So what does food have to do with football, and why would I write about it here? There’s no connection really. I just think about football a lot.
I’m a relative newcomer to AFL. I moved to Melbourne from Sydney in 1999, where my interest in Rugby League had been perfunctory. The few games I had been to were an ordeal. The typical crowd member was aged 18-45, white, straight, and male. Is it the cheerleaders, guys?
It was a revelation to come to Melbourne and find that all the women in the office were in the footy tipping competition, and to go to a game of football and see many different faces. It was a great experience to feel included.
I got my first inkling that there may be something about AFL that was so much better than NRL.
My mate Karen and I had moved to Melbourne at the same time, and after a year, decided to support the Western Bulldogs. Really though, the Dogs chose us. By the time we got to the end of the 2000 season, it was never going to be any other team. They didn’t win much, but they had what we were looking for: heart, soul, spirit, guts. There was an emotional connection that we couldn’t ignore. We just loved them.
Many people have asked my why I chose a team that had only won one Premiership, 45 years earlier. I just shake my head at such comments. That Bullldogs supporters are so passionate when they have so rarely been rewarded with the game’s highest prize is what I admire about the Club’s culture: loyalty, and the sheer determination to survive and keep going.
Fast forward 11 years and still no Premiership.
This year, after so much promise in the previous two, my Club has simultaneously raised my hopes, dashed them, restored them, broke my heart, inspired me, thrilled me, frustrated, delighted and devastated me.
Bulldogs supporters always talk about next year and it’s something of a cliché to do so, but many things point to a better 2012. Electrifying new talent, recovery from injuries; the best form of their careers of some of our senior players, and a new broom with whoever will be our coach.
But one thing will never be the same again at the Western Bulldogs.
Since his switch to the Bulldogs two years ago, Barry Hall has been embraced by the Bulldogs faithful as though he’d always been one of ours. Many players divide fans, but I’ve never heard of a Bulldogs supporter who doesn’t love Barry.
How can we not? Sure it’s easy to love the guy who kicks a bag just about every game, but it’s not just that. He adds excitement, class and a rare kind of presence to the game. At times, like a caged lion on the field, but never off.
The big lovable bugger is going to leave a hole in all our hearts. Today, I’ll be taking my son to watch Barry play his last game, and I don’t expect to get through the day with dry eyes.
I sometimes find myself wondering why I love AFL so much. I guess it’s because in my adopted home, I feel part of something now, a connection that’s tribal.
But it’s also that in a city obsessed with one sport – the greatest spectator sport in the world – I’ve found a Club that gives me a lump in my throat like nothing else.
For Barry Hall, Mitch Hahn, and Ben Hudson. Thanks guys.