Friday, October 14, 2016

The Dogs won the Grand Final

Two weeks ago the Western Bulldogs won the Grand Final. The Bulldogs. The Western Bulldogs. Yes, they won the Grand Final! The Doggies. I still need to repeat myself and say it out loud. I even pinch myself to check I'm not dreaming.

I'll be honest. If you'd told me after round 23 we'd win the Flag I probably would have laughed. Yes, we'd had a great home and away season, and yes, we were in the finals but I think I was hoping we could do one better than last year and win during week 1 of the finals and when we did I was delighted. Beating West Coast in Perth was beyond our wildest dreams. We'd been all but written off in the lead up to the game after our disappointing performance in the final home and away game at the same venue against Freo; a team that had only recorded 4 wins for the season and finished 16th on the ladder. To beat last year's grand finalist on their home turf, having brought 5 players back from injury sent us into rapturous celebration, and then we beat Hawthorn...who had fans calling themselves Fourthorn, thinking they were on their way to a 4th consecutive premiership. We beat them. I've already blogged about that game here. I know the club had us saying #believemorebulldog but I don't think we were all in that space until that victory. I'm happy enough to admit I wasn't. I felt we were shaping up to be red hot contenders for 2017 and then we beat Hawthorn... then anything seemed possible.

I started predicting a Cats v Dogs grand final - thinking it would be a marketers dream. The very first game I ever went to was the Cats v Dogs. It was an elimination final and it was at VFL Park. I grew up down that way and most of the games I went to in the 70s and 80s were at VFL Park. Google will help to remind me it was September 4, 1976 and that I was one of 50,686.
I was a few weeks short of my 8th birthday and I felt sure the Dogs would chase those Cats up the goal posts. It's about my only clear memory of the game; thinking the Dogs would surely beat the Cats based on mascots alone. Well, Geelong won and I developed a deep hatred for everything Geelong as a direct result of that game! The whims of an 8 year old. I even had a badge on my duffle coat that said 'I hate Geelong' - the irony of me now living here! It wasn't lost on me when I met my (Footscray following but) Geelong based husband in 1993. I try not to hate anyone or anything these days but back then, Geelong was public enemy number 1. Turns out the Cats didn't fulfill their half of the marketing dream in their prelim so it would be the Swans facing off in the Grand Final.

Back to 2016... we'd won 2 finals, against both of last year's Grand Finalists. No-one had predicted this and no-one favoured us. Many from NSW were gunning for an all Sydney Grand Final which was met with derision from Victorians. The Dogs bandwagon was filling with the "they're my second team' brigade and we welcomed them aboard.

We had a second interstate game to contend with and it was against the much fancied GWS on their home turf, Spotless Stadium.  My post here gives the account of that match, including our road trip and the pure emotion involved in that game. Having lived through that game, grand final week, the actual grand final, post game celebrations and the day after celebrations I still think that preliminary final was the most intense moment of the entire finals series. Everything is on the line in a grand final, but for us Doggies fans it seemed like there was so much more riding on that prelim. We wanted it so bad... just to make it into a Grand Final and then for that to happen; the joy was long lasting and almost surreal. Everything that has happened since is also surreal but that seemed like such a monumental occasion.

So here we were in Grand Final week - we were in new territory. We'd watched from afar every other year and now it was about us. We'd gone in every other pre-prelim final ballot for Grand Final tickets and this year for a little while I considered not going in the ballot in case we were the jinx. I couldn't resist though and before heading off for Sydney I'd battled the Ticketek system to register 4 of the 5 of us. (Our youngest is a Dogs member too but preferred the idea of hanging with her cousins to watch the game). We also tossed up registering in 2 separate lots thinking it might increase our chances but eventually decided it was all or nothing. We'd go to Fed Square or Whitten Oval if we didn't get tickets, and during the registration process we were still in that state of 'we've been here before and look how that ended...' and as such we weren't really thinking much about Grand Final Day.

So, we get home Sunday night exhausted but exhilarated from our first ever footy road trip. Social media tells me Sydney members have started getting their ticket allotments. I really, really want to go to the Grand Final. I really, really want my husband to be able to go. I feel like we deserve it. I bristle when I see someone bragging about having a ticket and not being a Swan or Dogs fan. I scowl at the ridiculous competitions on radio and tv where just any old Joe can get a ticket. I know it is said every year that true fans deserve better but this year it is us so I feel it personally.  We're not social club members, or coterie, or rich. We're a suburban family who love footy and especially love our Doggies. Two years ago I wrote a piece 'There's no trade week for fans'  and in it I refer to some of the highs and lows of following a team - of the passion involved. We're long suffering and dammit we deserved to see our team in a Grand Final. Corporate Big Wigs with overstuffed wallets don't!

So Monday rolls around - I'm not too proud to beg so I openly put it out there that we want tickets. The ballot seems to be taking a ridiculous amount of time to be run. Surely a computer just needs a button pushed? I check our online bank account more times than I should. The priority one people start reporting that they have tickets... We're priority three. I check again...and again. This process seems cruel and unnecessary. Just after dinner I check once more and I've never been so excited to see the number $666 with a DR next to it. I just sit there for a little moment. Tears well in my eyes and slide down my cheeks. I grab the paperwork to try to work out what it means and realise we will actually have a seat. We'll probably be in the very back row but it's not standing room and we'll actually be there. Adult tickets are $180 and kids are $153 for category 7 seats. I walk into the kitchen, tears still flowing and ask my husband if he's doing anything on Saturday and then collapse into his arms with even more tears. "We're going" I say, "we're going." Incidentally, he doesn't really believe me until the next day when we have the email, and then later that day, the actual tickets. We're going to the Grand Final! Pinch me.

Our plans for that week had involved painting a bedroom but that idea goes out the window. (My husband's post from early in the week is here) We're in full footy fan mode. We decorate our house, make plans for the open training, grand final parade and everything else.

The night before the final training our daughter is vomiting and the day of it our son wakes up feeling unwell. We abandon plans to go to the training, conscious that the big one is Saturday. We follow it on social media though and replay again and again the footage of 1000s of Dogs fans cheering and applauding our boys; hopeful and excited. We haven't bought a newspaper in months but this week (and next) my husband buys every paper with even a speck of red, white and blue featured. We're lapping it all up. There's some criticism of the way the Dogs are managing the finals - too much hype, the lid being off, saturation media coverage but how do you stop it? It has a life of its own. Victorian Swans fans are wondering if their team is even playing but secretly they probably love being under the radar where there's little scrutiny or hype.

We travel by train on the Friday to Melbourne for the Grand Final Parade. It's such a joyous journey. There's a buzz in the air and red, white and blue envelops us. Every time my husband has a chance to chat to a Dogs fan this week he opens with 'How good is this?' and I love hearing the joy in his voice, the excitement and decades long wait for this moment finally being here. It feels like a pilgrimage making our way to the MCG for the parade. We're quite early but we want a good vantage point. Everyone is smiling. There is optimism and pure joy in every direction. My family from the other side of Melbourne; Saints, Pies and Bombers fans, plus my Bulldogs loving Aunt are meeting us and all of them are decked out in red, white and blue. My Mum and Aunt's Uncle, my Great Uncle, is Dave Bryden. he played in the '54 Grand Final win and by some accounts was equal best on ground that day. Wikipedia reports as follows:

Bryden was an old school ruckman-cum-back pocket recruited from Wonthaggi, Victoria who, at his prime was considered one of the best ruckmen in the Victorian Football League. Bryden played for the Victorian interstate team in 1951 and was second best on ground in the 1954 VFL Grand Final.

Sadly, Uncle Dave died in 2013 and would miss this opportunity to see his beloved Dogs win their next flag but his nieces (and grand nieces) would be cheering for him.

There was a lot of waiting just for the parade to start, but this gave my husband the chance to start his 'how good is this? conversation with several more fans. The actual parade was magical. Tears streamed down my cheeks from start to finish but there was cheering and singing and everyone was waving and clapping so no-one noticed. They were happy tears, happy, happy tears. 
Seeing Bob Murphy perched awkwardly as the third man on the ute reserved for two really set me off. I loved that he was in the inner sanctum where he belonged and not on the outer as a non-player. There's been a lot written about him being our spiritual leader and I wholeheartedly agree. 6 years ago he gave a speech about being a Son of the West. I haven't managed to find it...yet, but here's a screenshot of him delivering it: 
 "A LINEAGE, a TRIBE, a FAMILY... what it means to be a Son of the WEST." 

As the parade concludes and we mill around on the field beside the MCG we take in the sights and sounds. We sing the song one more time for good measure and still want to pinch ourselves that we're here and totally immersed in Grand Final week because our team is a part of it.

Grand Final Day 2016... Sydney Swans vs Western Bulldogs, October 1 - MCG

We're so nervous and excited. Heart is racing, blood pumping through our veins. We grin awkward, yet elated smiles.  We're trying to take every moment in, every second feels important as we converge on the MCG with our pack. I'm humming the Paul Kelly tune, "High on the hill, looking over the bridge, to the MCG" as we make our way. We're as one. It's not an official march to the G, but my goodness it feels like it. We're purposeful and so, so excited. It doesn't feel real. We're also a bit antsy. 
We wander around to our gate. Do we go in yet? No, not yet. We wander to the Goal kicking tower competition, we watch a little of Johnno on Fox footy coverage. 
We walk this way, then that. We see the desperate fans holding up signs looking for tickets. I feel for them. We see a sea of red, white and blue. 
We eventually go in. As expected our seats are pretty high on level 4. Row X, so not the very back row. We have a good view. We have a big screen in front of us. We can see the whole field. At one stage we see Bob wander out and tap his foot on the centre circle; purposeful, deliberate. 

We're not saying much. just watching, drinking it all in as the stands fill. I'm not even particularly emotional yet, but then Mike Brady steps up to sing 'One day in Sep... October' and that does me in. The emotion whacks me in the face. This is OUR one day in October. We're here. Would we "see the joy that hard work brings?" "If we do it right we'll come home first..." "There isn't any doubting, we'll be in there shouting..." It's such an iconic song, even if the month had to be changed. "Football's such a part of this whole town..."

There's other entertainment. Vance Joy, The Living End and Sting. Then Vika and Linda Bull sing the anthem. We win the toss and before we know it the game has started. I'm calmer this week. I sit with my hands clenched through most of the first quarter, resting under my chin, almost in prayer. I'm not religious, maybe this is my religion. It takes forever for a score and that feels like a good omen. Sydney is known for fast starts and we've denied them. They get a burst of goals in the 2nd quarter and I get nervous but we're hanging in there, fighting with all our might. A difference of 2 points at half time feels positive. We've been in worse positions and won. Leading at 3/4 time tips us into a zone we've never known. This is when #believemorebulldog starts to kick in. Can we do it? Can we really do it? The last quarter is such a blur. I remember Dale Morris throwing his body on the line at Buddy. After the game I remember it as a smother but of course it was a tackle. Incidents are already blurring for me. The resultant goal from Boyd is the sealer and my phone is vibrating with well wishes but I won't celebrate early. I think a guy behind us says there's 2 minutes to go, so I turn to ask him if that's what he said and he replies 'Who cares how long? We've won'... 

We've won.

Tears slide out. Of course. Tears always slide out for me. 

We've won.

You know, I'm crying again as I try to type this. We won. We really won.
(This is of course our Vice President, the wonderful Susan Alberti - but I'm sure her face mirrored mine at this moment.)

When the siren eventually sounds we're jumping about like crazy. We're hugging and screaming and crying and smiling. I think we're also in shock. God we sing that song loud and proud. There are so many who didn't live to see this and I spare a thought for how much joy this would have brought them. My father in law. God he loved the Dogs. Somewhere up in heaven he's smiling. Uncle Dave. I no longer have to say 'My Uncle played in the last Bulldogs flag" it's "He played in the first Bulldogs flag."

The presentations start. I predict Picken will get the Norm Smith with Tom Boyd close behind. I know Sydney's Josh Kennedy has had a huge day but I also know winning a Norm Smith in a losing Grand Final can be bittersweet so I don't think that will happen. I'm pleasantly surprised to hear Johannissen's name called out. He had a ton of the ball but seemed to turn it over, but that's part of the fearless brand; kick it forward and trust.

I wont even pretend I'm not crying as the players are called up for their medals but when Bevo calls up Bob the floodgates open. What a selfless, generous, incredible man. I've seen the footage about a dozen times since. I don't think I'll ever watch it without feeling a surge of emotion.

The players do their lap. We move a little closer. We wave our flag and sing and soak in the moment. They know this is for the fans too. They know we're a part of the pack. This is for us and them. Bob shows us his jumper under his shirt. Of course he's wearing it. Of course.

The players head under the stands, into their rooms to sing the song again. We watch on the big screen, and sing along. We're all a part of it. If 99,981 people could fit in those rooms we'd be singing with them. 

We make our way around to the roped off section for the post game concert and just sit. We respond to messages, listen to the music, smile at each other and at strangers, but mostly we just sit. We're spent. Emotionally wrung out in the best possible way. We're told the players are arriving so we decide to head out and stand on the hallowed turf for that. My husband picks up a handful of grass and puts it in his pocket. I grab a few tufts and put one in my locket. We'll remember this day forever.

The team is met with rapturous applause and singing and joy. There's fireworks and more singing and then they're gone. It's dark now as we make the trek home. The train erupts into impromptu renditions of 'Sons of the West' on numerous occasions. We're still with our pack. We're grinning from ear to ear.

On Sunday morning we are relieved to find we didn't dream that day. For a split second our son isn't sure if he wants to go to Whitten Oval but we encourage him to come. 
This little road trip is the culmination of a journey of a month, but really, a journey of many, many years. We're gathering with our pack one more time to celebrate something so wonderful. 

When a boy in my class comes up to me on Monday morning and asks, "Miss, do you know when the Western Bulldogs last won a flag?" It is with cheeky delight that I reply, "Yes, I do... last Saturday!" and then the line up music plays, and of course it is "Sons of the West."

Friday, September 30, 2016

Guest post... from a lifelong Doggies fan

My husband wrote an email to his workmates and since it's a new voice I thought I'd share it as a guest post:

G’day all. Greeting from Bulldogs central at my place.
Huge weekend just passed with driving up to Sydney to watch the Prelim. After packing the Ute/Van, didn’t end up taking it up in the end as I’d had a crap night’s sleep the Thursday night and didn’t feel the best. M got up early and by 6.30am she had a Motel booked about 30 minutes from the ground. . Got as far as Goulburn and had had enough. Camped there for the night and then heading on to Sydney in the morning.  
Got to the ground early and thought there was a mistake with our seats. The guys pointing us in the direction of the front row. So there we were with front row seats at the 50 metre arc. Sat next to a nice old man who’d driven all the way with his daughter. She was too nervous to actually buy a ticket and elected to sit outside the ground. An unbelievable atmosphere ensued. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Doggies crowd so animated/loud with the crowd being 50% Dog fans. We were out of our seats most of the time. I lost my voice but still managed to give Heath Shaw a nice old spray at one point and in earshot which I never usually do (he deserved it too).
A work colleague is sending me regular texts explaining what’s happening and letting me know how long to go. I put my phone down as I want to enjoy the moment. Amazing scenes when the siren sounded. I was speechless by this point. M was crying, N stunned. We were just so blown away that we had got there. The team given nothing, had beaten the team given everything. People were ecstatic afterwards. Strangers hugging each other. High fives including the players as they traversed the boundary. Spontaneous singing of the club song all around the ground and outside of it, local bars overflowing with Dogs fans. No one wanted to leave.
The drive home Sunday was an event in itself. There were cars with scarves protruding out of every window. People waving out of cars when they recognised you were one of them. Red, white and blue everywhere. You’d pull in somewhere to fuel/food up and bump into more of “The pack” so more talk, more smiles from people that you don’t know, but in a sense you do.  More “Go Doggies”.   
Watched the Brownlow Monday with great interest to see how the boys would do. I don’t follow the Red Carpet stuff too much, but it was great to see Annie Nolan (Liam Picken’s wife) in the ladies tuxedo. Was a great message she sent in doing that. 
Went into the ballot with not much hope of getting a ticket, particularly as we requested 4. You pay $5 each entry fee to go in but thought $20 was a reasonable investment to try. As a backup, a  mate had lined up another mate who has options to get tickets (I’m not sure how or why). I thought about it for a second and thought no, if I’m going to watch it I want to share it with people that mean something. So as generous as mate of a mate's offer was, I would have likely declined and opted to be with my nearest and dearest.
So, Monday comes around and my credit card get charged $666 and I’m thinking shxx, I might have tickets!  M says “Are you doing anything Saturday?” The email has come through, we have tickets! They are nose bleed section (top tier), Punt Road end but we’re going to the GF Saturday.
So this week has not necessarily gone as I thought. I was going to be painting but that can wait.  Stuff it.  Am going to the GF parade. I’ve not been before, so this is part of the experience. Will leave early Saturday by Public Transport to get to the ground and enjoy the whole experience.
The house has been decorated so the neighbours know where we stand. In Geelong, they’re used to seeing Cats stuff everywhere. Seeing Dogs stuff for them must be like some kind of alternate reality. For once though I think another team has edged out the Geelong Football Club from the local Geelong Advertiser. Mind you they still dedicated 4 whole pages to GFC Mad Monday/Whacky Wednesday.  
Am I excited, tick, nervous tick, all of the above. If we win it I’m not sure what space I’ll be in. Next to getting married and having kids this could be a major event.  Forgive me if on Monday I’m tired, emotional, voiceless, on a bender,  missing in action or locked up. I’ve been crook this week with that cold/sore throat everyone’s had, but I’m on a high.
This means a lot for someone who’s followed a team their whole life and never seen them in a GF let alone win a cup. Regardless I’ll be proud of my team.
Hope you’re all well and spare a thought for us sitting in the stands Saturday.

Go, Dog. Go!

Last Thursday night I saw a picture of the book Go, Dog. Go! on Twitter (thanks @planetredmania) and decided my copy of the book would feature in photographs of our journey to Sydney and back for the AFL Preliminary final between GWS and Western Bulldogs.

"Go, Dog. Go!" by P.D. Eastman is described on Wikipedia as follows:

The book describes the actions and interactions of a group of highly mobile dogs, who operate cars and other conveyances in pursuit of work, play, and a final mysterious goal: a dog party.

I only just read that as I sat to write this blog post but it seems quite apt for the title and theme I am writing about.

Last Friday we joined other dogs on the road; in cars and other conveyances in the pursuit of hard working dogs we love and admire, who play an extremely exciting style of football for a final, mysterious, and for 62 years, elusive goal - a Premiership - which will of course result in the biggest dog party in modern history!

We'd never travelled interstate for a football game. Back in 1998 we were fortunate enough to be in London at the exact time the Western Bulldogs were playing StKilda in an exhibition game at The Oval so we went along and had an amazing time; marvelling at seeing our team on foreign soil and enjoying the opportunity to meet legendary players such as Chris Grant and Tony Liberatore. The internet reminds me that the Dogs won that match, 15.5.95 to 10.12.72 but it exists in my memory as a unique football experience, not a famous victory.

So, after beating Hawthorn in the Semi Final we made the decision that Spotless Stadium in Western Sydney would be the destination for our first interstate game. Deciding to go to a final is a bigger decision than deciding to go to a regular season game. The cost for a start is a huge issue, but in this instance, it also involves nutting through travel logistics, such as how do we get there, when do we get there, where do we stay, who goes (& who doesn't) and can we even manage it. Getting the tickets was probably the most stressful element of the whole equation. I was repeatedly booted out of the Ticketmaster system as I attempted to get tickets. Each time I'd have to re-enter our membership numbers. It was laborious and frustrating. I didn't want to have to pay a premium so it felt important to get the budget seats before they were gone. At one stage I had tickets in my shopping cart near the Bulldogs cheer squad but I ended up with tickets down the other end near the GWS cheer squad. This didn't seem ideal but by this stage I just wanted tickets so I took them and ticked that box off.

We have a camper and decided to save accommodation money by towing that and staying in a caravan park. A friend on twitter, who also happens to be a GWS fan, was invaluable in giving advice about where to stay and linking me up to helpful information; at one stage offering his couch for us. Having travelled extensively to see his team he just 'got it' and while we would be rivals at the game  he understood the desire for us to be there and as such extended his hand of friendship.

But when Friday morning rolled around we had had an horrendous night's sleep and I fretted about driving 800+ kilometres towing a van without being fully rested. I made the last minute decision to log on to wotif and find a motel 'somewhere' in western Sydney. On the Friday we aimed to drive as far as we could and then complete the travel on the Saturday morning.

Thursday evening...
Scarves, jumpers, flag, backpacks, beanies & caps - all packed.

Membership cards - packed, just in case we need them.

Try to sleep...but there's such anticipation and excitement...we don't. Why are we so nervous and anxious? This is a football game and we have no control over it...but still we fret.

Friday morning...
Plans altered and we're off. It's 9am...about two hours later than we planned but we're a lighter load now and feel a weight has lifted off our shoulders with no van following us.

We're hungry and need caffeine but try to get an hour under our belt before stopping, which ends up being on the ring road at Maccas.

Any chance of healthy eating over the next couple of days feels remote.

The first 'Sydney' sign we see says


It's daunting to think of how far we have yet to travel. One of the early highway exits we pass is BEVERIDGE. I snap a photo - it's the name of our coach and feels like a good omen to see it.

At 12.38 we get our first glimpse of fellow travellers and I tweet: 

Just got a honk from a fellow road tripper with their scarf hanging out the window!

Makes me a little emotional to think of all these doggies fans heading nth; desperate to see our team victorious & proud as punch to be here

We've travelled about 380 km when we decide to stop for lunch in Wodonga. As it turns out the spot we choose is the same spot the Western Bulldogs official buses will stop the next morning for breakfast. There's a couple of food trucks, a small brewery and a cafe called 'Bean Station' in the old railway siding. We choose that and have a relatively nutritious lunch. 

Our 15 year old son who can normally eat like a machine is not that hungry and only picks at his food and when we get back to the car vomits ferociously in a garden bed. It turns out having his head down in the back seat for that last leg had not agreed with him. We switch it up. I drive, he's my passenger and my husband has a stint in the back seat. The magnitude of our road trip dawns on us.

We cross into New South Wales.

The NSW side of the Hume Hwy is much more picturesque. Previous road trips have been in summer so it's lovely to see the countryside so lush and green. Our next major stop is the dog on the tuckerbox at Gundagai. My husband had the idea to put a beanie and scarf on the dog but as we approached we were reminded that there's a pool of water around the statue. I'd seen a picture on Twitter of someone else doing the same and we figure he must have waded out. Here's that pic. Thanks Peter Rolfe @rolfep

We do the next best thing we can and hold Go, Dog. Go! in front of him.

While we walk back to the car wondering how we can get the picture we really want we notice another Bulldogs car pull up with the same idea. He's joined two scarves together and is about to swing them around the dog's neck when a lady's voice comes over a P.A. asking visitors to not interact with or place items on the monument. Foiled! We feel a sense of camaraderie with our fellow Bulldog. It's here that we really notice a lot of fellow fans. Car after car is pulling up and even seeming neutrals are saying 'Go doggies!' It's such a lovely feeling.

We're back on the road. Driving is exhausting and we start to wonder how far we'll get tonight. The sun is setting behind us and creating a beautiful colour in the sky. We decide to aim for Goulburn.

We're not alone here either. There must be a hot rod event on nearby based on the car park but there's also plenty of doggies scarves and stickers. We're exhausted from the drive and opt for having a pizza delivered as we settle in to watch Sydney destroy Geelong in the 1st prelim.

Saturday morning...
Breakfast is included in the motel deal so we head down to find the breakfast room full of fellow doggies. It's game day and we're all pumped; nervously excited and full of anticipation.
A fuel stop and a caffeine fix and we're off.

We're seeing more and more dogs' fans. It's exciting and the sense of a shared journey is definitely with us. We wave like mad with nervous smiles as we motor on toward our destination... Go, Dog. Go!

I check my phone often and follow the #bemorebulldog hashtag on twitter. Tears slide down my face as I read about the gesture from Luke Beveridge to give the bus travelling Bulldogs $10 and a letter of thanks as they boarded at 3am this morning. It's such a simple thing but symbolises so much. It feels like the club values the supporters more than ever. There is a real sense of gratitude for the fans and what they go through.

We decide to drive through Mittagong, which was where we originally planned to stop, and take in the beautiful tulip display before getting back on the freeway for the final stretch.

We find our way to our motel. We know so little about Sydney. We don't know if we've made a good choice with our accommodation or a massive error but we're totally reassured when we check in and the owner? (manager?) shouts us a drink. It feels like a good omen and we instantly are satisfied with our choice.

Its around 1 o'clock and we're a bit antsy. The game isn't until 5.15 but we have no idea where we need to go or what the parking will be like at the train station. I'm keen to move so that we're not stressed. We sort out all of our gear; footy jumpers, scarves and paraphernalia.  We recently found my late father in law's beanie and my son is wearing it today. It feels like a lucky charm.

We drive to Yagoona train station, there's plenty of parking so one less thing to worry about. We work out which direction to head in and where to go. I snap this photo as much to remind us where to head back to later.

It's only a few stops until we're at Lidcombe - the hub station where a lot of lines meet. Trains are cool up here - double deckers that can pack heaps of people in, but this one is relatively empty. Our footy ticket gives us free train travel. Kudos to the AFL, or Giants or Sydney transport or whoever organised that.

We still have plenty of time so wander the streets to find something for lunch. We get a few 'Go Doggies' called out to us and just one 'Up the Giants'. We're deep in enemy territory but it definitely doesn't feel like it.

We join a large crowd of people making their way to platform 1 where a train will take us the one stop to Olympic Park. There are doggies fans everywhere. Our pack is gathering. We're converging on enemy turf; focused and hopeful.

It's not until we get to Olympic Park that I realise Spotless Stadium is right next door to ANZ Stadium. I never went to the Sydney Olympics so I had no sense of the precinct we find ourselves in. The aquatic centre is nearby and also the hockey centre. I imagine there may be other venues too. We're told that Spotless Stadium was the baseball stadium during the Olympics. It's a little walk to Spotless and there are people everywhere; red, white and blue alongside orange and grey. Such enthusiasm and anticipation emanates from us all. We don't feel in the majority or minority - there's a real mix. Occasionally a group will break out in our theme song and you can't help but smile.

As we enter the ground I'm handed a Daily Telegraph wrap around and the lady tells me if I hold it up at quarter time I might win Grand Final tickets. The front page says 'This is our time' (or It's our time) and I open it to find a team photo of the Giants. I hand it back to her and she tries to convince me that I should still try to win. I'm bristling at the cheek of the headline... their time? their time? really? after 5 years they think it's their time?
We're searching for our seats. Our row number is AA which I had expected to be behind row Z, but the rows finish at N so I figure we must be up on the next level but the attendant tells us to turn around. As we walk down our section it finally dawns on us that AA is the very front row. We are in shock. We're right on the 50 metre line IN THE VERY FRONT ROW! I'm suddenly the best wife and mother in the universe for scoring these amazing tickets...

I swear our jaws are on the ground for a good 10 minutes. As more people arrive they too are in shock. Spotless Stadium has done a great job of surprising those of us with row AA tickets! We're all thrilled. I notice the ground only has one big screen too and it is directly in front of us. We're definitely feeling like winners!
The first player I spot is Liam Picken. He's walked out on to the field; casing the joint, getting a feel for the ground.

Soon after the whole team emerges to an enormous roar for their pre-game warm up. It's exhilarating to feel the support echoing in our ears. This is an away game for us but it doesn't feel like that. When the Giants come out the Bulldog faithful greet them with a resounding BOO. As a rule I'm not a fan of booing but this feels like a chance to show that our shared experience connects us; a way of demonstrating the strength of our numbers and that we wont roll over and be the quiet visitor.... that it's not YOUR time, it's OUR time!
By this time I've put my phone there will be no pictures until much later. Hopefully my words can paint the picture and tell the story.
It's hard to describe the game though, and I will never do it justice. A lot has been written this week about the game and I'll add those links in. Bulldog Tragician (link) has a wonderful way with words, and the Western Bulldogs released a video of the fans (link) that resonated in a huge way with me. I recognised all the different emotions on the faces and in the body language of those people.
Suffice to say I was incredibly nervous. My stomach was in knots, my palms were sweaty and my mouth was dry. Toward the end of the game my shoulder was aching from tension and my heart was racing (....and to think we go to the football for enjoyment!)
I'd formed a connection with the lady seated next to me and it felt like we'd lived through something  momentous together. I'm shocked to not know her name after having experienced something so intense alongside her. We shared stories of our bulldog connection and history during quarter and half time breaks and together we willed the dogs to win. I haven't watched a replay yet and my memory of the game is patched with individual incidents and feelings. In the first quarter it felt like we dominated everywhere but on the scoreboard. Missed scoring opportunities threatened to bite. The injury to Roughead and the realisation that Cordy and Boyd would have to ruck the game out, the spectacular mark to Easton Wood, the smart mouth and irritation of Heath Shaw, the injury to Callan Ward as we wondered why they didn't bring a stretcher out, the tenacity of Clay Smith to find the goals again and again. At one stage, and a reasonable time into the game we only had two goal scorers, Clay and Tory Dickson. The turnovers. The excitement of hitting the front, of scoring a goal and standing on tiptoes to wave the flag high. The desperate pleading look to the heavens as we sunk to a 14 point deficit in the final quarter. My husband rubbed his sons head, and in doing so, his dad's beanie, for luck...we all had our talisman and we gripped them tight with hope. And still we didn't give up, our boys didn't give up. They were fighting tooth and nail as we came back, we hit the lead again and we bounded from our seats. Someone behind us was streaming the game on their phone and knew how much time was left, two and half minutes, one and half minutes... It felt like an eternity. We felt sick. Then Jake passes to Tory. Jake doesn't have a shot at goal. He doesn't do what he would have done a month ago. He passes to Tory. The guy behind me says 30 seconds and in that instance I know we've won. Tory just has to use his full time as he goes back for his shot. I'm literally bouncing on the spot grabbing my husband's arm, tears streaming as I gasp 'We've done it, we've done it' and then the siren sounds and I'm still bouncing, I'm waving my flag as hard as I can and I'm crying and I'm delirious. My mouth is so dry I can barely speak. The players are celebrating on the field and I reach for my phone to snap a photo of the three of us in that moment with the players behind us. The guy behind us offers to take it for us. I'll never forget that moment, that joy, and that excitement of knowing our team was finally, finally in a grand final.
We're singing the song with gusto. "Sons of the west, red, white and blue..." I want them to play it over and over again. The players run out to the boundary line and our position in row AA means we're hanging over the fence with arms outstretched to high five them.

The excitement is intoxicating. Bob heads toward us and I capture a pic of him with his double fist pump. A side view of that shot from a professional photographer will feature online somewhere, and my shot is out of focus but he represents the feelings in all of us.

 (photo from Twitter, attributed to Herald Sun but I can't find source)

As the players prepare to leave the ground we see shots of Bob on the scoreboard in tears and we tear up again ourselves. He is the symbolic heart of our club and we know his tears are just like ours; tears of joy at seeing our beloved Bulldogs win through to a Grand Final.

The second siren sounds and we make our way onto the field. We don't have a ball, we just soak up the atmosphere. We're standing about where Tory took that final mark. We say to each other again and again "We're in the Grand Final". It's sinking in. Eventually we're told to leave. I find the lady I was sitting next to and thank her for sharing the game with me. We're both dumbstruck and don't know what else to say. As we make our way out of the ground there is so much joy on bulldogs' faces. There's old and young and everything in between. The majority of us have never known this feeling and we're enveloping ourselves in it, embracing the joy it's brought to us. As we walk away from the stadium someone will break into our song and people join in, "Bulldogs through and through.." Whadda we say? "Bulldogs bite and bulldogs roar, we give our very best..." It's festive and fun. I remember the taunts from the Adelaide fans when we lost in 97 and I'm conscious of not being in the face of Giants' fans. I know they're disappointed but even aside from my desire for the Bulldogs to be victorious it feels like a Giants win would have been too easy for them, too soon and perhaps not fully valued. Sure they'd be thrilled, but sometimes having experienced gut wrenching losses makes the winning that much sweeter. I didn't need to go through all those Bulldog prelim losses to fully appreciate this win, but having done so makes me realise what a precious and rare gift we truly have.
We find our way back to our motel, stopping for a kebab en route. We are in western Sydney, it seems only right. We wonder if we'll ever sleep. But we do.

Sunday morning...
We are slower to leave than we planned. We know that driving home is ahead of us and we'll drive more kilometres today than we ever have in a single day....914 kilometres... We're on a natural high though and nothing will wipe the smile off our faces. The traffic is light but somehow we're stopped at every.single.traffic.light on the way to the M5 but after that it's smooth sailing. We see more scarves out windows than we saw yesterday or Friday and the waving is frenetic and joyous, not nervous and hopeful. The camaraderie is palpable. 

We initially aimed for Goulburn but decide to keep on keeping on and end up back at the Dog on the Tuckerbox in Gundagai for lunch. The 'Would you like beans with that?' road signs have tempted us and we stop for a healthy fast food lunch at Oliver's. The place is full of beaming Bulldogs fans and as we depart more pull up. The convoy home is well and truly on.

I do the next stint of driving from Gundagai to Glenrowan. We're travelling well and reflect on how different the trip would have been had we lost. Around Albury we manage to pick up ABC 774AM radio and we're able to listen to the VFL Grand Final between Footscray and Casey Scorpians. It's amazing to hear the Footscray boys win in such a convincing manner and certainly makes this leg of the journey pass by.

We see Beveridge again and salute our amazing Coach. What a legend he is to bring this team to such success.

We're still waving to fellow travellers and see scarves all the way up to the ring road.
It's almost 8pm when we pull into the driveway. We're zonked but it's been the best road trip ever.