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Essendon’s 1984-85 premiership player Simon Madden remembers the roar of Windy Hill like it was yesterday.
“If you took a mark in front of that stand in the pocket, it was as loud as the MCG. It was all Essendon supporters, and it was fantastic,” Madden said.
Essendon AFLW co-captain Bonnie Toogood and past premiership layer Simon Madden at Windy Hill.Credit: Eddie Jim
“And I think sometimes supporters underestimate how much the noise influences the game.”
It’s something the Bombers’ AFLW co-captain Bonnie Toogood is hoping to recreate on Sunday as the elite women’s team returns to the club’s spiritual home as their home venue this season. This first game is against St Kilda.
“We’ve had a few training sessions here to get ourselves accustomed to the ground and I have kicked a few from that pocket and just with that grandstand there, I think it’s pretty special,” said Toogood.
“I reckon it’s a special pocket to kick a goal from [so] definitely trying to channel that and visual that and make sure if it were to pop up in the game I’d be able to nail it – but if not, that’s all right too.”
Essendon AFLW’s side entered the competition last season and used ETA Stadium in Port Melbourne as their home ground. But Windy Hill is their new (and old) home, the ground having hosted the senior men’s team for almost 70 years, between 1922 and 1991.
It’s the first time the Bombers will play elite football at the ground in more than 32 years and the 629th footy match to be played on the hallowed turf.
Toogood, who grew up an Essendon supporter, said her father Martyn’s side of the family passed on stories of the ground.
“So, that’s what’s the most exciting thing about the weekend is that we get to bring that nostalgia back but then create our own kind of history with it and create our own chapter,” said Toogood.
“It’s going to be a real great moment– and I think so many girls within the team are going to have goosebump moments because it’s going to be so special, for women’s footy as well.”
Other than bringing back fans to the ground – older ones who have fond memories of its heydays and newer ones from Essendon’s recent successes in VFLW – Toogood is hoping they can harness “the energy of the crowd” and make it a fortress.
“Particularly last season, we didn’t have a home per se that was ours. Yes, we played it at Port Melbourne, which was fantastic, but to actually have a ground that is Essendon and has such a rich history associated with it …” Toogood said.
Simon Madden (27) of Essendon & Fitzroy’s Mark Dwyer contest a mark.Credit: M.H.
“I hope that we can make it a fortress and know all the ins and outs of the oval and how to play it best.”
Although Madden warns the ground does live up to its name: “I can remember playing a game here and a St Kilda player ran off the halfback line under pressure, threw the ball on his boot, and it went up 45 degrees and flew back 20 metres over his head.
“That’s how windy it was.”
But he does say the competitive home ground advantage was real. “The atmosphere here was fantastic… The opposition didn’t like coming because there were just so many supporters,” said Madden. “So, it’s almost, it’s not that you get comfortable with it, but you can get confident with it.
“I have some great memories here, and I hope the AFLW team gets as much enjoyment out of playing here as I did.”
Essendon play St Kilda at Windy Hill on Sunday, September 10 at 3.05pm.
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