Footy’s in our blood
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.