These are the moments you wonder why you invest so much emotion in a game, one over which you have not an ounce of influence. It’s a sentiment perhaps best summed up by a quote that prefaces each edition of the annual publication The Footy Almanac:
“a sealed bag of air,
passed and kicked and thrown away,
on which rests the happiness of thousands”
In the hours after your team loses, you tend to forget the other end of the emotional spectrum, the euphoric highs that come with a thrilling win, or better still, the moment your team claims the ultimate prize – the AFL premiership.
Those emotional highs make it worth the many heartbreaks – for me at least. Of course, as a Western Bulldogs’ fan it’s been a little easier for me to say that over the past five years.
In 2016, the Dogs delivered their fans a month of emotional highs that will probably never be matched. Over four weekends, they beat the favourites to claim the most unlikely of flags, breaking a premiership drought that stretched back to 1954, more than a decade before I was born.
I tell my adult sons that, over that four-week period, the days they were born dropped from equal-best day of my life, to equal-second, equal-third, equal-fourth and finally equal-fifth. At times, they’re not sure if I’m joking. At times, neither am I! That’s the sort of impact a footy team can have on you when you throw your lot behind it.
Through the Bulldogs, I’ve vicariously scaled the top of the footy mountain. I know what it feels like, and can draw on those memories during darker moments. Fans of Melbourne and St Kilda, the clubs that now own the two longest extant premiership droughts, cannot.
St Kilda’s 2021 run is over, so Saints’ supporters will have to wait at least another year to experience that highest of highs. But for Demons fans, anticipation – and anxiety – is building. Melbourne has finished on top of the ladder for the first time since 1964, the year of their last premiership.
If they continue to win, the next month could deliver unprecedented joy to Dees fans whose memory does not stretch back beyond 57 years.
Before the Bulldogs broke the premiership drought in 2016, I’d always said that seeing just one flag would be enough. I’d happily ride off into the sunset, leaving my emotional investment behind.
But the pull is strong; intoxicating. When the Dogs run out in Sunday’s Elimination Final against Essendon, I’ll be fully invested. I’ll ride every high and low.
If we lose, I’ll throw my lot behind Melbourne because I’d love to see my Demon friends experience what I did five years ago. But while the Dogs remain in the race, I’ll invest every skerrick of my emotion into them.
It will probably end in heartbreak – but the risk is worth it.
Andrew Gigacz is a Melbourne writer.