A September school holidays travel tale for AFL footy fans

Sorry NSW. I love you, but I’m not sure whether I can again stay with you in the September school holidays. “Why?” you ask. Yes, I agree your weather was warm and your beaches sublime, but your total lack of interest in AFL meant we missed out on being part of something special.

Stunning vista at South West Rocks on the NSW North Coast.
A stunning vista at South West Rocks on the NSW North Coast – lots of whales, but no Bulldogs.

See, we are (AFL) Bulldogs fans. And as we watched history being played out from afar, we struggled to find anywhere we could watch a game with atmosphere.

In fact, at times we were the atmosphere. As one old man told us during our game against GWS,  it was hubby’s reactions to the game keeping him entertained.

Now, I am no expert but from where we stood, the AFL has a LONG way to go in its bid to push into this NRL-dominated state. The total lack of interest in AFL honestly surprised me – and that was with two Sydney teams in the final four!

You are in the wrong state, Mate

We were in regional NSW for the preliminary and grand finals, both featuring our beloved Western Bulldogs, and both against Sydney teams. Not that it seemed to matter. Phone calls to clubs and hotels about whether they were showing the final were met with a total lack of interest – from “maybe we can put a screen on for you” to “you are in the wrong state mate!”

Yes, we could have sat in our apartment, 4 of us urging on our team, but we wanted to be out amongst it, with other fans even if they were following GWS or Sydney.

Luckily for us, the preliminary final between GWS and the Bulldogs was at the early time of 5.15pm – which according to the AFL was done to “maximise the TV audience outside of NSW and enable the away team (Hawks or Dogs) to return to Victoria that night should they win.”

Excuse me? I am not sure if that was an official line, but this unusual start time actually gave those of us INSIDE NSW a chance to see the game before the NRL Storm vs Raiders game, which kicked off at 7.40pm. A time clash would have made it impossible. Like the previous night.

Hoping for a Cats vs Dogs final, we tried to watch the Cats v the Swans prelim match. We headed to one of the biggest clubs in Port Stephens and found just one little screen showing the game. All other big screens were showing the Sharks v Cowboys NRL match. The TV at our apartment was bigger than what was on offer, so we headed back there.

A screen to ourselves

But at the Seabreeze Hotel at South West Rocks, the early start meant we had a screen to ourselves – literally. Until people started coming in for dinner, we were watching alone. But we moved to the table directly in front of the screen as the NRL start time grew closer.

“They won’t turn it over for the NRL before our matches finishes,” I urgently asked hubby as the bistro started filling up.

“I won’t let them!” he said.

Luckily the game was a close one, and in the final minutes we had quite a crowd watching, taunting the Victorians that there would be two Sydney teams in the grand final. Luckily the Dogs dug deep and we left with our heads held high!

But now we were in THE final. And that meant contemplating how we could watch the game on the day we were scheduled to start driving home to Melbourne from South West Rocks.

We set off early – our plan was to get to Goulburn, south of Sydney, in time to see the game kick off. As we got to the outskirts of Sydney, we tried to find a radio station with some pre-match discussion. We went through all stations, FM and AM. We found 3 talking footy – but not AFL. They were talking about the NRL final the following day.

What final?

So, driving through Sydney, less than 2 hours before the AFL Final kicks off, with Sydney up there as the favourite to win and NOT ONE RADIO STATION IS TALKING ABOUT IT.

So, let me say, thank God for the 3AW app on hubby’s phone. Combined with the technical skills of Master 14, we synced it to the car and listened as this wonderful station helped us become part of the special day.

As the clock counted down, we knew we would not make it for the kick-off. We missed the first 15 minutes as we headed to the Hibernian Hotel in Goulburn.

“Quick, run, run” urged hubby as we piled out of the car into the hotel. Inside was a lone Sydney Swans fan decked out in his gear. He invited us to join his table.

We joined just a handful of others watching the AFL Grand Final at Goulburn.
We joined just a handful of others watching the AFL Grand Final at the Hibernian Hotel at Goulburn.

During this heart-stopped game, a few people came and went. In addition to Mr Swans was another table of 3 who stayed for the whole game. That was it – 4 Sydney Swans fans and 4 of us Western Bulldogs fans, in Goulburn, a town of about 23,000 on the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney.

I had to smile to myself as one of the men next to us shook his head in disbelief – “this place should be heaving!” Yes, it should have. But I after my 2 weeks in NSW during this finals season, I was not surprised.

And for the FIRST TIME EVER I found myself wishing we were still in Melbourne, at that time of year when so many families (us included) can’t wait to jump in the car or head to the airport for warmer climes. But this year, we yearned to be part of the atmosphere and celebrations for the team that became ours after our son was born.

A Bulldog is born

Our introduction to the Bulldogs came when we lived in Altona Meadows in Melbourne’s western suburbs and a neighbour (and mad keen Bulldogs supporter) presented our baby boy with a signed Bulldogs football she had won.

I still remember Kath handing it over, saying she couldn’t give it to one of her male relatives, as she couldn’t choose one over another – so she gave it to our son instead. From that day, the Bulldogs became our team.

We've been a Bulldogs family for 14 years - but we didn't expect them to be in the finals this year.
We’ve been a Bulldogs family for 14 years – but we didn’t expect them to be in the finals this year.

So, come next September we will stay put in Melbourne. We should be there again in the 2017 finals (I won’t contemplate otherwise) and this time we will be there. It won’t be the same, but better late than never.

  • Apart from our AFL experiences, which really would not have been an issue if not for this historic finals season, our NSW holiday was amazing and we highly recommend where we stayed, Port Stephens and South West Rocks. Check out our NSW Accommodation options here.
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