The Merger and a history of footy on film

Footy is back on the big screen with The Merger, let look at the movies that came before it.

Just in time for AFL finals, a brand new Australian film about Australian Football hit the big screen this September. From the makers of Backyard Ashes comes The Merger, a story of the community of Bodgy Creek and their efforts to revive their flagging footy team the Roosters.

WATCH: The Merger Trailer

Faced with the prospect of merger, or “when one shit team joins up with another shit team to make a slightly less shit team” as the film explains it, the team turns to town pariah and former AFL star Troy Carrington to save the day. With a shortage of players to choose from, Carrington pins his hopes on recruits from the local refugee centre to save the day.

In honour of The Merger bringing footy back to the cinemas, The Pinch Hitters brings you the less than comprehensive list of Australian Football films. Our excitement at having a footy movie in the cinemas is perhaps a little understandable given the surprisingly short list of films that have proceeded it.

Great McCarthyThe Great Macarthy (1975)

WATCH: The Great Macarthy trailer

This idiosyncratic comedy starred John Jarrett as a country footballer kidnapped by South Melbourne officials in a helicopter to become a star in the big smoke. Despite a cast that included the likes of Barry Humphries, Chris Heywood and Max Gillies, this loose adaption of a Barry Oakley novel failed to make an impact at the box office.

What about the footy scenes? Let’s just say Jarrett is much more convincing as Mick Taylor than he is as a footballer. You can judge for yourself here. The same amount of detail given in character names with Lou Richards and Jack Dyer imaginatively named Lou Arnold and Jack Diehard.

The ClubThe Club (1980)

WATCH: The Club Trailer

The football movie upon which all others are judged, The Club is an Aussie classic. Adapted from a David Williamson play and starring The Merger’s John Howard, Graham Kennedy and Jack Thompson, it truly is an Aussie classic.

Following the chaotic workings of a fictionalised Collingwood Football Club after their signing of boom Tasmanian recruit Geoff Hayward, The Club takes you on a wild ride through the back rooms and boardroom of a footy club. Granted access to Collingwood’s Victoria Park headquarters and their players, it has a very genuine feel to it that is missing from most Aussie sports movies.

The football action is pretty good with most of it actual footage, and while the spliced in moments with the actors isn’t great it is a lot more believable than what you’ll see in The Cup over 30 years later. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you do. If you have seen it, see it again.

Warming UpWarming Up (1983)

Don’t feel too bad if you haven’t heard of Warming Up. Given it only had a limited cinema release, you won’t be on your own. From the makers of A Country Practice, it really was a telemovie masquerading as a feature film.

Starring Barbara Stephens as ballet teacher Juliet, the movie follows her adventure as she leaves the city for the country with her young son. After a run in with the town’s head of police, who is also the local footy coach, she sets up her ballet studio in the only space available – the football club dressing rooms.

‘Hilarity’ ensues when she begins to teach the team ballet moves, without the coach’s knowledge, which helps them end their long losing run and make a charge for the finals. Given the movie was designed as a comedy the football scenes aren’t the best, something which is definitely not helped by the productions inability to provide enough extras to fill a full team of 18.

Australian RulesAustralian Rules (2002)

WATCH: Australian Rules Trailer

Set in a small town on the South Australian coast, Australian rules tells the story of 16-year-old Gary Black. Based on the multi award-winning young adult novel by Phillip Gwynne, Australian Rules explores friendship, growing up and racial tension.

Gary, an average football player and budding writer, becomes an accidental hero in his team’s premiership success, falls in love and becomes involved in a tragic accident.

A seriously good film, unlike a number of movies on the list, it does a good job on the football scenes. One of the more critically acclaimed movies of the early 2000’s it scooped a number of awards including best-adapted screenplay at the 2002 Australian Film Institute Awards.

Valentines DayValentine’s Day (2008)

WATCH: Valentine’s Day Trailer

Valentine’s Day is a 2008 ABC telemovie that tells the story of Ben Valentine (Rhys Muldoon) who runs foul of the law in the Victorian country town of Rushworth. Sentenced to 200 hours of community service, he is offered an unusual opportunity to serve his sentence.

With Rushworth’s football team on the brink of extinction, unless they win three of their next four games, former star player Valentine is enlisted to coach the team in lieu of his punishment. A feel-good movie, initially reluctant Valentine throws himself headlong into the task after being welcomed wholeheartedly by the community.

The football scenes in the movie appear to be that of real-life community games which gives them an authentic feel. The telemovie/no-frills nature of the movie works well with the country town community spirit it is trying to portray.

BlinderBlinder (2013)

WATCH: Blinder Trailer

Despite starring Jack Thompson and having Glenn Archer as an Executive Producer, Blinder is nothing short of a hot mess of a movie. The football scenes are an abomination with a number of the actors appearing to have never seen, let alone picked up a Sherrin before action was called.

If that wasn’t bad enough given that it was heavily advertised as a football movie, this isn’t even the worst thing about Blinder. The script is abhorrent and the way it treats the female characters and some of the more serious subject matters would have been outdated in 1973 let alone in 2013. Do not ever succumb to any compulsion to watch this movie, it is two hours of your life you will never get back.

So that is the short but comprehensive list of Footy movies that came before The Merger hit our screens this month. It really was time for another one, while we don’t want any more Blinders, we can’t be alone in wanting more football on the big screen in the years to come?

What do you think of the movies listed? Were there any we missed? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or you can like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and join the conversation on Social Media.


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