April 5, 2014 was a red-letter day for the Western Bulldogs. The Bulldogs AFL side was hoping to break its 2014 duck with a win over Richmond at Marvel Stadium, but before that, there was to be a historically significant moment at the club's spiritual home.
On that sunny Saturday afternoon, the Western Bulldogs' standalone VFL side — to be known as ‘Footscray’ as voted by club members — would make its debut against Richmond (also fielding a standalone VFL team for the first time).
The warm Autumn weather and the prospect of seeing a team named Footscray play at Whitten Oval for the first time in nearly two decades drew a crowd of 5000 to the Bulldogs' old home ground.
With fans watching on from the terraces and the E.J. Whitten stand, just as many of them had done decades earlier, Footscray got off to a great start, a six-goal-to-three opening term setting up a 17-point lead at the first break.
From there it only got better. The Bulldogs extended their lead to 41 points at half time and 84 points at the final change of ends before finishing the Tigers off with a rampaging eight-goal final term to record a huge 117-point win.
Brett Goodes was the outstanding player for the Dogs, and he got great support up forward from Ayce Cordy (five goals) and Tory Dickson (four goals).
With one win under the Bulldogs' belt, fans jumped on the train at West Footscray station and headed to Marvel Stadium to see the AFL Dogs take on Richmond. A strong opening half saw the Western Bulldogs head into the long break with a 37-point lead and a Doggies ‘daily double’ looked a good thing.
But the AFL Tigers had other ideas, and they came storming back in the third and fourth quarters to grab the lead.
A heartbreaking loss looked on the cards until veteran Daniel Giansiracusa, who built a reputation as a ‘super sub’ in his twilight years, outsmarted Tiger defender Brandon Ellis to earn a free kick and kick a goal, giving the Bulldogs a thrilling two-point win and cap off a great day for the club.
Big Will Minson had a day out in the ruck, collecting 55 hit-outs, while the stars for the Dogs were Matthew Boyd, Jack Macrae, Bob Murphy, Tom Liberatore and Dale Morris.
While AFL premiership success was still a couple of years away for the Western Bulldogs, the stunning debut for the VFL Dogs was a sign of things to come in the team's very first year. Footscray went on to win 14 of 18 home and away games to finish second on the ladder.
The Dogs then breezed through September to win the VFL premiership, with Brett Goodes finishing the year as he started, claiming the Norm Goss Memorial Medal as the best player on the ground in the Grand Final.
When the Bulldogs claimed the AFL premiership in 2016, the best players from that 2014 Docklands win against Richmond in the AFL — including Boyd, Macrae, Liberatore and Morris — played a huge role in that success.
But just as important was what happened earlier that day at Whitten Oval, with the spectacular debut of Footscray as a standalone VFL team playing a vital role in setting up the Western Bulldogs for premiership success.