Sun, 8th March 2020

In The Struggle, There’s Joy: A Review of ‘Mustangs FC’

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Brianna Dunigan

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It’s the first day of university this year. I’ve been out all day in workshops, lectures, and tutorials. Readings are piling up and assignments have already crept up on me. I should be studying this evening, but instead I’m binge watching Mustangs FC.

What am I talking about? Well, one place to start would be with the television show that singlehandedly convinced me it isn’t ‘soccer’, it’s ‘football’. Since premiering on the ABC (think BBC, but Australian!) on International Day of the Girl in 2017, the show has evolved through its second series and seemingly died, with dignity, after series three came out in late 2019.
Mustangs FC follows Marnie, a passionate footballer with dreams of playing for the Australian Matildas. However, being a woman in sport may as well be a new concept for all the battles Marnie has to face in order to get the Mustangs going strong. The girls’ Mustangs team struggles from the get-go, without proper uniforms, a coach, or even sanitary bins in their bathrooms. The boys’ team is constantly overshadowing the underdog girls, despite typically being on par with them in terms of actual achievements.

Gender inequality is only one of the problems the Mustangs face though. Their rivalry with the elite Wildcats team stems from fatphobia towards Marnie’s best friend, Liv. The Wildcats, ever the typical bullies, also make a point to harass friends and foes alike with insults and microaggressions centred on race, class, body type, motivation, and sexuality. Mustangs FC uses its three-series run to showcase its diverse cast and characters in a way I’ve seen few children’s television shows do before.

Growing up in Australia, I’ve been lucky to have been a fan of lots of homegrown children’s entertainment over the years. I remember watching Saturday Disney as a young child, content enough with the likes of Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place. When ABC launched its kids/teens channel, ABCMe (originally ABC3) they also began airing a much more exciting range of television shows that had me hooked instantly. Some combination of hearing voices that sounded like mine from young people who walked around in actual buildings and gardens instead of closed-sets garishly painted in jagged neon lines, trying to emulate a school did the trick. The actors in these Australian shows, working with more mature content, didn’t overdo anything like many American sitcom actors tend to.

After a brilliant run with several slice-of-life-but-supernatural shows, ABCMe began airing Mustangs FC, a decidedly more down-to-earth show about, ugh... sports. Despite my own sport-related angst (not a fan), I decided to give the new series a try, trusting that it would live up to the standards of Australian kids’ shows established by ABC. At the time, I was in my second year of university. But that’s the thing about kids’ television: if it’s actually good, adults will love it too. And love Mustangs FC I do.

So much so that after finishing the series, I found myself in tears, tears that still haven’t dried. Okay, that’s not true.

I was crying long before I had finished watching… the last two episodes are particularly brutal.

So, what makes Mustangs FC such a standout show? That’s a multidimensional question. Aside from brilliant acting, which scales from ‘intentionally corny’ to ‘heart-shatteringly realistic’, the show is also carried consistently by a fantastic narrative, up until series three. Series three, which I believe is the last series given the tear-jerking final episode, focuses more on the supporting cast of Mustangs players than Marnie, giving each of them a chance to finish their growth on screen at the cost of a fully-developed narrative or a satisfactory amount of attention on Marnie’s sub-plots. This isn’t a terrible situation; it just could have been a better one. The benefit is that this actually promotes my favourite thing about the show: the characters.

In the first series, our headstrong Marnie meets her match in the form of Ruby, a recent immigrant from the US who has goals as grand as Marnie’s: she wants to play for the US team one day. Pit two passionate people against each other for the role of team captain, AKA the best chance to get noticed and move up in the game, and you’ve got a problem. Ruby isn’t the only strong personality on the team though. There’s the aforementioned, exuberant Liv who is the life of the party. Bella, the Mustangs’ resident introvert, is paired up nicely with straight-A, overly-committed Anusha who only signs up to help strengthen her university applications. Lastly, Marnie’s kind-of-step-sister, Lara, an award-winning gymnast and ‘sparkly girl’, mostly joins the Mustangs to spite Marnie. None of these characters are the same by the end of the show, yet they’re not drastically different either.

The other thing that constantly amazes me about Mustangs FC is just how much it tackles. Ruby comes out as gay early in the show, which isn’t an issue for her: she’s happy with who she is and who she loves. It sends out a heart-warming signal to other young girls who might be considering their sexuality. And both Anusha and Marnie have to deal with pressing mental health concerns, but are supported by their friends and family, even when that means giving them some space. One of the other important things I noticed a lot was the phrase “I’m here if you want to talk or if you don’t”, reminding viewers that there are different ways to be there for someone when they need you.

I think it’s these little things and quiet moments that demonstrate what Mustangs FC is about: female empowerment. At its core, Mustangs FC is a feminist television show. It’s about girls fighting for their chances to succeed and thrive despite the odds that might be stacked against them. But part of that fight is having your teammates’ backs, whether there’s an antagonist or not. The Mustangs do what we all should be doing: working together to lift each other up. It’s when we support each other that we actually thrive, says Mustangs FC.