"I wonder how many knife-wielding maniacs are sitting behind us?" An innocent question from the girlfriend - she was only being half serious - but still a question worth thinking about. After all, we had managed to get ourselves seats at Aussie Stadium for the Panthers vs Bulldogs qualifying final match surrounded by the infamous 'Bulldogs Army'. According to everything I had read, as an "outsider" I was pretty much guaranteed a beating at some stage of the match ... and possibly a firecracker or two as well. The fact we were planning to cheer for the Panthers was the final nail in this imaginary coffin of mine.
Strangely, we made it through the night unscathed. The Panthers lost of course, but being a Warriors fan I had become gradually accustomed to that feeling throughout the season.
It was certainly an intimidating experience though. The whistles, the makeshift drums, the constant "Bulldogs" chants ... in a way I was relieved that the Dogs had won. Surely this bunch of fanatics would have demolished the stadium otherwise - at least that?s what I thought at the time.
But it didn't stop there. We were also in the audience for the Grand Final Footy Show - and once again, the Bulldogs fans in the audience were in a loud mood. I was already getting sick of this 'unruly mob', and the chorus of "boos" as Brad Fittler was introduced sickened me. Jesus guys, just shut up!!
Anyway, how could a club like the Bulldogs have such vocal support? The salary cap cheating, rape allegations, drug allegations, the arrogant attitudes ... who could possibly pledge their allegiance to a club with these sorts of values? And what kind of comprehensible reason is there for being so damn proud of it??
During the lead-up to the Grand Final I found that 95% of the people I spoke to were hoping for a Roosters victory - and the most common reason was "because I really hate the Bulldogs". And the hate didn?t seem to stem from jealousy, and it wasn?t due to old rivalries ... it was simply the reputation that the Dogs (and their fans) had built up over the last couple of years, resulting in a backlash from the media-hungry public.
Grand Final day - and for the first time I was there in the flesh. Obviously I was cheering for the Roosters, "officially" because I was hoping for the perfect finish to Brad Fittler?s career. But "unofficially" I had become caught up in the anti-Bulldogs brigade. It certainly didn?t seem right that a club with so much controversy around them in the last few years could claim the ultimate prize. Hell, even while squeezing through Lidcombe station on the way to the match, I heard rumours that Bulldogs fans had already started rioting somewhere.
Wile E Coyote never ate the Roadrunner. Dick Dastardly could never stop that pigeon. Gargarmel never caught the Smurfs. Surely the Bulldogs couldn?t capture the Premiership ... could they?!?
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Whoops ... there?s a little piece missing from this. Please allow me to continue ...
We all know what happened next. The Bulldogs held on to win a nail-biter 16-13, Brad Fittler couldn?t finish with the fairy-tale we wanted to see, Willie Mason got his hands on a nice shiny medal and Andrew Ryan hoisted Steve Price up on stage to accept the Telstra Premiership trophy.
And while they were out there realising exactly what they?d just done, it started to hit me as well. I felt sorry for the Roosters - they?ll be back - but I also felt sorry for the small-minded attitude I had carried and held against the Bulldogs club and their fans.
Every club has it?s minority of idiots ... some are fans, some are players and some are even hidden deep within the boardroom structure. But they all share the same goal - a goal that the Bulldogs had now achieved despite years of negative publicity and numerous obstacles. It takes a very special kind of team to achieve that.
And although it won?t mean much, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to the 2004 champions - and their army of supporters who have stuck by their team like glue through the turbulent times and can now reap the rewards. The passion and loyalty that you?ve shown is amazing - and long may it continue.
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