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Soup of This Day #341: Man On Fire

October 14, 2013

Fremantle
An aerial view of Fremantle, Western Australia. At the left is Fremantle Harbour, a site that encompasses the mouth of the Swan River. Roughly at centre right is Fremantle Oval, the home of the Fremantle Football Club, while at top right is a house that at 1 time was the home of Longworth72. In spite of the very near presence of his football team he wasn’t overly happy living there – It was something about a girl – Photo: Kristian Maley, 2005. Kristian Maley is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

On the last Saturday in September just past, the Hawthorn Football Club won the Australian Football League (AFL) Premiership for 2013. They did this by edging out the Fremantle Football Club by 15 points in the Grand Final.

I wasn’t happy about that. Not happy at all. Mostly because I am a fan of the bloody Fremantle Dockers.

I don’t mean ‘bloody’ as in ‘bloody awful’, and nor do I mean it as in ‘bloody legends’ – Neither of those applications of ‘bloody’ go close to explaining who the Dockers are and what they mean to a fan like me. The nearest approximation is to say that ‘bloody’ means things both good and bad, plus a bunch of stuff that isn’t anywhere on that spectrum. Which isn’t much of an explanation I’ll admit, so perhaps I’ll go back to the beginning…

The Fremantle Dockers were formed in 1994 and played their 1st AFL game in 1995. Freo was the 2nd team based in the greater Perth metropolitan area in Western Australia and from the 1st bounce was set well behind the other – The West Coast Eagles had won 2 Premierships to that time, and as sometimes happens when a club gets an 8-year head-start in a 1-team town, had a blue-blood feel around them. They were shiny, popular and assured – The marketer’s image of Western Australia made good in a football team.

The Dockers by contrast were born with regular blood, possibly with a higher than usual alcohol content reading, and the only thing blue around them was their collars and maybe the language of their supporters. While the Eagles traditionally have a support base seemingly rooted in Perth’s affluent western suburbs, the Dockers have drawn their apparent inspiration from wherever folks have to work for a living – Places like the Fremantle Ports wharfs.

Maybe that’s why I’ve heard the Freo club described as the lesser of the 2 clubs – Sort of a little sibling to West Coast. I’m not sure that is accurate though – I have a big brother and he’s not at all been like the Eagles.

Which is a good thing bro.

I think a better way of looking at it is to think that the Eagles were, for a long time and maybe still in the eyes of some, seen as the crown prince of Western Australian footy – Expecting 1 day to rule over everyone and so desperate to appear regal and ready for lofty command. If we carry that analogy through then the Dockers were also imagined as a prince.

A clown prince.

Not because they were a prince of fools – More because they were like the 2nd in line for the throne – Not expecting to rule over everyone and so quite happy mucking around until such time as they needed to step up. They were weird, wild and capable of the most astonishing extremes of footy.

Like threatening to go a whole season without winning a game in 2001. They’d lost the 1st 17 games of that year and were down by 40 points away against Hawthorn in Round 18. The Hawks were then 3rd on the ladder and the Dockers (16th and last) hadn’t won for 370 days.

Freo won by 16 points.

The Dockers are also the club that lost their 1st 9 encounters with West Coast and 17 of the 1st 22. Since then though they’ve won 12 of 16, including 7 in a row from August 2007 until May 2011.

In the middle of that winning Western Derby run was the 2009 season. The Dockers might have knocked off West Coast in both matches that year but they could only add another 4 wins to those victories. Meanwhile they lost 16 times, including 1 stand-out effort against Adelaide where Freo could manage just 1.7 (13) across 4 quarters.

The Crows mercilessly replied with 19.16 (130). Or exactly 10 times as many points as the visiting Dockers.

The following year, Freo started its subsequent season with a win. Against Adelaide. Before they stormed into an unlikely finals campaign in which they defeated Hawthorn in an Elimination Final. What goes around comes around – It’s just that with the Dockers it often travels like the Millennium Falcon – You know, 1 minute it’s doing the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs (Back off pedantic astrophysicists) and the next it’s hiding in a refuse trail because its hyperdrive won’t work.

The hyperdrive wasn’t working for the 2013 AFL Grand Final. The Dockers missed some shots they’d have taken other times, the umps made a couple of bad calls and the ball just didn’t sit right off a couple of key bounces. It’s what you’d call an off day except it happened in a Grand Final and so it had ramifications far beyond that.

It hurt.

Probably more so for the players than the likes of me. It hurt like hell for me anyway and it was, and still is, a tough thing to get so close and now to have to think of next year.

Next bloody year.

But here’s the thing that gives me the hope to offset that feeling – All of that history means everything and nothing to these Freo players now. The former because the Dockers have learned from where they have come from and the latter because they’re not going back there.

And that’s why they’ve been my bloody club for 19 years and why they’ll be my bloody club again next year. And the year after that. And so on. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Let’s go Freo!

Man On Fire

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