It’s easy to forget that, back in the late 90s, David Beckham was something of a pariah. Having waved a leg at an Argentinian opponent, the Manchester United star had perhaps cost his country dearly at the France World Cup, and on returning home, was met with burning effigies and irate headline writers.
Beckham figured out how to ride the wave of outrage and restore his place in the hearts of the nation. But over in Australia, for the man often dubbed the Aussie David Beckham thanks to his ability to transcend his sport, Adam Goodes went through an ordeal that wasn’t too far removed from that of Becks. Only it was much, much worse.
Goodes is an Aboriginal Australian, who, in 1997, just a few months before Beckham’s fateful kick, was drafted into the Aussie Football League side, Sydney Swans, where he became one of the most popular players around. Indeed, by 2014 he was named Australian of the Year, thanks in part to his successful career, and also due to the amount of work he managed on behalf of anti-racism campaigns.
However, in 2013, Goodes was racially abused by a 13-year-old girl from the stands during a match. Goodes asked security to remove the girl from the game, which they did. Sadly, it didn’t end there.
Goodes was abused incessantly by supporters, booed at every opportunity by the fans of both his own, and opposition teams. Quite what they thought they were booing is debatable, and one of the key subjects of director Daniel Gordon’s film.
Gordon’s documentary tells the story of Goodes, from his childhood through to his retirement, using archive footage and interviews with friends, family and colleagues (and, rather oddly, the film’s writer, Stan Grant) to paint the picture of what sort of man he is (spoiler – a bloody good one).
And, most interestingly, it’s the media commentators who themselves racially abused the sportsman who often get centre stage. Despite having plenty of air time to control their own narrative, the likes of Andrew Bolt and Eddie Maguire are afforded opportunities (which they squander) to talk about their unwelcome role in Goodes’ life.
It’s a fascinating story of one man’s fight to succeed both spiritually and commercially, in spite of, rather than because of the Australian dream. And while Gordon’s film does an excellent job of telling that story to the uninitiated, it’s perhaps a little too much to have the writer punctuating each segment with his explanation of what you’ve just seen. Both Gordon and Grant should give the audience a bit more credit in that regard.
With so much material to choose from, there’s a sense that either the pair lacked focus, or could have made way more out of what they had. And given the laziness of the talking head interviews (largely shot against generic backdrops), a little more focus on what’s important would have been welcome.
Still, it’s an important story that will resonate well beyond the confines of Aussie Rules, for many of the issues that Goodes stirred up are still there, festering away.