On a September Saturday night in one of football’s most magical months, the Western Bulldogs entered enemy territory and claimed it as their own.
When the Dogs ran out onto Spotless Stadium in Western Sydney it was to cheers louder and more heartfelt than the home side as they broke through that now famous banner – “Our club was born in blood and boots, not in AFL focus groups.”
Whether that blood or boots had an impact that day is unknown but the Bulldogs won one of the greatest finals games of all time and secured a Grand Final birth by a kick, going on to win a famous flag the following Saturday.
A year down the road, the football’s home is packed to near capacity as 94,000 filled the colosseum armed with yellow and black scarves and hope in their hearts, while, a few braves in orange and black assembled a small cheer squad which was barely a “squad” and had little reason to “cheer” after half time. The Tigers toppled the Giants by thirty-six points, and with star midfielder Dylan Shiel going off early after a clash with Trent Cotchin, it proved too difficult a task for 21 players to compete against the other 22 on the green, not to mention ninety-thousand success-starved fans.
There was nothing in the focus groups about that.
So, can this side take that next step, from losing preliminary finalists to Grand Finalists and perhaps Premiers? All without having a player in their team, who can say ‘they’ve been there and down that’ or even photos on their Western Sydney walls reinforcing that it can be done, that it is their destiny to do it? The truth is that this club has never been done it before. Has a new “expansion” club, regardless of the number of draft picks or cost of living allowances, ever held that cup up? Not really, have they?
When the West Coast Eagles burst onto the scene in 1987, just as the VFL skeleton jumped into a national competition body, it was under entirely different circumstances to when the AFL put an orange coloured circle around Western Sydney in 2012. Western Australia was a brilliant football state, and the Eagles were practically a state team that rocked up to the self-proclaimed best football competition in the country and had almost instant success.
A similar situation occured with the Adelaide Crows in the 1990s who claimed back-to-back flags in 1997 and 1998. Port Adelaide was already an established football club – with a multitude of premiership winning experience – so again another unique situation led them to finding AFL premiership glory.
Whereas, Fremantle has a strong footballing tradition through fierce WAFL rivals South Fremantle and East Fremantle, and successfully made the Grand Final in 2013. Although, clubs such as the Brisbane Lions and the Sydney Swans have enjoyed remarkable premiership success also, without the support of being such established football states, they to, are also different from the predicament the Giants finds themselves in. The Swans were an established club in South Melbourne and while, their first few decades were a debacle until they began to reconnect with their “Bloods” culture, premiership glory followed. The Brisbane Lions support this further. The Brisbane Bears were a brand-new expansion side like the Giants, but only lasted a decade before merging with VFL and AFL foundation club, Fitzroy. Success then reached them in excess. GWS are in uncharted waters.
However, this is more of a reason as why we need to stop trying to cut this football club down. Time to stop the slurs that suggest the AFL have manufactured success for them on a silver platter. One only has to look at the Gold Coast Suns to realise draft concessions do not guarantee anything, despite ridiculous claims by some who predicted unrivalled premiership success for the competition’s newest expansion club.
The football public need to embrace the Giants as a legitimate member of the family, as opposed to someone who has just married their way into money. This is because nothing would contribute to the growth of the game more than premiership glory for the Giants. Western Sydney is the country’s fastest growing region and if the AFL is to maintain its foothold on the game’s number one code it must win over the Western Sydney faithful – nothing does that like winning. Nothing does that like premierships.
If you give fans the opportunity to be winners, they will come in droves as opposed to running for cover as we have witnessed on the Gold Coast. At some point in the future, GWS will be an AFL superpower claiming the title as the biggest club in the country off of one of the traditional Victorian clubs – that is if they win premierships and capture the hearts and minds of kids in Sydney’s West. Can this be the side that puts the club on this path?
If the 2018 Giants can go all the way, it may well be the biggest five year turn around in football history. In 2013, the club was in its second year and has just racked up its second wooden spoon under the legendary Kevin Sheedy. They had won a total of three games which were against the other expansion team Gold Coast, a hapless Port Adelaide in their darkest hour in 2012, and just a lonely one win against Melbourne, in the middle of their two-win 2013 season.
However, in this time they lost a staggering 41 games, seven of which were by more than 120 points, for a winning percentage of 6.8%. Yikes. You forget how truly hard the road Greater Western Sydney has travelled, even by new teams’ standards. They were so completely uncompetitive that they made the Gold Coast Suns look like they were on the right track.
In this five-year period boys have become men, but can men become heroes?
It’d be an extraordinary effort that would create blood and boots.
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