The sun rises in the West.

The drought is over. The Western Bulldogs, the sons of the Scray, the Dishlickers, the Saltwater Lads have won a premiership for the first time since 1954 and football is better for the experience.

The vortex of tribalism is a wonderful thing, and when you combine 62 years of angst with living a stones throw from the Whitten Oval, that’s a recipe for some of the most hair-raising experiences you are ever going to have.

All week, the nerves and excitement had built to boiling point and as Tom Boyd bombed the sealer through from close to sixty metres, the longest premiership drought and the years of heartache that came with it were over.whitten-on-gf-day

The Grand Final party I was attending might as well have been a Bulldogs only event, despite the fact there was one Bulldog fan among the entire gathering. These scenes were undoubtedly replicated across the Western Suburbs, however I had the good fortune of being a few hundred metres from the spiritual home of football in the west.

The sound of the siren was barely audible about the shrieks of delight coming from those around me. My heart skipped a beat, not for my own team, but for my community and the loyal Doggies I know who often lamented the fact that they would never experience the joy of 1954 or the heartache of 1961 (something which they’d be better of not experiencing).

As the realisation sunk in there was only one thing left to do – make tracks for Whitten Oval. A chorus of out of tune “Sons of the West”, mixed with car horns blaring and screams of delight were all around, yet Whitten Oval itself appeared to grind to a halt, paused in a moment of glory that will live on for generations.

A photo in front of the statute of Ted Whitten was followed by a walk towards Barkly Street, where scenes of pandemonium were unfolding.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of staunch football fans, many dressed in red, white and blue, were cheering, singing and waving to every car who drove past as horns blared. In the moment, the spirit of sport was exposed for what it is – the greatest emotional roller coaster anybody could ever strap themselves in for.

Football for too long has been the tale of the big clubs, while the underdogs have been left to wonder what might have been. Yesterday, the Bulldogs broke the back of that myth and proved that any one of the eighteen clubs can go on to do the improbable.

It’s not about free agents or million dollar contracts – it is about finding players who are the walking embodiment of the organisation that they play for. A willingness to play for the jumper, the history  of their club and each other as they aim to write a new page, to go down as immortals.

No club is without its dark days, and without those dark days the sun couldn’t shine as brightly as it is in the west today.

Once, just once, I want to live the release of euphoria I witnessed yesterday.

Over to you, Melbourne Football Club.

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22 or bust

For twenty-two lucky footballers, Saturday afternoon will see them presented with a premiership medal. Those who don’t make the 22? Tough break, see you later.

The AFL have made a series of strange decisions throughout their history. Most of them worked out for the best and were widely accepted. One such thing that is widely accepted is that only the 22 men on the field for the winning sidepremiership-medal on Grand Final day deserve a premiership medal.

Yes, according to the AFL the only players who contribute to winning the Grand Final are the ones who run out on the day. They’re looking at you Bob Murphy and Aliir Aliir – you’ve done nothing for your club this season (or at least that’s what Gil and his buddies are trying to tell you).

The paragraph preceding this is ludicrous, and it was fully intended to read as such. If it wasn’t for Aliir and Murphy, neither of the sides who run out on Saturday would be in the position they are. The pair have played very different roles for the club, but they are both a vital cog in the machine.

What logic could there possibly be from the AFL for not awarding medals to a wider scope than the selected 22? Tradition is the main argument, in that because it’s the way it has always been done it is the way it should continue to be done.

In that case I’m looking forward to Fitzroy and South Melbourne opening the season at Lakeside Oval in 2017. Wait? That’s not the progress the AFL want? Of course, how silly of me for thinking they’d like to be at the forefront of something.

In a twitter poll which I ran yesterday (yes, that’s progress) the majority of respondents believed that medals should be awarded to more than the 22 named for the decider. The common consensus was that it takes more than 22 men to win a flag, even if they are the ones responsible on the day.

There’s always the “where to you draw the line” counter argument, although all that argument tells me is that some people aren’t willing to have a go at drawing up alternativeso. Here are a few off the top off my head:

 

  • Every player on the senior list gets a medal – Making an AFL senior list isn’t an easy task. There are guys who don’t play a game all year, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t put in the same amount of work on the track.
  • Everyone who plays a game throughout the season – Easy enough – if you run out with the seniors once throughout the year you get a medal.
  • Percentage of games played throughout the year – Only a handful from outside the 22 will play more than a third of the games all season. Under the current draw, players who play seven or more games should be eligible for a premiership medal. That would leave 30 players eligible for medals from the Dogs this season compared with 28 for the Swans.
  • Coach’s pick – Three extra medals given to the club with the senior coach deciding who receives the medals.
  • Long service – Any player who has played more than 75% of games for a club in the last five years and is still on the senior list receives a medal.

Not all of those options are perfect. I’m certain that a few of those would cause animosity for any player who was to just miss out.

Then there are the staff of any professional sporting organisation. Coaches, media, marketing, finance, fan engagement, customer service, the list goes on. Every employee of a football club deserves recognition for their effort throughout the season. A great way to set them apart would be to give non-players championship rings instead of medals.

The AFL often wax lyrical about how the sport is the ultimate team game. It’s time for them to face the fact that they need to reward entire organisations for Grand Final glory, not just the men who are lucky enough to be selected on the day..

Bye week no issue

One of the biggest talking points of the 2016 AFL season was the decision to schedule a bye week between the home-and-away season and the finals. 

Two games and percentage was all that separated first and seventh on the AFL ladder after 23 rounds of football. The smallest gap between first and seventh outside of that this decade? Three games. With the numbers showing that this has been the tightest season in years, should it be any surprise that the Bulldogs have come from seventh to be within four quarters of ending a 55-year drought? No.afl1stpreliminaryfinalgwsvwesternbulldogsepte0p-vqsdl

That’s not the directive being taken by members of the AFL and some media personalities, however. According to Gil Mclachlan, without the bye the Bulldogs would not be where they are, with Mclachlan claiming that the bye enabled them to field a stronger squad throughout their finals campaign.

He may well be right, but every club was afforded that right with the week off, so it becomes irrelevant. Furthermore Mclachlan suggested that both the Giants and Cats were a victim of the bye week. To anyone who watched both games it was clear they were a victim of being outplayed on the day of their Preliminary Final.

The losses of the Giants and Cats on the weekend mark the only occasion since 2000 (when the current finals format started) where both Qualifying Final winners lost their Preliminary Final. Perhaps rather than looking at the results of two games, look at the unpredictability in the 23 rounds that preceded what has become one of the most talked about finals series in a decade. That’s why the Swans and Dogs are gracing the MCG on Saturday afternoon – because they got through every hurdle that was placed in their way.

A cynic (not me personally, but I’m sure we could find five or ten thousand) would suggest that Gil and others are upset because the Grand Final isn’t the marquee Greater Western Sydney V Sydney or Greater Western Sydney V Geelong game that many pundits had mentioned throughout the year.  On the balance of play across the weekend, the two teams who deserve to be there are.

There was talk on 1116 SEN  this morning that the AFL have broken something by implementing the bye week. There were many skeptics when it was announced (myself included), yet looking at the quality of football that has continued throughout the season I think it has been a great addition to the year.

Roll on Saturday.

This is why I watch

Sport is a beautifully horrible thing. For every winner there is a loser, for every elation there is heartache, for every missed opportunity there is a reward. They might be years apart, but things tend to level out on the playing field.

 If it wasn’t for the horrible losses, I’m not sure that I’d be as invested in sport as I am. Thankfully my selection of sporting teams has always been there to remind me there is more failure than success. As a nation we’re seen as a sporting prowess, which is awful kind according to the people who haven’t walked a mile in our shoes.

An honourable mention to Tony Vidmar who played a huge part in what would be the 6th entry on this list.

An honourable mention to Tony Vidmar who played a huge part in what would be the 6th entry on this list.

According to my research, I’ve spent 10,349 days living and breathing. Sport has been there from the start and one constant has been that heartbreak is just around the corner.  It’s with a heavy heart I write this list, as this morning the Boomers were unfortunate enough to not only add another chapter, but to give the top spot a nudge. This of course, has pushed me towards one question – What are the five biggest heartbreakers I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing thanks to a national sporting team?

1.Australia V Iran (Football), 22nd November 1997 – I hope this remains the worst thing I ever experience from a team in green and gold. A two-goal lead, 20 minutes left and a first World Cup in 24 years. Nothing could possibly go wrong, to the point where my dad told me I could safely go to bed. I woke up the next morning euphoric, we were off to the World Cup – the promised land. I’d heard the stories of heartache that my dad had experienced for 24 years and I was fortunate enough to have avoided them. Dad looked like he’d seen a ghost when he got up, and I simply couldn’t believe it. Eight years more heartache was waiting for me. I hate you Peter Hore .

2.Australia V Spain (Basketball), 22nd August 2016- If someone offered me one bad game from the Boomers and a top four finish two weeks ago, I’d have bitten their arm off. This is unquestionably the best Boomers outfit of my life. Halfway through the second quarter we were gone, but we found something. Baynes and Mills helped us put together a run and we had the lead multiple times in the fourth quarter. The one missing thing was back-to-back buckets when we had the lead. We had no trouble getting stops but we just couldn’t convert. Foul or no foul with five seconds left, watching the ball squirt into the backcourt as time evaporated at a rate of knots left me feeling sick to my stomach.

3. Australia V England (Rugby Union), 22nd November 2003 – I hope somebody decides Australia never again play sport on November the 22nd. If Elton Flatley’s conversion attempt of Lote Tuqiri’s try in the 4th minute comes off the inside of the post, we win. The rest of the game doesn’t change because the ball is kicked off in the same manner and we win 19-17 instead of losing 20-17, thanks to none other than Jonny Wilkinson, who kicked a drop goal in dying stages of extra time. The confidence from the squad and the media had made me believe for the entire week leading into the game that it was a forgone conclusion. I have absolutely no shame in admitting that a few tears escaped as that perfectly executed drop goal sailed right over the black dot.

4. Australia V Italy (Football), 26th June 2006 – The scene of the Tim Cahill show against Japan, a win against Italy would have afforded us the opportunity to play Ukraine, followed by Germany, followed by France. Call me a dreamer, but I thought we could go all the way. With a man advantage, we couldn’t penetrate the Italian back four for all the steins in Munich. A Fabio Grosso dive combined with a poorly timed Lucas Neill lunge and Totti used the last kick of the game to ruin something I thought I’d been through hell to see (see the clubhouse leader on this list and honourable mention Uruguay in November 2001 for further information). There is still nothing better than seeing Italy knocked out of a major tournament.

5. Australia V South Africa (Cricket), 5th & 6th of January 1994 – Chasing 117 at the Sydney Cricket Ground should be an easy task for the likes of Waugh (M), Boon, Border, Taylor and Slater. Especially when facing a bowling attack including a (very young) Allan Donald, De Villiers and Symcox. So how do you go from 2-51 to all out for 111? Losing 5-22 doesn’t help, and nor does having Craig McDermott top scoring with 29*.  At least that collapse was a blip on the radar as we went on to be one of the most successful sides of the next decade.

 

 

I did not enjoying finding or watching any of these videos. Viewer discretion is advised.

I’d love to say that this has been a fun list to write, yet all it has done has made me question why I love sport so much, while clearly reiterating that the reason for the emotional investment is because there is no shortage of positives for each of these experiences. Long live sport and I hope this list never changes.

Cowardice and hypocrisy

To the joy of many football fans, the USWNT were knocked out of the 2016 Olympics by Sweden on Friday night in Rio. Hope Solo’s post-game outrage highlights not only the issues she has as an athlete, but also exposes her deepest personal demons.

Hope Solo might be a great athlete, but first and foremost she’ll be remembered as a perpetrator of family violence. The assaults against her step-sister and nephew aren’t going away because she’s made a name for herself in the most popular sport in the world. Story of redemption? No thanks. If her return to the Olympic stage was meant to be the final piece in that puzzle, you’ll notice that all she has done is confirmed what the world already knows about her- She is an angry woman who doesn’t care who she steps on as long as she gets to make her point.Hope-Solo

According to Solo Sweden’s choice to play a knockout game on the most prestigious stage in the world with a plan is cowardice. That’s fascinating insight from someone who has shown the world that she is a walking, talking coward.

The USWNT don’t have many friends outside of America. Maybe it’s the continual dominance that has made neutral fans grow tired, perhaps it is the bravado that comes along with such a dominant period, but for some (including the person bashing away at the keyboard to get their thoughts onto this page) it’s the likes of Solo getting in people’s faces (so to speak) and taking every opportunity to have a pot-shot at those around them to make themselves feel better.

If you want to be arrogant because you’ve had sustained success, go for it. But it’s a dangerous road to walk down because once you stumble, you fall pretty quickly.

Hope Solo is a hypocrite. Don’t give her a free pass because of who she is. One of the greatest things about sport is that as long as you don’t break the rules, people generally aren’t going to care how you win. Cowardice? No, not even close. Whinging because she didn’t think the best team won? For someone who has as much exposure to professional sport as she has, those comments are amateur at best. How about credit where credit is due? Or is that a concept that was glossed over her development as a professional athlete? Sure, she acknowledged that Sweden are moving on while they go home, but that’s hardly credit, it’s stating the obvious.

Fingers crossed the 2016 Games were Solo’s last so we aren’t subject to more of her imagined self-importance.

 

Upton Park – The last hurrah

Tomorrow morning, a morning like many others, I’ll wake up at ungodly o’clock to watch my beloved West Ham United. Tomorrow morning, unlike any other, the result isn’t the most important thing.

 For 90 (and a few additional) glorious minutes, the Boleyn Ground will be the centre of the football universe, and not just the centre of my football universe.

Sadly, when the final whistle blows, a reality that has been looming large for the last three years will hit home – West Ham United will no longer call Upton Park home.UPFarewell

The prospect of the Olympic Stadium being mere months away is exciting, it offers the club a world of potential, a fitting reward for a club who have offered me more despair than happiness.

I started writing this piece after the 3-3 draw with Arsenal. For years I have battled with the emotions of knowing I was never going to set foot inside Upton Park. The reality has been broken countless times by dreams of winning the lotto and making a mad dash across the ocean to have my dreams come true. Alas.

I’ve penned the story of becoming a West Ham fan on many an occasion and it doesn’t need to be repeated here. The sadness I feel is driven further by the sadness my dad, the man responsible for this character building experience, will also never get to grace the highlight of East London. Today we’re figured out that between the two of us we’ve supported the club for sixty-five years. The dream to see a West Ham game together is still alive, just with a new venue in mind, and getting to the Olympic Stadium has taken the lead on my bucket list.

This season has been a season of mixed emotions. On the field they’ve given me more than they ever have, off it, this day has drawn closer and closer. With every game that passes the knot in my stomach tightens.

I’ve always loved the emotions the club have made me feel. The lost sleep, the tears, the looking blankly into the world because other fans just don’t understand. The emotional connection to Upton Park is the same and I can’t wait to build that with the Olympic Stadium.

Over the last few weeks there are periods where I’ve stopped writing this in a desperate attempt to slow the time down, it hasn’t worked, so here I sit, less than ten hours from the final kick-off, hammering away.

The emotions seem more fitting for the loss of a Cup Final, Play-Off Final or one of our once in a generation players (all very real experiences I’ve had) rather than the loss of a big box of plastic seats. But that’s the thing about sport, it makes you feel things you can’t feel anywhere else.

I’ve choked up (and a little more) a few times already, and I expect a repeat tomorrow. I want a win tomorrow, but more than that I want every member of the capacity crowd singing their lungs out for 90 minutes for those of us who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

West Ham United are a family. Families grow. Let’s give our spiritual home the party it deserves tomorrow and embark on the next big task – Becoming the club we have always shown glimpses of being.

Dreams?

I’ve looked everywhere.

Come On You Irons.

Requiem for a Croc

A week and a half ago it was announced that the Townsville Crocodiles would be folding immediately, ending their association with the National Basketball League, which begun in 1993.

The Crocs are the second franchise that Townsville have lost in the last five years. While the short-lived North Queensland Fury were unable to make a dent in the market, the Crocs were a constant through summer, with a Grand Final loss in 2001 the highest honour the club would ever achieve.Heritage-Round-Crocs

It’s hard to see a team you support struggle for success, and it’s worse to see them fold. For me, the Crocs were more than I team I supported, they were my first real sports media experience, with the time I spent with the club during the 2008-2009 season still ranking as one of my favourite experiences.

The Crocs gave me a chance to hone my craft, a seat in the press box and journalistic freedom to write whenever I could find the time to do so. Gameday had its rituals, I was superstitious to the point I might as well have been a member of the starting five. Bus in to the city three hours before tip-off, burger and coke at The Brewery, walk to The Swamp, stopping just before the entrance to stare back across the water and reflect on how lucky I was. A coke and a water in the press box, alternating between the two, frantically scribble notes and pick the brains of the more experienced journos I was around, press conference, walk back into the city, beer at The Brewery, bus home, write copy, job done. It was my favourite day of the week, a day that even now, nearly eight years later, still makes me feel like I am the luckiest person alive.

Townsville will miss the Crocs, they might not realise it yet. There is very little elite sport for Townsville sports fans to attend at that time of year, so it wouldn’t shock me if this is a classic case of not knowing what you have until it’s gone. With the NBL in the shape it is, I doubt there’s going to be a team in Townsville any time soon, and even if there is, they can look like Crocs, play like Crocs and play out of The Swamp, but it isn’t going to be the same.

Since living in Melbourne, I always said I’ll go and see the Crocs when they come to town. I’d had things come up year after year but got their for their first clash against Melbourne United this year, with the benefit of hindsight I would have gone to the second as well, but I’d fallen in to the trap of “There’s always next year”.

The Swamp was a special place to watch a game. Writing this has made me feel like I felt on a November night in 2010, which was also my last night in Townsville.

Sadness isn’t strong enough a word. That night a chapter was closing, four years of my life in Townsville, doing things I love and making memories that will last forever drew to a close, it was fitting that the Crocs were there for me and finished it off with the W.

They may be gone, but my interest in the NBL will live on. I might try to support the Bullets, I never bought into the two clubs being bitter rivals and always wanted them to do well. Try as I might it might not be enough, I might sit down for a Bullets game only to discover that I’m always going to be a Croc, and that my fondness for the NBL will be as a neutral where I can pick and choose who I want to win.

Thanks for the memories, Crocs (and as the Suns on one glorious Wednesday night in November 2008 against the Sydney Spirit).

#WeBleedGreen