feet barely touch the ground.
The AFL team is off to Tassie this week, so we won’t have our captain’s run at home, but Footscray will be hosting Bendigo at home in front of a retro-appreciating home crowd. I encourage everyone to go along and check it out. It’s a pure football experience, just like a cup of hot soup after training.
This article was originally published in The Age and can be accessed here.