The Footscray Football Club, which fields the Western Bulldogs in the Australian Football League (AFL), began in the 1870s as a junior club that for three years (1880-82) took the name Prince Imperials and the colours of the French Royal House to honour the heir to the throne, who had been killed by Zulus. Resuming the Footscray name in 1883, the club entered senior competition in the Victorian Football Association in 1886, with the Western Oval as its home ground. They enjoyed considerable success (nine premierships, including a hat trick in 1898-1900) in an association much reduced by the formation of the Victorian Football League (VFL) in 1896. Known as the Tricolours, and answering to 'Scray' or 'the Scraggers', Footscray in 1921 adopted the bulldog mascot.
Following a strong campaign from the Footscray City Council, and after winning a controversial benefit match against league premiers Essendon on 4 October 1924 to become the 'Champions of Victoria', the club was admitted to the VFL in 1925 along with Hawthorn and North Melbourne. Footscray first made the finals in 1938, and six times between 1942 and 1953. In 1954, captained and coached by Charlie Sutton, Footscray defeated Melbourne to win their first and only 20th-century premiership. Performance fell away badly in the following years, with only six subsequent finals appearances, including the 1961 Grand Final, for which Ted Whitten was captain and coach. A merger with Fitzroy was threatened in 1989, but a new president, Peter Gordon, rallied strong supporter resistance. Footscray's Fightback also generated widespread support from outside the club. On-field performance continued to be variable, and from 1996, under president David Smorgon, the team played as the Western Bulldogs, with a new guernsey and an adapted, more aggressive, club song.
The club moved its home playing ground first to Princes Park, Carlton, and then to Docklands ('Doglands'), though the Western Oval has remained the club's training ground and administrative headquarters. Renamed the Whitten Oval in 1990, the oval has a statue of Whitten. The surrender of the Footscray playing name left some supporters disaffected and failed to draw substantial numbers of new supporters. Footscray squandered its finals appearances in 1997 and 1998 and were wooden spooners in 2003 for only the fourth time in 79 years. In 2004 the club celebrated the jubilee of its premiership with a dinner honouring the 1954 team, a match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground against Melbourne (which Melbourne won) and the award by the AFL of a retrospective Premiership Cup.