It shows the cultural divisions and faultlines in our society, between Goodes-hostile conservatives Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Sam Newman, and Goodes’ advocate and fellow Indigenous Australian Stan Grant, sympathetic coaches such as Lyon and Adam Simpson and the players and commentators who were in his corner.
The Final Quarter demonstrates, too, our difficulty in navigating race and Indigenous suffering, and how an outstanding footballer — simply by the act of highlighting a racist comment in a game against Collingwood — became a political football, unleashing booing that the AFL boss Gillon McLachlan belatedly acknowledged was «ugly» in 2015.
Unlike Lyon and West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett — who took a strong stand, including against his own supporters — McLachlan’s comments in 2015 were muted, as the documentary reminds us.
He did not call out the booers as racially tinged or motivated, saying he did not know whether the booing contained racism or not. Gillon’s befuddled equivocating seemed to stem from a desire to avoid fanning the booing further, in the hope that it would all go away.
But it did not. Before the credits roll, there is a line saying that McLachlan apologised to Goodes six months after his retirement.
Indeed, the reaction to date of many within the football world who’ve seen The Final Quarter has been to ask themselves whether they, as individuals — players, coaches, administrators — could have done more to support Goodes and quell the booing. Even Indigenous players who saw the documentary have expressed regrets on this score.
Within football, the response has been almost a collective mea culpa. A number of club chief executives, thus, have called The Final Quarter «confronting». What the documentary does is «confront» people with their own words, their own reactions, their own dissembling, when — in retrospect — a more forthright stand was in order, even if it wouldn’t have deterred all the booers.
The power of the documentary derives from the fact that it is entirely archival, based on three years from late 2012 until the aftermath of Goodes’ retirement in 2015, and that story is told via clips, audio and printed articles from that period.
There are several flashpoints — the incident with the girl, Eddie McGuire’s King Kong comment, Goodes’ war dance at the SCG in 2015 and, in the most emotionally wrought part, his decision to stop playing during 2015.
There is no editorialising in favour or against Goodes, although by holding up a mirror to that miserable period in his life, only his most unrepentent critics — and Newman and Bolt are the standouts, followed by Jones — will fail to feel sympathy for the champion.
Eddie McGuire has already stated that that he found the doco to be «heartbreaking» and it does not spare him; his part begins when he expresses sympathy for Goodes in the rooms after the «ape» incident with a 13-year-old girl, then turns into the King Kong gaffe, which engulfs him and further upsets Goodes.
But where McGuire stumbles with loose, thoughtless words (also criticising Goodes for staging at one point), his old Footy Show partner Newman fills the role of reactionary provocateur — using the latter word to attack Goodes as a divider.
«They’re booing you because you’re acting like a jerk,» Newman thunders from his Footy Show pulpit, adding later, «you take yourself too seriously». He is the most vehement of the anti-Goodes brigade, his theatrical attacks nothing less than venomous.
Jones’ words — critical, but less incendiary than Newman’s — were used in the documentary. His voice and image were not, because the radio host declined to give the documentary permission to use the footage from Seven’s Sunrise.
Nathan Buckley’s contribution raises one of the most pertinent questions on the booing — whether to call it out as racially motivated, or to ignore it. Buckley suggests early in the documentary that media discussion of the booing is feeding the problem and that we should focus on Goodes’ football deeds, not this controversy.
In hindsight, the AFL community seems to have concluded otherwise — that it would have been better to «stand with Adam» and against the booing, as the Swans and thousands eventually did when he was in exile during 2015. Amid the maudlin tone, there are uplifting moments in the documentary, such as the show of support for an absent Goodes at the SCG.
Importantly, Goodes’ own words — including when he’s given the thorny crown of Australian of the Year — are revealed as far more measured and conciliatory than his culture-war critics claimed, even if he was outspoken by the standards white Australia permits. At one point in 2015, media were almost goading Goodes into saying something that would heighten conflict, asking why he polarises, a premise that he questioned.
Some, like the club bosses, will find The Final Quarter confronting. Some will see it as proof of the virulence of racism in Australia. Others will deny that’s the issue and pin Goodes’ suffering on him.
But the overwhelming feeling it evoked in this viewer — seeing what happened to Goodes condensed into two crowded hours — was sadness.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.