Thursday, June 03, 2010


With six sleeps to go before Jacob and I leave on our historic and sacerdotal witness, I thought I may not be the only one wondering what to read on the plane. Each of these three books is Australian. Each is aimed at an extremely different audience. Each has as a common theme the most beautiful game yet devised, a game that has become the most universal language and religion, the crowning cultural artifact of human civilisation to this date. Three new soccer books.

Paul Connolly, The Mighty Bras: A Suburban Football Story with Balls/Intestinal Fortitude, Affirm Press, Victoria, 2010.

For a plane trip to Johannesburg, straight up, this is my highest recommendation. If reading is how you pass the hours, you'll probably finish it (190 pages), and it will only have done lovely things to your state of mind for your arrival.

The Mighty Bras is a biography of an amateur women's soccer team in Melbourne written by its coach. Sound indulgent? Gloriously so. The characters are brought alive with great humour and empathy, and everything about the read is fun. I laughed out loud frequently. It might have helped that the team reminded me often of Dawn's team, The West End Partisans, although the Bras do eventually win some games. (Dawn is my long-suffering fiance.)

Adrian Deans, Mr Cleansheets, Vulgar Press, Victoria, 2010.

My fantasy: a 40 year old goal keeper from Australia gets a trial with Manchester United. How the author keeps this believeable (just) is the real mystery. This is a read for a popular audience, but at 525 pages will take a few plane trips and you might want to start it before you head off. I couldn't put the bloody thing down and it kept me up for a few nights. Football, sex, violence, crime, intrigue, juicy characters and an underlying comedy of plot without any of it being a comedy. It's like the author dares you to drop your suspension of disbelief, deftly maintaining your interest as you repress, page after page, the urge to laugh at what must be his ultra-dry absurdist sense of humour. I can say no more without spoiling the journey. For me it was a hoot.

Craig Foster, Fozz on Football, Hardie Grant Books, Victoria, 2010.

Now Craig Foster is a freak. I mean it, and I am an authority. The man has a unique mental condition, a cross between Anthony Green (replacing political data with soccer data), Billy Graham (replacing black n white religious evangelism with black n white soccer evangelism) and Timothy Leary (replacing drug euphoria with soccer euphoria).

I must immediately point out that Craig would never use the word 'soccer' as loosely as I am doing so for it is the wrong word. AFL for him is not 'football' at all, despite the fact, easily verifiable, that everyone calls it that. I've written about this absurdity elsewhere (ok, twice) so I won't go on about that. Suffice to say that I couldn't care less what you call the game and that 'soccer' seems a useful term in a media environment with multiple football codes.

Anyway the first four or five chapters were hilarious for their relentless polemical passion, replete with exageration, hyperbole, the rampant overuse of superlatives, blind contradiction and a happy smattering of fascinating football anecdotes that you would be better off picking up from Simon Kuper's excellent books. The chapters are really short essays of five or six pages each, which made it an excellent bedside book, but honestly, I nearly put it down and reviewed it as crap without continuing.

I'm very glad I didn't do that.

To get the unique gift that Craig Foster has to offer you have to see past Timothy Leary and Billy Graham and get to Anthony Green. It's when Foster got to his detailed raves about what good football is that I started concentrating because I realised I was learning a lot very quickly. His essays on the system, on space, on speed, on the touch each show us things we can watch for, ways we can watch the game. It's no secret that the intricacies of the soccer game fascinate the eff out of me, and Fozzie describes each aspect with the deeply considered understanding that only an obsessive nutjob can truly attain.

Anyway the book is still by my bed and I'm only half way through it. I do need something for the plane you know?

All of these books seem to be available in regular bookshops, but I don't have them in my own bookshop, because it's second hand. There's not many soccer books in my bookshop unfortunately (Archives Fine Books, 40 Charlotte St, Brisbane), because I've hoarded them all.

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