Film: Valentine’s Day and the Bear obsessities

By Tony Taylor

Now this is how you do feel-good. Aunty’s had a couple of stabs at it this year but with Valentine’s Day we finally arrive: gorgeous family drama that’s funny, whimsical, warm-hearted and feels absolutely real. Rhys Muldoon is fab as Ben Valentine, the drifter manoeuvred into coaching a small town’s footy team, but he’s ably supported by a great cast of familiar and not-so-familiar faces. The equally fabulous Peter Temple provided the script, which snaps and sparkles. Peter Duncan (Children of the Revolution, Unfinished Sky) directs. The result is a package that perfectly captures small-town Australian life and the strange magic of Aussie rules football. There are too many highlights to list them all, but the choreography of the first footy match is worth a special mention.

Review, June 2008, The Sunday Age

Valentine’s Day was OK. Not great, but easy enough to watch. It was certainly a far sight better than the dreary East of Everywhere and the cliché-laden quirk-by-numbers that was Bed of Roses. If you happen to stumble across it on ABC2, Foxtel or via an ABC1 repeat, give it a lash.


You knew there’d be a but.

Footy details. I’m a stickler for details, and only a little bit obsessed.

The review above, and a few others I’ve read, not to mention Rhys Muldoon on an ABC Conversation Hour last week, referred to the show as “a package that perfectly captures small-town Australian life and the strange magic of Aussie rules football.”

In essence, maybe; in reality, maybe not.

The thrust of Valentine’s Day is this:

While passing through the town, Ben Valentine (Muldoon) finds himself on the wrong end of the law, but when the judge hears he has a sports background, he is given community service: to coach the local footy team, the Growlers.

(Strictly speaking, Rushworth are the Bears, but that doesn’t matter, lots of clubs have secondary nicknames. I used to play for the Tooronga Malvern Panthers, but most of us called them the ‘Biners, as in the Combine. In this case, the Rushworth Bears are also called the Growlers, which leads to a tidy, if ribald, sight-gag.)

Ben has been arrested, but while he’s in jail the magistrate hears his name, puts two and two together, gets twenty-two, and assumes the Ben Valentine in his lock-up is the same Ben Valentine who once played “20 odd” games for “the Tigers”. (The real nickname of the real Rushworth in the Kyabram District Football League is the Tigers. Really.) It’s never stated precisely which Tigers, but since Ben is referred to as “having played with the best”, it’s pretty obvious the writer’s inference was that Ben played in the AFL for Richmond. The magistrate, who doubles as the big nob at the local footy club, then fixes the sentence so that Ben, instead of going to jail, has to do 200 hours community service coaching the local Rushworth Bears.

Got that?

Valentine’s Day is based on a plot of mistaken identity. A drifter, thought to be an ex-league footballer, ends up coaching a team in Victoria… and no-one realises. No-one in a Victorian town spots that the Ben Valentine who now coaches their footy team is not the same Ben Valentine who once played “20 odd for the Tigers”. On the other hand, the townsfolk DO recognise Tony Cosgrove, captain of the Tigers who comes to watch one of the Bears’ games and who the real Ben Valentine had a fight with at the Tigers; a fact which popped up as No.2 on Google when a local lawyer — a hottie, naturally — does a search for Ben.


The Bears get blanket coverage on the local radio station. Now, I’ve played a lot of country footy in a lot of country towns and while there is certainly a call of the game on the local radio station, there is not much else; certainly not ear-to-ear talk-back.

Smokers are fake. Bet that’s news! Fake smoking applies to so many television shows and movies, it’s ridiculous. Surely it’s well past time the makers of TV shows stopped trying to convince us their characters enjoy a gasper when quite obviously they would rather lick trees. Virtually none do the drawback, and most look about as convincing as a ten year old “smoking” a musk stick.

When is the last time any of you rocked into a small country town, rolled into the pub, and the local band didn’t give you a headache? Mel, a woman who is one of the biggest fans of the club, plays in a local band – that is not bad. Not that I’ve already been on the internet hunting down the soundtrack — although they do a reasonable version of the Sunnyboys’ Alone With You — but it would have been much more realistic had the band been rubbish.

Mel also makes a footy mistake. The Bears need to win three out of the last four games to stay alive as a club in their own right or else they will be forced to merge with Lucan. Mel: “We need six more competition points. We gotta win three from four.” Ignoring, with great restraint, the “three from four”, a creeping Americanism that makes me mad, correct me if I’m wrong: the Kyabram District Football League has four points for a win. That would mean Rushworth need to win only two games. Maybe the writer, Peter Temple, is from a rugby league state; or maybe he is even from the bizarro world we call South Australia, home of two-point wins, one-point draws, and strange percentages.

Pretty much every time sport is featured in a film or on a TV show the people playing are crap. Complete scrubbers. Valentine’s Day is no exception. Rushworth are awful, and I don’t know why the choreography needs a special mention; unless it’s a special mention, if you know what I mean. But that doesn’t stop them beating arch rival Lucan in the last match, despite the Lucan players actually being able to play. They kick properly, hit targets, mark on the lead; they are proper, grown-up footballers. Rushworth looked like a bad under-14 side made up entirely of unco fat kids.

Nor have I ever seen a player and/or coach walk down a street of a country town as everyone, not just the odd passer-by, cheers him, pats him on the back, and treats him like a rock star.

After the Great Northern Football League won the 1987 Wesfarmers Championships First Division, smashing the South West and I had my picture in the Guardian — the Geraldton Guardian — no crowds parted as I strode up the street. Ungrateful bastards!

The mum of one of the guys I played with said “good win” in Coles.


  1. Don’t blame me for that stuff about Valentine having played for Richmond, had a fight with, etc. It wasn’t in my script and nor was a lot of other rubbish. Still, you’re a hard man to please.

  2. G’day Peter,

    Wish I’d been a hard man at footy, not a blouser.

    By the way. In case anyone is interested. Just read this about the smoking on Mad Men (The Super King of smoking on film):

    At Sterling Cooper… The ashtrays are filled with the butts of different brands of cigarettes, some stained with varying shades of lipstick. But the actors smoke Ecstacy herbal cigarettes, tobacco- and nicotine-free. “You don’t want actors smoking real cigarettes,” Weiner said. “They get agitated and nervous. I’ve been on sets where people throw up, they’ve smoked so much.”

  3. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Hi Tony,

    The other fake is the footy ground – its not the Rushworth footy ground, now called Ironbark Stadium… Its too green & soft for Rushworth – one of the hardest grounds I’ve ever played on.
    I think ironbark refers to the surface not to the trees surrounding it!

    When I asked Rhys Muldoon where it was he said “somewhere in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs”…
    (Rhys aka “Des Butterworth” launched the Footy Almanac in Sydney in 2007)

    You’re right Rushy are the Tigers – pretty sure they still wear a black guernsey with a thick gold band around the middle. And yes, the KDL awards 4 points for a win.

    However, most of the street scenes filmed appear to be in Rushworth (I was born there) – I noticed that the footy club drank at the bottom pub & one scene featured Perry’s Butchery.

  4. Rocket,

    The footy scenes in Valentine’s Day were filmed at Mount Evelyn, in the Dandenongs, which is a fair way from Rushworth in cultural and climate terms. It rarely STOPS raining in the Dandenongs.

    I suspect that Rushworth have gone to the Richmond strip, but I hope not. That one yellow band around the middle of a black jumper was such an anachronism in this age of whoopee guernseys.

    For the record, I enjoyed the movie. I concede that there were a few jolts credibility-wise (country towns of that size don’t have hotties of the nature of the women in this movie, all of whom for some reason had to smoke), but sometimes you’ve got to look at the bigger picture (so to speak). The story and the tone were good.

    So, Tony, in the main I think you nit-pick too much. As someone who played in a WA Country Footy Championships victory (and featured in the Geraldton Guardian!), I doubt that the story was written with you in mind.

    But to a degree, I also agree with you. It can’t be too hard to get a footy person to look at the script or the pre-edited material and just point out the footy mistakes.

    Too many footy books get published with this fault: a footy person hasn’t been through the manuscript to look for footy errors, not grammatical or structural errors, but footy errors.

  5. Rocket & Daff,

    Looks like the Tigers are currently yellow sashed. Does that qualify as a whoopee guernsey? (Do whoopee guernseys fart when you sit on them?)

    To be fair to me, I know I nit-pick too much. That’s why I said I was a little bit obsessed, which is probably an understatement.

  6. John Butler says

    Nit picking? Obsession? Or just high standards. It can be a fine line.

  7. Tony,

    Not sure where whoopee guernsey came from.

    But I think I’ll use it again.

  8. Out of all of this, can anyone tell me of an occasion where community service has involved coaching a footy side?? I come from Rushworth and was disappointed that the games in Valentine’s day weren’t taken from our picturesque oval. Rocket, and most of the country Victorian, footy loving public, are much too hard on ‘Ironbark Stadium’ and because the crowd on one wing is above the level of the playing surface, the atmosphere is magnified. I can also tell you that, in 2004, when Rushworth broke a 27 year premiership drought, the players and coaching staff certainly got mobbed when walking down the main street! I honestly think the same would happen in most small towns. Neighbouring small town, Rochester, which has the smallest population in the powerful Goulburn Valley FL, has legendary town celebrations when they win the flag (which they did in ’08..)

    Overall, I enjoyed the movie, though it made country people look more like simple-tons than they (we?) are.. They even seemed to have accents..! In finishing, this movie brought a great deal of excitement to the Rushworth Community and to this day many of the local farmers are still proud to say that their ute featured in a great aussie film!

  9. Honk! Honk!

  10. Tav,

    Your 27 year drought breaker sparked street mobbing, but our 26 year drought breaker merely sparked heavy drinking.

    Amazing the difference one year makes.

    Also, by way of detailed scientific analysis I can confirm that country towns in the Noughties are excessively prone to street mobbing. I’ve seen the research.

  11. RE; Aunty’s had a couple of STABS at it this year but with Valentine’s Day Film.

    I knew what it was like to play on the ground featured in this film. Mt Evelyn was the Ground on which I first kicked my STAB PUNT in the field of play.

    The Mount Evelyn Football Ground is where in 1949, at fifteen years of age, five foot two inches tall and weighing just over eight stone, I started playing open age First Eighteen Football. I won the Second Best and Fairest Trophy for the Second Eighteen with just the first three games of the football season. The rest of the season I played in the First Eighteen, winning the Umpires Vote as best player for Mount Evelyn on three occasions. It was as a fifteen-year-old school kid that I invented my STAB PUNT so I could kick the ball in all and any conditions on the uneven and often muddy Mount Evelyn football ground. “Valentine’s Day” was made many years after my one year of playing for Mount Evelyn. When I played at Mt Evelyn there was a small tin shed as changing rooms and a cold tap to wash the mud off at the end of the game. About half way through the 1949 football season my family moved from very primitive conditions of candle and kero lamp lighting and no services of any sort. We walked two and a half miles to and from the football ground and four miles to school at Lilydale. We had to go outside the house; such as it was, to obtain water from the tank. It was in these conditions that I perfected my Stab Punt. Half way through the football season my family moved from renting where we lived, two to four miles from any” Town”, to renting the bottom story of a mansion at Brighton Beach with a tennis court, billiard room and a telephone. What a difference. I continued to attend the Lilydale Higher Elementary School. I also kept on playing football in the Mt Evelyn First Eighteen. That’s right traveling by tram to St Kilda. Train to the city; train to Croydon, picked up by taxi to the Mount Evelyn Football ground, then if it was an away game bus to Marysville, Warburton, Healesville, Wandin, Milgrove, Yarra Junction, Poweltown. My elder brother Charlie was also playing with Mount Evelyn so there was always the two of us traveling most of the way together. Somewhere to sleep Saturday night, one way or another, was always found. Sunday was training coaching time so Charlie and I did not get home to Brighton until late afternoon on Sunday. The next year I played as first rover for the Ringwood Football Club in the Eastern Suburban Football League under Captain and Playing Coach, Brownlow Medalist Herb Matthews. I won the Bowling Average for the Ringwood First Eleven Cricket team. In 1950 I also won School First Eighteen Football collours at Melbourne High School. I also played for the School cricket team. That takes me through to sixteen years of age. See Mount Evelyn Football Club web sight under “Jim Johnson Stab Punt” for further info including a video interview

  12. Attention pauldaffey.
    You are spot on with the Mount Evelyn Football ground being featured in “Valentine’s Day”. The scenes around the lake area were of course taken at the Lilydale Lake. I new this area very well as “we kids” often walked across the lake, on our four mile walk home from school, in the early to mid nineteen forties. This was of course before the lake was dammed and the paddocks were only swampy.
    Stab Punt Jim Johnson.

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