Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

David Williamson, The Club (1977)

David Williamson’s play The Club (1977) presents a critique of the encroachment of business interests and attitudes on Australian Rules football (which was then called the Victorian Football League or VFL).  Williamson sees this as detrimental to the romance and spirit of a game that is at the heart of Australian culture, especially in the city of Melbourne. 

In this play about office politics, the naïve club president Ted Parker seems to be a captive of his sociopathic administrator, Gerry Cooper, who represents the new breed of corporate management that is undermining the traditional values of the football club.  The president and the administrator are pitted against the coach, Laurie Holden, who upholds the traditional values of the club. To some extent, Laurie Holden is supported by the team’s captain Danny Rowe.    

The current coach, Laurie Holden, must also fend off the plotting and scheming of the former coach Jock Riley, who remains an influential member of the Club’s governing committee.  Jock Riley is more interested in protecting his reputation as a former record-holding champion player and coach than he is in policies that could potentially further the interests of the club, if he perceives those policies as threatening his club records and glory.  Meanwhile, the current coach, Laurie Holden, must improve his performance and win more games if he is to maintain his position as coach, and this involves motivating the expensive but psychologically troubled new recruit, Geoff Hayward, to live up to his potential.     

The coach Laurie Holden and the captain Danny Rowe represent the more traditional or more romantic concept of sport.  They represent those who play for the love of the game, to lift the morale of their community, and to elevate the spirit of the club members, and they do this with a strong sense of tradition. 

By contrast, Gerry Cooper, the administrator, represents the new face of football administration.  He is the principal villain of the play, much more so than Jock who is used by Gerry.  Gerry Cooper is cold, calculating, devious and ruthless.  He does not seem to have any of the romanticism that one would associate with a football club.  He says to people what he believes they want to hear while he is really pursuing his own agenda. 

However, Williamson was not completely against the impact of the new on the old regarding Australian culture.  He conveys sympathy for the hippy counter-culture, which was on the rise in the 1970s.  The play’s depiction of the ignorance of a traditional beer-drinking Australian male about smoking marijuana is used to derive humour and to present traditional Australian males as somewhat uncool and behind the times. 

The star recruit, Geoff Hayward, represents the trend in Australian football of attempting to win premierships by buying the best players.  Consequently, the most successful club would be the one that has the most financial resources to spend, or the club that spends more astutely on purchasing players than its competitors do.  This dollars-and-cents attitude to sporting competition is presented as stripping football of its sense of community and compromising the meaningfulness of the bonds of club affiliation. 

The committee member Jock Riley is part of the club’s tradition, but he is an egotistical plotter and schemer.  Although he is a beneficiary of the club’s sense of tradition, he is so two-faced and corrupt that he can naïvely happily strike a secret deal with the ruthless business interests that threaten to take over the club and compromise its sense of tradition.  He is also naïve in the way he does not realise the destructive impact that his ruthless office politics is having on the club that gave him his prestige. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: The Club meaning, The Club themes, The Club analysis,  The Club notes