Football isn’t fair. Last weekend I watched St Kilda slice apart Collingwood’s defence – if you could call it that – and felt the mood of the Ponsford Stand change from optimistic to depressed as the shadows lengthened on the MCG. We played well for the first ten minutes. Jeremy Howe’s first act in Collingwood jumper was a tackle inside 50 which resulted in a Tom Langdon goal. After a while, however, St Kilda began to control the game and they eventually dominated. Collingwood supposedly recruited well in the off-season and some people even tipped we would make the top four. The first three weeks have indicated that we will be lucky to make the top eight and if we do then we won’t advance. As I sat in the Imperial with my sister after the game drowning my sorrows, nothing that had happened seemed fair.
But I know it felt fair to the St Kilda faithful who turned up to cheer on their young team and commemorate the 50th anniversary of their 1966 premiership. Before the game, the surviving premierships players entered the field before the current day players. I clapped them quietly. I could see only one other Collingwood fan in my vicinity doing the same. During the week before the game there was talk in the media about St Kilda’s lack of success and that fabled last Saturday in the September of 1966. One of the discussions I enjoyed was surrounding the commentary from the game. I’ve always been angry at how biased the commentary was in that game, but as I have entered quarter-middle age (I bought a pair of Crocs the other week) I have mellowed out in regard to the grudges I hold. Firstly, football coverage was in its infancy and objectivity, or at least the façade of objectivity, was clearly not yet established. Secondly, when one club playing is as hated as Collingwood who already had thirteen premierships and the other is St Kilda who were flagless, I can understand why Ted Whitten yelled, “hit the boundary line!”.
The St Kilda Football Club was established in 1873. They have been in existence for 143 years and have won 27 Wooden Spoons, more than double the team who has won the second most. They have played in 7 Grand Finals, 8 if you include the 2010 Grand Final replay. And they have won one premiership by one point. Now, that is unfair.
Why should one club have to endure so much heartbreak and disappointment, whilst others can enjoy so much success? Why should a person who chooses St Kilda as their team as a child, either through parental coercion or no wrongdoing of their own, have to suffer through such adversity?
Of all the Collingwood Grand Final losses during the 32 year premiership drought, it is the St Kilda loss than I can accept the most. If they were still in existence now without a single premiership, and if they had to go through their subsequent 4 losses without the knowledge that they had won at least one, the weight of the St Kilda cross surely would be too much to bear.
The heartbreak they have endured in the past 20 years must be particularly painful. I have asked a few St Kilda friends if they would like to write about it, but so far all of them have politely refused. Perhaps the pain is still too raw. They have been in 3 preliminary finals and 3 Grand Finals and lost them all. Each Grand Final has a particular story with varying degrees of pain.
At risk of offending St Kilda fans with an opinion on their pain, the 2010 Grand Final would be the easiest of the three to take – and by easiest I mean the most bearable of one of the most difficult pains imaginable. The 2009 Grand Final they should have won. They were the best team all year and were easily the best team on that day. It was one of the best Grand Finals of all time but their poor kicking let them down. But, in my non-partisan opinion, the 1997 Grand Final must have hurt the most. They were easily the best team that year, but they lost to a team that won only 13 games in the home-and-away season, lost their first final, and also were down by five goals in the preliminary final. And it is the fact that Adelaide was even playing that makes the 1997 Grand Final so tragic, for had they not been, it would have been the dream match-up of St Kilda v Footscray. The two tragic teams of the VFL/AFL who only had one flag – at least one of them would have come away with two. But as fate would have it, a kick that looked like it was a goal was called a point. And Darren Jarman was playing for Adelaide. And the Crows won their first Grand Final in only their sixth year in the competition. And they won their second the the following year while St Kilda is still waiting for their second in their 143rd year. Football isn’t fair.
And that brings us to the Bulldogs, who last week played the triple-reigning premiers, Hawthorn, in a classic contender versus champion match-up. The Hawks and Bulldogs both entered the VFL in the 1925 and both struggled early. The Bulldogs managed to win their first flag in 1954. The Hawks didn’t even make the finals until 1957. In 1961 both teams faced off in the Grand Final and the Hawks won their first premiership. Nobody could begrudge Hawthorn at the time given their lack of success. In the 54 years since, the Hawks have progressed their premiership tally to 13, and Footscray hasn’t made another Grand Final. They’ve played in 7 preliminary finals and lost them all. Now, that is unfair.
The Bulldogs most recent successful period was from 2008-2010 where they made the preliminary final three years in a row, losing to St Kilda twice. Since then they have been largely uncompetitive until Luke Beveridge was named coach and they made the finals in his first year. This year, they have been the talk of the competition as they play an exciting type of football and have a team filled with idiosyncratic and lovable players. None more loved than Bob Murphy.
He started playing for the Dogs as a scrawny kid in 2000 and has since become the embodiment of the modern Bulldogs in much the same way as Hawkins did before him, and Whitten and Sutton before him. He has lived through some successful periods, but as the Dogs slipped down the ladder following their three consecutive preliminary final appearances, it seemed like his career would end without success. Then all of sudden the Dogs rose and the spirit of the Western suburbs was carried not just by Bob, but also by Luke and everyone else determined to Be More Bulldog.
The game against Hawthorn was one of the highest quality. The Bulldogs proved that they are a genuine contender as they took it up to the champions and were able to obtain a 20 point lead by three-quarter time. The Hawks came back, as we all knew they would, but the Dogs were still in front with 90 seconds in the game to go. The Hawks pushed the ball into their forward line and Bob was running back with the flight to prevent a Hawthorn player marking the ball. His knee buckled as he turned and he fell to the ground. James Sicily marked the ball, kicked the goal, and Hawthorn won by 3 points. The Dogs lost by much more, however, as the next day it was confirmed what Bob’s face had told us as he sat on the ground holding his knee: his ACL was torn and he would require a knee reconstruction.
In a season where the Bulldogs might finally win their second premiership, Bob won’t be playing. If a premiership cup is held on the dais by a person wearing the tri-colours at the end of 2016, sadly it won’t be Bob Murphy. He has given so much to his club, and I can’t think of any current captains who deserve a premiership more than him. His Indian Summer has ended cruelly, and now he will spend the Melbourne winter trying to get his body right for 2017. I hope he can make it back and enjoy success. It shouldn’t end like this. Life is unfair.