Footy’s in our blood

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Pay-tv - GREG THOM

SPORT has a spe­cial place in Aus­tralians’ psy­che. No on-field en­deav­our bet­ter il­lus­trates sport’s cul­tural hold over the com­mu­nity, how­ever, more than Aus­tralian rules foot­ball.

As re­cently re­tired Essendon great James Hird says in the soonto-be-aired Fox­tel doc­u­men­tary The Spirit of Aus­tralian Sport: ‘‘Aus­tralian foot­ball is much more than a game — it’s a way of life.’’

Hird should know. A for­mer cap­tain of the club, he played 253 games for Essendon in a stel­lar 15-year ca­reer win­ning two pre­mier­ships and a Brown­low Medal.

As such, he is an in­spired choice to front what is a su­perbly re­searched and pre­sented pro­gram delv­ing into the 150-year his­tory of Aus­tralia’s home-grown game.

The first in a se­ries of specials pro­duced by Ja­son Ben­nett, which looks at sports such as rugby league, swim­ming and horse rac­ing, the doc­u­men­tary goes be­hind the scenes to dis­cover what makes Aussie rules tick.

As Hird tells Guide, how­ever, the pro­gram is much more than a dry his­tor­i­cal tome filled with dusty dates and sta­tis­tics, in­stead con­cen­trat­ing on how the game has af­fected all those touched by it.

It’s that very as­pect that at­tracted him to the host­ing role.

‘‘I’m re­ally ex­cited about the fact you can be part of a pro­gram that ex­plains to peo­ple how much foot­ball means to the com­mu­nity and how it has de­fined Aus­tralia,’’ he says.

Hird links to­gether the var­i­ous seg­ments of the two-hour pro­duc­tion, rang­ing from a brief his­tory of the game to the im­pact of in­dige­nous play­ers and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of turn­ing a sub­ur­ban pas­sion into a na­tional com­pe­ti­tion.

DE­SPITE laud­ing the ideals that have made the game so pop­u­lar and res­onate so strongly with fans across the coun­try, the pro­gram pulls no punches with some of the more con­tro­ver­sial and re­gret­table chap­ters over the years.

Racism in par­tic­u­lar is ap­proached openly and hon­estly, with the shame­ful at­ti­tudes to in­dige­nous play­ers in the early days bal­anced by the stren­u­ous ef­forts of the AFL to erad­i­cate the blight from the mod­ern game.

Other top­ics, such as the sto­ries of the un­sung vol­un­teer he­roes be­hind the scenes that make footy clubs tick, foot­ball’s im­por­tant role so­cially and whether Melbourne can sus­tain 10 teams in the fu­ture are also in­tel­li­gently ex­plored.

It is the in­spi­ra­tional tale of Iraqborn Kil­more Foot­ball Club player Ahmed Kelly, who man­ages to take to the field de­spite hav­ing no arms and legs, which says much about the game and what it means to peo­ple on and off the field.

As Kelly’s adop­tive mother says: ‘‘It’s in your soul who you are. Just be­cause you don’t have arms or legs doesn’t mean you can’t do any­thing.’’

Short, sharp and in­ci­sive ob­serv- ations from a wide variety of foot­ball iden­ti­ties in­clud­ing Michael Long, Ed­die McGuire, for­mer AFL chief Ross Oak­ley, David Parkin, Glenn Archer and Her­ald Sun chief foot­ball writer Mike Shea­han add an air of au­then­tic­ity and gen­uine pas­sion to the tale.

Hird has no doubt about why AFL foot­ball has carved such a spe­cial place in the hearts of those who love the con­test.

‘‘It’s Aus­tralia’s game,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s our game, it’s made in Aus­tralia, cre­ated by Aus­tralians.’’

Our game: AFL leg­end James Hird hosts The Spirit of Aus­tralian Sport.

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