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Collingwood Football Club Australia

The Club (1980) Starring Jack Thompson, Graham Kennedy, Frank Wilson, Harold Hopkins, John Howard, Alan Cassell, Maggie Doyle, Lou Richards, Toni-Gay Shaw, Jack Harris, Frank Raggatt, Jim Cain, Gary Files, Ed Turley, Scot Palmer, Ron Carter, Nick Harvey, Ann Henderson-Stires, Diana Greentree, Robin Cuming, John Proper, Susan Hopkins, Peter Daicos, Rene Kink, Bob Davis, Jack Dyer, Barbara Jungwirth.

Directed by Bruce Beresford.

Running time: 96 minutes.

Rating: R (Violence, Coarse Language, Brief Nudity)

“All I want from you is everything you’ve got and more!”

A fictional cinematic portrait of real-life Australian rules football club Collingwood which (Along with clubs like Carlton and Essendon) is among the flagship franchises of the Australian Football League (Formerly the Victorian Football League). Though it happens to be very funny it is also sacrilegious if you happen to worship Melbourne-based Collingwood, a storied franchise with over a hundred years of history revered in the same way the Yankees are in baseball, the Celtics are in basketball and the Canadiens are in hockey is one that has had a tendency to dominate up until the big game where it has disappointed more often than it has triumphed.

High-paid bonus baby prospect Geoff Hayward (Howard) doesn’t respond to the motivational mind games the coaching staff, front office and ownership continually play on him to get him to do things the way they want them done. They can usually get all the other guys on the team pumped but not a flake like him. The muscle-bound Tasmanian rolls his eyes at the motivational speeches, thumbs his nose at rules, doesn’t have much regard for his teammates, guys proud simply to wear the guernsey (Jersey) of Collingwood and tells his coach Laurie (Thompson – about thirty years and forty pounds ago) to get stuffed.

He is not the impact player he might be because of recreational drug use on game days and because he so often dogs it in practice. He isn’t even sure he wants to play football as his university studies have opened up a new world of ideas he wants to explore. What is heartbreaking and frustrating to people is the fact that Geoff is such a thoroughbred of an athlete and a natural that even when he only half tries he can make plays with such breathtaking precision as to look like the most dominant player in the modern game, worth much more than his signing bonus which the team president dug into his pocket to partly subsidize.

But in a lot of ways he is in a situation which is far from ideal in seeing his talent realized in the way it might be. Coach Laurie, himself once a great player utterly loathes Geoff whose signing he was never consulted on and has him put in reserve (Benched) when he shows complete ineptitude in his debut against Carlton. The board of directors, general manager and team president are plotting with and against each other to forward personal vendettas and agendas.

They all seem to want to get Laurie, the pure definition of a player’s coach, fired. It doesn’t help that the team begins the season by losing its first five games or by the fact they have not won a premiership (Championship) in years (Collingwood played in premiership games between 1959 and 1989 but didn’t win one), the last eight of which Laurie has been coach as we lay our scene.

In the end, the team starts to win motivated by pure vitriol towards their management structure and in revolt against the burden of living up to the great Collingwood teams of the past .

The modern Australian theatre scene had been revitalized in the 1970s with plays like the one upon which this film is based. But the Australian film industry was making far more of an impact. I don’t really regard this production as a trademark of the Australian film industry if only because it comes across more like a stageplay with football highlights than a film.

Notes:

Shot with the complete co-operation of the Collingwood football club which included use of its stadium and other facilities.