Opinion Pieces

My new Tribe

May 28, 2015

Western Bulldogs 

I never thought I’d be unfaithful. I’d always been a militant believer in US sports writer, Bill Simmons’ most important rule of fandom; “Once you choose a team, you're stuck with that team for the rest of your life”. Growing up in Queensland, the team I chose was the Brisbane Bears and I stuck with them through wooden spoons, Premierships, a merger and an interstate move. More than a decade after moving to Melbourne, I was still that guy singing the Bears’ (original) team song in the crowd after lonely Victorian wins. I was married to the team. For life.

I stuck with the Bears even after I was elected as the MP for the Federal electorate with a stronger connection to its footy team, the Western Bulldogs, than any other seat in Australia. I wasn’t going to be one of this pollies who cheaply trades away their loyalties for political gain. I wasn’t going to be a ‘Sports bigamist’ either, cravenly pretending to support two teams. I looked Peter Gordon in the eye and told him too that the club had no claim over my affections. And nor did they want me – this was a club that was too proud to accept ‘second team’ platitudes.

But the Dogs aren’t just a footy team in Melbourne’s West, they’re one of the biggest institutions in the community. The ‘Sons of the West’ have a finger in nearly every pie in Melbourne’s West and I slowly developed a ‘professional’ interest in them. Strictly business I told myself, just enough of an interest to allow me to hold up a conversation at the festivals, school events and citizenship ceremonies that they hosted.

It grew from there. Living in Footscray it seemed reasonable to start following the Footscray Bulldogs when they returned to the VFL last year (a new team being founded in the area that you live in being an explicit exception to Simmons’ bar on switching teams). It didn’t feel like cheating to stand on the hill at Whitten Oval watching Lin Jong bust a pack or Brett Goodes wobbling a kick towards goal. In fact, the thought of going to suburban footy games there with my young kids for years to come felt pretty damn good. I started to like the idea of my kids growing up to support this scrapping, battling, proud team of the underdogs. I started to envy the connection that they would have with our community that I would be excluded from.

Then, the Western Bulldogs calamitous 2014 offseason hit and I found myself emotionally invested. Expressing strong views about Ryan Griffen at community events. Telling people from the other side of town about the young guys in the VFL team who were ready to make the step up.  Anxious and depressed about the exodus but rooting for the youngsters in the playing group to fight through the adversity. And when the season started; watching more of the Bulldogs than the Bears.

If the Dogs hadn’t been playing so well this season I would have owned up to my infidelity sooner, the added shame of being seen to be a bandwagon fan (another Simmons prohibition) has been the last thing holding me back in recent weeks. But while I was listening to the second-half of the Dogs collapse against St Kilda last week, shouting involuntarily at the radio, I knew I had to come clean.

I still feel ashamed about it. I’m embarrassed to think that I could disappoint Jonathan Brown or Michael Voss. But the reality of it is that my heart lies elsewhere now. As the Bulldog’s captain, Robert Murphy writes on the first page of his book, Murphy’s Law, “Football is tribal”. I might not be a Son of the West by birth, but like the thousands of migrants who’ve come to Melbourne’s West over the past 50 years, the Bulldogs are my tribe now.