Barracking For The Umpire puts humorous and heartbreaking spin on country footy

Anna CoxGeraldton Guardian
Joel Jackson, Steve Le Marquand and Jo Morris in Barracking for the Umpire
Camera IconJoel Jackson, Steve Le Marquand and Jo Morris in Barracking for the Umpire Credit: Daniel J Grant/RegionalHUB

It’s rare to find a slice of entertainment that makes you laugh and takes you through the seven stages of grief in 90 minutes, but Barracking For The Umpire does just that.

The play is written by Perth-based Andrea Gibbs and her ability to harness the dizzying highs and devastating lows of country footy makes a very personal story.

It follows the journey of Doug Williams, a local hero at the Donnybrook Football Club and an even bigger hero for his kids Mena, Ben and Charaine and his doting wife Delvene.

All three kids are back in Donnybrook to celebrate their father’s lifetime achievement award with the club, but there’s a swirling undercurrent beneath the pleasantries of the Williams family.

Mena, a sports journalist in Melbourne, is looking for her “big break” story after running the boundary for years. Meanwhile, Charaine never left their small town and is dealing with a separation from a man who loves her local legend father more than her.

The golden child of the Williams family, Ben, a professional and closeted AFL player, is struggling to come out to his parents.

Between smiling at the quintessential Aussie experience and staying at mum and dad’s on a springy fold out bed with a scratchy wool blanket, the audience is brought back down to earth quickly.

Coach, a character who exists in Doug’s brain, looks exactly like a 70s footy coach and speaks like one too. Coach is the embodiment of the toxic masculinity which has plagued the sport since its inception.

Doug and Coach share various moments together throughout the play, including references to concussions that Doug refuses to acknowledge in fear of being benched — concussions that seemed like any other footy injury at the time but are now presented in a much more sinister form for the entire family.

Doug loses his feet when called to the stage to accept his award, causing the family to spiral when Delvene later confesses to the family their beloved dad has been struggling with his memory.

A heated argument between the parents in the living room of their once empty-nest is a devastating reminder of the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Conversations which tend to happen behind closed doors are opened wide for the audience in Barracking For The Umpire, such as why a gay AFL player feels safer in the closet rather than making history as the first openly queer player and the rife inequalities between men’s and women’s football.

In Barracking For The Umpire, universal experiences of footy are seen through the lens of the Williams family, putting an endearing and heartbreaking spin on moments that would otherwise pass us by.

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