The Quiet Zone
The episode opens with star player Paul Mullin at the beach with his wife and young son, Albi. Paul shares that Albi was diagnosed with autism at the age of one. Paul confesses that he struggles with feelings of guilt over his son’s diagnosis, but finds solace that his son is the center of his life, even more than football.
Millie Tipping, a Wrexham super-fan, has tons of signed merchandise, memorabilia, and has even given original portraits to some of the players. Millie also lives with autism. Her Mother, like Paul, shares some of the indicators of the spectrum developmental disorder, like regressions of early-stage milestones like babbling, lack of response to social cues, impairment of communication, things like avoiding eye-contact, and more.
Millie found refuge for years as a player for Wrexham’s girls’ league. Unfortunately, she was let go from the team just before the COVID shutdowns. “It was pretty awful,” her Mother recalls. But before long, Millie found a new sense of community going to Wrexham’s League Two games. More specifically, within the ‘quiet zone’ section. It also doesn’t hurt that Ryan Reynolds likes all her posts on Twitter.
While Albi is non-verbal, Paul explains that “he’s a happy lad.” He’s able to communicate his needs in his own way. It’s an honest glimpse into the harder side of family life. Paul admits he’s had to get used to crying a bit more, whether it be in acknowledging life’s hardships, or in becoming overwhelmed by the love he has for his family.
Millie gets to work on a drawing of Paul and Albi for them to keep. Paul’s openness with his journey to support his son made Millie look up to and connect with him beyond his strength on the pitch. Quickly, Millie’s drawing becomes a whole bag of goodies for Albi. Millie’s mother muses that her involvement in the Wrexham Football community has helped give her a sense of focus as well as belonging.
As Millie takes her signature waiting spot outside the player’s entrance to the stadium, there’s a flurry of autographs, photos, and greetings. “Come on, Mullin,” she huffs with impatience. Millie’s excitement is uncontainable. Finally, Paul approaches and receives her gifts graciously, but has to turn down her request to fake a penalty to ensure victory in their game. She predicts they’ll win 5-0. Paul smiles, albeit a bit doubtful of such a landslide win.
Wrexham plays Solihull Moors (the game was played on December 26th, 2022). Millie puts on her earmuffs, drowning out the screams of the fans. Paul Mullin scores three goals… and Wrexham wins, 5-0. We’re left with an image of Millie holding a Wrexham flag, and the caption, “For Albi…”
The Episode Review
The Quiet Zone is an unadulterated view into real life. It looks in particular at the unexpressed difficulties as well as the underrepresented triumphs of raising an autistic child. This episode shows an entirely different side of the show than the season premier. While the previous episode was centered on Rob and Ryan, the King’s visit, and money concerns, episode 2 hits the brakes and zooms way in.
A community is made up of individuals. It was a genuine treat to listen to Millie’s story, and to be reminded that despite the flash and glamor on the surface of pro sports life, it’s made possible by regular people with regular lives and real struggles. The tight focus also kept this episode on the shorter side, coming in at 20 minutes.
It shows a good sense of humility and genuine respect that Rob and Ryan have not turned the show into a workshop for their comedy, or a platform dedicated to furthering their careers. It’s also heartening to see both the fans’ dedication as well as the players’ joyful reception to their excitement.
A lot of Mrs. Tipping’s and Paul Mullin’s interviews are tear-jerking to watch, arguably even difficult to listen to. They do not shy away from explaining their fears, guilts, and personal struggles. During a time when the internet can make everything (including autism) feel rosy and even trendy, portrayals of disability like this actually feel more necessary than ever. It balances beauty and tragedy in a way that only real life, only real people can.
The fact that this episode culminates in Millie’s 5-0 score prediction coming true, and Mullin himself scoring a hat trick feels like Hollywood magic. It’s so beautiful it’s almost suspicious, but it goes to show that Rob and Ryan were onto something, and that all Wrexham needed to shine for the world was the chance to do so.
There’s not much more to it than that. It’s an intimate episode that pulls at the heartstrings and reminds the audience that, despite the celebrity and the excitement of football, this is a show about a community coming together to support each other through everything.