Historically one of the league's less successful clubs, both in terms of on-field success and off-field resources, the club has taken significant steps to all but eliminate this stigma. The club has had stable sponsorship and consistently strengthening membership figures (28,725 members in 2007). The Whitten Oval is also undergoing a $20m redevelopment - set to make its headquarters and training facility among the best in the league.
The club is finding increasing popularity within the football community for its highly skillful and attacking style of play - a style that saw it reach the 2006 and 2008 semi-finals. However, despite many commentators and observers suggesting the Bulldogs were in a position to win the 2007 Premiership, the club performed well below expectations, ending the 2007 season in 13th place. 2008 has seen the Bulldogs bounce back into the top 8, finishing the home and away season with 15 wins and a draw, in 3rd position ahead of the finals series.
Footscray was relatively late in joining the Victorian Football League (VFL), the predecessor of the AFL. It did so in 1925 as the "Footscray Football Club", at the same time as Hawthorn and North Melbourne, all three coming from the Victorian Football Association (VFA).
Footscray, also known as the Prince Imperials from 1880-1882, played in the junior division of the VFA before joining the senior division of the VFA in 1886. Following the famed break away of 1896, during which the stronger VFA clubs formed the VFL, the tricolours (as they were known during this period) became a force in the VFA. The club went on to win 9 premierships between 1898 and 1924. This included a hattrick from 1898 to 1900 and four premierships between 1919 and 1924. The 1924 premiership would be Footscray's last in the VFA. The club played against the then premiers of the VFL, Essendon, to be proclaimed the "champion of Victoria". In what was an upset win, amongst rumours of bribes to the Essendon players to "play dead", Footscray won the match comfortably and this ushered in an invitation to join the VFL the following season.
Footscray adapted relatively quickly to the standard of VFL football, and by 1928 were already a contender for the finals, missing only on percentage in 1931. Though they slipped to eleventh in 1930, 1935 and 1937, the following year they became the first of the new clubs to reach the finals. They fell back drastically in 1939, but during the war-torn 1940s were more consistent than ever, winning their first nine games in 1946.
In this period, Footscray failed to win in finals, losing six first semis between 1938 and 1951. In 1953, however, they set a record of conceding only 959 points in the home-and-away games due to a powerful defence featuring Wally Donald, Herb Henderson and Jim Gallagher. They finally won the first semi against Essendon, and the following year took out their only premiership so far, beating Geelong and then Melbourne in the 1954 VFL Grand Final
This success was in no small part due to two champions of the club - Charlie Sutton the wily and tough captain-coach at the time, and Ted Whitten snr., otherwise known as 'E.J.' or 'Mr Football', one of Australian Rules' best ever players. Charlie claims to have invented the modern play-on style of football - run, handball, run, kick. Teddy Whitten has been the source of more arguments than any other on who is the greatest player to grace the fields of Australian rules football. Whitten was also famous for his inventive and lightnening 'flick pass' ,which was banned due to the umpire's difficulty in distinguishing whether the ball was thrown or hit with the open hand!
However, Footscray failed to capitalize on their premiership success, falling off in the latter part of the decade and finishing with their first wooden spoon in 1959. But they bounced back to reach the 1961 Grand Final where they were beaten by Hawthorn. The rest of the decade was a bleak era for the club, particularly between 1965 and 1969, when they finished in the bottom three every year.
Ted Whitten snr. retired as a player in 1970 and held the record for the most VFL games played at the time (321 games), but he would continue in a coaching capacity until the end of 1971. The 1970s were relatively better but the club still could not win a final - and by decade's end they were back near the bottom.
Mick Malthouse was appointed senior coach in 1984, and a dramatic improvement saw them rise to second position in 1985 before an astonishing loss to lowly St. Kilda in the last round put paid to premiership aspirations. The Bulldogs narrowly missed out on finals action in 1987 when they were beaten by Melbourne in the last round.
The club has had players of both quality and character such as Charlie and Ted, and later Gary Dempsey, the heroic ruckman who was badly burnt in Lara bushfire of January 1969 but managed to take out the game's top individual award, the Brownlow Medal in 1975. Or Doug Hawkins, the roguish lad as much at home with a beer as taking on the likes of 'Dipper' on the outer wing of the Western Oval - the Doug Hawkins Wing. Even Simon 'the Pieman' Beasley, a deadly accurate full-forward and stockbroker who broke the image of blue-collar players at the club.
In 1989, the Bulldogs survived a proposed merger with the Fitzroy Lions when the people of Footscray, led by businessman Peter Gordon and a host of others, rallied to raise funds to pay off the club's debts. In further developments, former club player Terry Wheeler was named as Malthouse's replacement while champion veteran wingman Doug Hawkins was appointed captain.
After a disappointing 1991, the Bulldogs bounced back in brilliant fashion in 1992, finishing second on the ladder and making their first finals appearance since 1985.
In 1995, the Bulldogs again made the finals, only to again be eliminated by the Cats. In August, club champion Ted Whitten snr. lost his battle with cancer and such was his status in the game that he was given a state funeral. In his honour, the club renamed the Western Oval the Whitten Oval and a memorial statue was erected outside the stadium.
Under the tightly focused management by club president David Smorgon, driven coaching by Terry Wallace, and the on-field leadership of Chris Grant (who narrowly missed a Brownlow Medal in 1996 and 1997) and Tony Liberatore, the club had a relatively successful period through the mid- to late 1990s, making the finals from 1997 to 2000. However, without a premiership win, the club's future as ever looked on a knife's edge.
During Smorgon's term, the club was renamed from Footscray to Western Bulldogs and moved from the Whitten Oval, first to Optus Oval from 1997 to 1999, and then to the newly-built Telstra Dome for the 2000 season.
After a lamentable period under former coach Peter Rohde, the Bulldogs rightfully anticipated a brighter future with the appointment of Rodney Eade as coach in 2005. Improvement was immediate with the Bulldogs winning 11 games and finishing ninth on the ladder in 2005, just missing out on the finals by half a game. Missing the finals dealt a blow to both players and supporters of the team as hot late season form saw the team being considered real premiership contenders, even though a finals berth had not been secured.
In 2006, the Bulldogs continued to play well despite a disastrous run of injuries throughout the year; with five players having to have knee reconstructions, including captain Luke Darcy and a list of other major injuries to key players. Despite this setback, the Bulldogs finished the home-and-away season with 13 wins (see 2006 AFL season), making it to the finals for the first time since 2000. They won the Elimination Final against Collingwood in front of 84,000 at the MCG and reached the semi-finals before being defeated by eventual Premiers the West Coast Eagles at Subiaco Oval. Many commentators and fans expect the Club to be genuine Premiership contenders in the near future. (See Current AFL ladder)
On 5th August 2006, Chris Grant broke the Western Bulldogs record for the most senior AFL/VFL games at the club. On this day he played his 330th game, breaking Doug Hawkins' previous record of 329 games.
Looking for new markets, the club had played one game every year at the S.C.G. in Sydney and one home game each year at Marrara Oval in Darwin. On 16th August 2006, the league announced that the Bulldogs' Sydney "home" game would be played at Manuka Oval, Canberra (the country's capital) as of 2007, for the next three years.
In 2007 the Bulldogs, who were hot Premiership favourites early on, faltered in the last seven rounds losing six games and drawing one to finish 13th.
In the following pre-season they traded away Jordan McMahon to Richmond and Sam Power to North Melbourne. They also recruited ruckman Ben Hudson and forward Scott Welsh from Adelaide and back Tim Callan from Geelong in what was a very successful trade week.
In 2008, the Bulldogs were widely predicted for the bottom four after the pre-season, but have had a successful home-and-away season finishing in third place with fifteen wins, one draw and six losses (five of which occurred in the season's last seven games). The Dogs' finals campaign began on a down note, losing to Hawthorn by 51 points at the MCG in the first qualifying final, but won the subsequent semi-final against Sydney by 37 points. The Bulldogs lost their Preliminary Final match against reigning premiers Geelong.
However, in 2006 the Bulldogs broke their membership record. The bulldogs reached their target of 26,000 members only two minutes before the official closing time for all AFL memberships, which was at 5pm on Friday the 30th of June, after starting the day needing 140 new members to achieve the landmark. The landmark looked promising as the Western Bulldogs began the 2007 season as AFL premiership favourite, just ahead of the West Coast Eagles. The Bulldogs ended up having a disappointing season though, failing to make the finals, finishing 13th.
|Backs:||Charlie Sutton||Herb Henderson||John Schultz|
|Half Backs:||Wally Donald||Ted Whitten Senior (C)||John Jillard|
|Centres:||Harry Hickey||Allan Hopkins||Doug Hawkins (VC)|
|Half Forwards:||Alby Morrison||Kelvin Templeton||Chris Grant|
|Forwards:||Jack Collins||Simon Beasley||George Bisset|
|Followers:||Gary Dempsey||Scott West||Brian Royal|
|Interchange:||Jim Gallagher||Arthur Olliver||Brad Johnson|
|Norman Ware||Tony Liberatore||Scott Wynd|