Main content
Western Bulldogs Header Branding

The Fightback 30: Moment 2

Faces of the Fightback Through the eyes of six passionate Bulldogs, this is the fans' story of how the Fightback was waged and won, and how people power prevailed and saved the 'Team of the Mighty West' from extinction.

To celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the famous Footscray Fightback campaign of 1989, Bulldogs fans have voted on the most significant moments for the Club over the last 30 years. 

Today, westernbulldogs.com.au reveals moment 2.

The Bulldogs will take on Melbourne in Round 17 on a day dedicated to the Fightback – a time which saw an extraordinary fan uprising save the Club from a merger with Fitzroy.

On July 14, Footscray will take on Casey in the VFL, followed by the AFL game at Marvel Stadium. 

VIEW THE ORIGINAL LIST OF 30 MOMENTS 

2: The Fightback of ‘89

After several years of being highly competitive or better on the coaching of Mick Malthouse, Footscray’s on-field fortunes soured in 1989 as the Bulldogs plummeted to a second-last finish on the ladder. The on-field result was poor, but the club's off-field position was far worse. 

Footscray had been running on the proverbial smell of an oily rag for years and by the end of ‘89, Malthouse's last as coach, the Club had accrued a sizeable debt. The Club had lost nearly $1 million in 1989 alone and was now in the red to the tune of $1.85 million.

The Bulldogs’ parlous financial situation actually suited the aims of the VFL, however. Under CEO Ross Oakley, the league wanted to rationalise the number of Melbourne-based clubs as it looked to expand into other states.

Three days after the 1989 Grand Final, Oakley's method for achieving his aim materialised publicly on the front page of the Sun newspaper with the headline "VFL CLUBS 'TO MERGE'". Footscray CEO Dennis Galimberti had only learned the night before that the Club had weeks earlier brokered a deal to merge with Fitzroy. Footscray's VFL licence was to be terminated.

VISIT THE BULLDOGS FIGHTBACK WEB HUB 

Blindsided Footscray fans were in shock. While the new team would be known as the Fitzroy Bulldogs, it was clear that this was more takeover than merger, the ‘Bulldogs’ reference nothing more than tokenistic.

As angry as Bulldogs fans were, the Club's perceived insolvency meant the VFL held the whip hand, and there appeared to be little they could do to save the century-old club.

But Ross Oakley and his fellow VFL powerbrokers reckoned without the resolve of those fans.

By the time Galimberti learned of the VFL's decision, he and lifelong fan, lawyer Peter Gordon, had already been negotiating a financial package with Footscray City Council that would resolve much of the Club's financial woes. 

While Galimberti and Gordon and quickly formulated a plan aimed at stopping the VFL in their tracks, Bulldogs fans spontaneously began descending on Western Oval to voice their disapproval. The fightback was only just beginning

Gordon and Galimberti organised a rally for the following Sunday, October 8, but before focussing on that they needed to seek an injunction preventing the VFL from proceeding with their plans for Footscray's demise. For that to occur, they had to find someone who was willing to put their name to such a legal action, in the knowledge that that person would be liable for any debts owing if the appeal was lost. It was then that Irene Chatfield famously stepped forward. The injunction was granted, and the Club was given 21 days to raise the funds required to maintain solvency.

BUY TICKETS: WESTERN BULLDOGS V MELBOURNE 

When the day of the rally came around, a grey and rainy Sunday, no one knew if many fans would show up. Gordon and Galimberti both recall that as late as 20 minutes before the scheduled rally start time, there were barely more than a few hundred fans to be seen. But half an hour later, there was a sea of red, white and blue. In the end more than 10,000 fans appeared seemingly almost spontaneously. 

Gordon had arranged for Terry Wheeler, the Dogs 1989 reserves coach, to come on board appear at the rally as the new senior coach, and he convinced 25 players — including Doug Hawkins and Tony Liberatore — to turn up, despite the VFL ‘warning’ them to stay away. Gordon introduced them to the rally crowd as the Bulldog team for 1990.

Inspired fans gave generously, some even offering their pension cheques. By day’s end, $450,000 cash had been collected. Without corporate sponsors not even on board yet, more than a quarter of the money required to save the Club had already been raised.

Gordon and his team arranged further fundraising activities, including selling the now-famous ‘Up yours Oakley’ stickers. By the time the 21-day deadline had arrived, enough money to wipe out the debt had been raised. The VFL was forced to back down and accept that the Bulldogs would continue as an AFL club in its own right.

WATCH: FACES OF THE FIGHTBACK 

Despite that, many believed that this was little more than a stay of execution, that Footscray Football Club's inevitable demise had merely been delayed. 

But thanks to Gordon, who was convinced to come on board as president after the Club was saved, Galimberti and the loyal and generous people of Melbourne's western suburbs and beyond, the Bulldogs at first survived, and then thrived. Over the three decades since the Dogs have been regular finalists, and in 2016 reached the pinnacle in winning the AFL premiership, after a finals campaign to remember. That campaign incorporated a Preliminary Final win for the ages. In a wonderfully serendipitous nod to the Fightback campaign of '89, the Bulldogs' winning score in both that match and the Grand Final a week later, was…89.

Dennis Galimberti looks back at the events of thirty years ago with pride and is reminded that in a moment when it seemed all hope was lost for the Footscray Football Club, the fans’ commitment, resolve and belief ensured that the Bulldogs would be around for many years to come. Long may those three qualities — commitment, resolve, belief — continue to sustain the mighty Western Bulldogs.

FIGHTBACK PODCAST: BOB MURPHY AND DENNIS GALIMBERTI

THE FIGHTBACK 30 SO FAR:
MOMENT 3
MOMENT 4
MOMENT 5
MOMENT 6
MOMENT 7
MOMENT 8
MOMENT 9
MOMENT 10
MOMENTS 11-15
MOMENTS 16-20
MOMENTS 21-25
MOMENTS 26-30