From the grandstand: Freo must overcome Victorian hoodoo

23 August 2011

Written by: Ben Waterworth

The strange club nickname, the seemingly wimpy team colours, the lethargic theme song – there has always been incentive for AFL fans to have a light-hearted crack at Fremantle.

But one thing this proud footy club can do to ensure its jokers become admirers is overcome its phobia of Melbourne.

Obviously, Fremantle – like most teams situated outside of Victoria – prefers playing matches in its home state. In the Dockers’ short yet proud history, they’ve won 54 per cent of their games played at Patersons Stadium.

But things change when Fremantle ventures onto the MCG or Etihad Stadium. The team becomes more nervous than a sweaty groom waiting for his delayed bride to arrive at the chapel on his wedding day.

Though it’s simple for the Dockers: until they start winning games in the AFL’s heartland, the purple gags and uncompetitive labels will continue.

Freo’s inability to compete in Melbourne was epitomised during its humiliating 98-point defeat at the hands of North Melbourne on Saturday night.

With a finals spot up for grabs, the Dockers were incredibly disappointing. Players continually turned the footy over as they disintegrated under the Kangaroos’ relentless pressure. Too much responsibility was left to too fewer players.

Yes a number of stars went into the game, or finished it, with an injury. But to crumble so easily with so much on the line is inexcusable. You can’t control injuries, but you can control your attitude and intensity.

Saturday night’s game was the Dockers’ fifth loss from five games played in Melbourne this season. It was also its 28th loss from 37 total games at Etihad Stadium,

However, these poor performances have been an ongoing issue from the club’s inception.

Since entering the AFL in 1995, the Dockers have played 111 games in Victoria. Out of those matches, they’ve only sung their comatose song 25 times.

It’s a hoodoo that was injected into the club’s veins early on. And it looks like it’s not leaving the bloodstream anytime soon.

With the AFL Grand Final guaranteed to be held at the MCG until 2037, the Dockers’ quest for that first premiership seems an impossible task with an atrocious record in Melbourne.

If you’re a young and developing side, it might be fine to lose the odd game away from home, because a playing group may learn more from a loss away from home. But for a club to have such a poor overall record in a certain state for 17 years is a huge concern.

It’s frustrating for Freo supporters because they know their team has the talent to win games in Victoria. With experienced and classy players such as Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands, David Mundy and Luke McPharlin, as well as a host of quality young talent led by Nathan Fyfe, this team is capable of winning anywhere on any given day.

Therefore the issue isn’t physical or one of talent. It’s mental.

Patersons Stadium is a sea of purple when the Dockers play at home. It’s an intimidating and hostile place to be for any traveling team – and the Dockers thrive on it.

But when they travel to Melbourne, there’s little to no support and it seems to affect the players.

When a Victorian team’s passionate supporters get behind their team, the Dockers feel threatened.  They become nervous and hesitant. They go for cute passes and drop their intensity on the ball carrier.

The Dockers’ season is now close to over after their loss to the Roos. It would take a miracle for them to feature in the finals. But even if they did finish eighth, they’d have to play Carlton in the first week of the finals – in Melbourne. Tipsters wouldn’t have any hesitation picking a winner.

For 17 years, Fremantle hasn’t had the maturity and mental strength to win big games in the AFL’s home state. Therefore it has never reached premiership contender status.

Only when the Dockers start winning in Victoria, will the respect will come.

This article also appeared on The Big Tip.

Ben Waterworth is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is upstart’s former sports editor. You can follow him on Twitter: @bjwaterworth