Five Infamous AFL Documentaries

By Wednesday night the attention of the vast football public will turn to the premiere of the revealing and highly anticipated Ben Cousins documentary. The well-documented two-part series is set to provide a greater insight into the Brownlow Medallist’s publicized drug addiction and with the support of his family and friends the documentary will attempt to convey the beginning of Cousins’ personal road to recovery. The documentary is predicted to captivate audiences around the nation as it documents the rise and fall of a football champion. This film could potentially appeal towards the younger demographic as the nasty influence of drugs and alcohol continue to become more apparent in modern society and this documentary attempts to capture those negative effects. Host broadcaster Channel 7 has claimed, “This documentary is about more than football” and more than the multitude of awards and honours that Cousins has accumulated throughout his football career. Indeed it has been indicated that the documentary focuses on conveying the dramatic ups and downs within the life of a high profile sporting figure in this country.
In the wake of the production’s imminent release I have decided to compile 5 of the best Australian Football related documentaries ever to hit our screens.

100 Years of Australian Football (1996)- This informative documentary, released on the eve of the AFL’s Centenary season in 1996, expresses all of the facets of our Great Game and describes the most important events and players that have changed the shape of our sporting code. The film features interviews with some of the game’s greats such as Bob Davis, Lou Richards, Jack Dyer, Tom Hafey, Kevin Bartlett, John Kennedy, Ron Barassi, Tony Shaw, Kevin Sheedy and Tim Watson as well as administrative figures Ron Casey and Dr Geoffrey Edelsten. Arguably the documentary’s most decorated moment was its description of Hawthorn champion Dermott Brereton’s effort to remain on the ground in the infamous 1989 Grand Final after suffering a heavy knock in the opening seconds. While Brereton endures the agonizing pain of suffering two broken ribs, the film features slow motion vision and dramatic music as Brereton jogs to take his place in the forward pocket despite the presence of vomit and searing pain. The vision as well as the actual moment is considered to be a major part of footy folklore.

Year of the Dogs (1997)- A warts and all production describing the trials and tribulations of the Footscray Football Club throughout the 1996 season. The film conveys the struggles and tensions on and off the field within the footy club including it’s poor on-field record that saw the club slide down to 15th on the ladder as well as the controversy surrounding the resignation of coach Alan Joyce and the resulting appointment of Terry Wallace. Fittingly, the documentary also conveys the atmosphere and people surrounding the working class suburb of Footscray in the club’s final year under the suburban town’s banner.

Passion to Play (2001)- The first of a series of Australian Football documentaries directed by the late Rob Dickson which attempts to present the life behind a football club and the reasons why athletes are enticed to participate in Australian Rules Football. The film was considered the first of it’s kind as it provided a revealing snapshot into a variety of factors that branch this great game. The documentary includes a view within the inner sanctum in Des Headland’s debut match at the Brisbane Lions in 1999 as well as interactive technology that made the viewer genuinely believe they were out on the MCG surface. This documentary proved to gain a broad reception and was considered a success.

Shane Crawford: Exposed (2004) – Certainly not my cup of tea, but this documentary still received a wide acclaim for providing an insight into one of the game’s most flamboyant figures in Hawthorn playmaker Shane Crawford. Within this documentary Crawford poses the question that has certainly been mirrored over recent weeks concerning homosexuality in football. Crawford asks, “Would any player ever come out of the closet” and claims that the “first one who does would be extremely brave”. The 1999 Brownlow Medalist also added that many within the public eye have the perception that Crawford is in fact a homosexual due to many of his gay traits, however he strongly denied falling under that category. On a more important note however, the documentary traces particular moments throughout the 2003 season that rigorously test Crawford both physically and mentally and the film conveys the points where he immensely struggles to deal with the scrutiny that is directed towards him regarding his loss in form on the field.

Essence of the Game (2009)- Arguably the finest documentary director Rob Dickson ever compiled, which was released just months before his untimely death. The ‘Essence of the Game’ was especially commissioned by both the AFL and Channel 7 to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the game which was marked in 2008. Within the documentary, Dickson includes footage of the camaraderie and flourishing of the game at every level of football from the grassroots upwards around Australia and even overseas. The film even provides an insight into the inner sanctum of the AFL’s leading football clubs as well as behind the scenes footage from the Hawthorn rooms and huddles on Grand Final Day 2008 in their quest for the club’s first Premiership in 17 years. The film appropriately includes the post Grand Final celebrations to cap off the production.

These documentaries certainly whet our appetite for the upcoming release of the “Life of Ben Cousins’ production this week.

So, are you looking forward to the Ben Cousins documentary?

Is there anything you believe should have been added or removed from the Documentary list?

Should we see more or less documentaries produced regarding the stories that are relevant to Australian Football?

Feel free to comment.

About Damian Watson

Hey,my name is Damian Watson and I am 14 years old. My ambition is to become an AFL broadcaster/journalist in the future. I am a keen blues supporter and I live in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I play and write for the Knox Falcons U/16's.


  1. Damian,
    The National Film and Sound Archives released the history of Football TV and film which was really quite good. Lots of highlights but it also showed how the coverage of the game has changed over the years and the advent of new technologies. Whilst not a doco The Club was a good film for its time.

  2. Some of your top work Detective Watson.

    I’m yet to see the first four doco’s you listed, must get a hold of them at some stage soon. Can’t wait for Cuz’s doco.

  3. Damian There was a series on SBS ( I think last year ) called Alive and Kicking which looked at country footy in Tasmania. Four episodes-looked at football on King Island ,in Queenstown and leagues outside Hobart and Launceston. T

  4. I also enjoy pulling out “The Draft” once every couple of years. It follows Des Headland, Brendan Fevola and Adam Ramanauskas through the whole AFL draft process. Two have gone onto become much-maligned, whilst the other is much-admired.

    That is all

  5. Having just seen part one i will deffers be watching part two.
    That was pretty striking and confronting footage. I actually felt my heart sink seeing Ben consume the substances. I even found my self shaking my head, not in judgment but in sadness. It’s very upsetting hearing what Ben was going through on the inside; honestly I just want to give him a hug. :(

  6. Absolutely astonished at your comment Danni – I was certain that you would mention Ben Cousins’ perceived “hotness”!

    Although, as a doctor would say, a prevention is better than a cure, you have to admire Ben’s honesty – it was an incredible effort by him to overcome his addiction.

    Watching the footage of him at his best for the Eagles made me realise how much I was going to miss watching him play.

  7. Adam, Ben has been acknowledged in that way many times by me already and now was not the time..nor did i feel compelled to bring it up again.

    i think it was good for Ben to do this, we see things like this the way the media portrays it, and now it’s Ben’s turn to show us what happend on the other side. i felt sick watching it, i just felt really sad. It was one of those moments where you wish you could reach into and through the tv to offer the person some kind of support…..
    i really admire him for how far he’s come and i hope that his struggle helps young teens.

  8. Ed Carmine says

    Great insight into all of these.

    Although much older than your 5, the inside Story of North’s 1978 season “War without weapons” is a must have on this list.
    Although only running time is only around 30 minutes it provides great insight as the camera goes inside pre season training, Barassi’s team talks and huddles and the season launch. It truly is a ‘back stage pass’ look at a 70’s powerhouse.

    It is basically a visual version of the 1977 book ‘The Coach’ also about Barassi and North.

  9. Tony Wethereld says


    Might you know the name of the music tune which starts at 05:30 mins as well as the name of the artist/band?

  10. My favourite all time Australian Rules Football documentaries (apart from the documentary of my own team winning the 1966 flag) are:

    1) VFL on Film 1907 to 1945 Marking Time
    2) VFL on Film 1946 to 1982 Marking Time

    I watched both these films on YouTube, as I don’t think they have have been on television previously. I’m not sure if Tony Robb was alluding to this in the 1st comment of this article because although the oldest VFL on Film was released by The National Film Sounds and Archives, the voice over in those films gives a superb explanation of what you are watching.

    Both of these films were released exactly 3 years ago in 2018, and it was great way to pass time for me during the hard lockdowns in Melbourne last year.

    I thoroughly recommend anyone to see both of these brilliant Australian Riles football documentaries, if you haven’t already.

  11. Those two VFL on Film documentaries are fabulous. There was a version of Volume One on YouTube that had Tim Lane doing the narration. Volume Two, and there’s a lot to love about Volume Two, provides a lot more detail on South Melbourne’s move to Sydney more so than in 100 Years of Australian Football.

    Credit where it’s due, 100 Years of Australian Football I think did a lot to spark peoples’ interest in the history of the game (or at least of the VFL/AFL) but in retrospect it seemed a bit rushed in order to commemorate the centenary season. What would have been fantastic is if the AFL had put together something akin to Ken Burns’ nine (and later ten) part series Baseball, where every episode went by decade. Unfortunately we’ve lost the opportunity to do something similar as so many of the players from those past decades are no longer with us.

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