If you head off to ABC’s Gordon Street studios on a Thursday night you’ll pass a lone little caravan selling t-shirts and merchandise for The Marngrook Footy Show.
It has none of the razzamatazz of The Footy Show or the celebrities of Before the Game, but ABC2′s AFL show is the little show that tried and its devotees love it for its grass roots feel.
The word ‘Marngrook’ derives from an indigenous game similar to football that was played before Cook set foot in Australia. It has some traits that are not dissimilar to Australian Rules Football.
The show began on community radio station 3CR in the mid 1990s. After 10 years it moved to NITV and Channel 31, filming at RMIT and Deakin University before being added to ABC2. During the AFL season it screens Live to air with a studio audience, a feat not achieved by many ABC shows anymore.
“It was always my goal as the creator of the show to get it on television. It was too good an opportunity to miss out on so I was pretty keen to transpose it from radio to TV and here we are 6 years later,” says host Grant Hansen.
“We’re the only indigenous AFL show but on a more serious note this show probably doesn’t get the accolades it deserves. It hasn’t been a show that the networks have come out and said ‘We’re starting a footy show.’ We’ve built this show ourselves from the ground up.
“Other networks have hundreds of thousands of dollars thrown at their shows and I think this show has the potential to be the best indigenous show to ever hit Australian TV and people need to get behind it and get on board. Particularly the TV critics need to get behind it and publicise it.
“This is a positive show that you get once a week on TV that looks at the positive life of indigenous people through the perspective of AFL football. It’s a feelgood show. A lot of the time the only people watch indigenous programmes are when they are to do with black deaths in custody or alcohol or violence.
“It’s a practical show that brings black and white people together. I can’t think of any other TV show that melds white and black fellas together in Australia. A lot of people who come to our show are not indigenous and it’s probably the first time they get to come to the Marngrook experience and sit next to an indigenous person.”
Hansen is joined each week by regulars Gilbert McAdam, Ronnie Burns, Chris Johnson, Leila Gurruwiwi and Shelley Ware. There’s a possum mascot amongst the studio audience, guest entertainers and regular AFL guests in the form of coaches and players. Hansen says everyone from AFL boss Andrew Demetriou down is keen to appear on the show.
“We don’t have any problems, we have people queuing up to get on the show because they say we’re the real show in terms of talking football. The others are great in what they do, but we are essentially a football show. Who’s in, who’s out, who’s going to win and why?” he says.
“It’s quite obvious from word of mouth when I get out and about how many people watch the show, including AFL players themselves. We have AFL footballers and former players watching the show, so you know you’re doing something right.
“We don’t try to be too polished, that’s not our thing. We don’t go to elocution school, we don’t do courses in public speaking. We wanted to make the show like the old World of Sport days on Channel Seven . It wasn’t polished, it was tongue in cheek with a lot of fun and that’s what we do.”
Hansen commends the work the AFL has done for indigenous communities and the sport.
“The AFL have done more on and off the field than what the Federal Government have done over many, many years. The AFL has been at the forefront instigating racial vilification, promoting an indigenous football round, doing a number of community programmes in remote areas around Australia, having the U-16 Boomerangs –the AFL has done a tremendous amount for indigenous communities and they need to be given a pat on the back for the amount of work they’ve done,” he says.
Recently TEN moved Before the Game to the same timeslot in some states, ramping up the competition for Marngrook. What they lack in budgets , ABC2 makes up for in content.
“The other shows have a comic element to them, an entertainment angle, whereas this show is predominantly about football,” Hansen insists.
“I was hoping the ABC could have us on at 7:30 so football lovers could go from Marngrook to Before the Game to The Footy Show. That would make the most sense so hopefully that can happen for us.
“But this show is much bigger than what the actual ratings reflect. It’s got a huge following and it’s become the people’s choice of their favourite football show.
“The ratings only cover a certain amount in major cities. It doesn’t cover Darwin, Alice Springs, Tasmania, the regional areas or the islands –the bulk of our audience comes from those kinds of places.”
And while the show looks at diversity in sport, it doesn’t confine the conversation to indigenous issues.
Hansen sees more change ahead for AFL.
“Australian football in 10 years’ time will have African guys, Asian guys, Jewish guys. There are that many different football teams around the world that are taking off. In the future it will be more of a multicultural game than the Anglo Saxon game it’s been for over 100 years.”
Marngrook Footy Show airs Live Thursdays at 8.30pm on ABC2.