Friday, September 30, 2016

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.

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