All of my life I’ve been fascinated with the world around us. The people in it, where they’re from, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Flags, their colors, and shapes used to jump from pages to my interested eyes. I wanted to see those places that those flags represented, understand why they used those colors, experience what it felt like to visit that distant far off land, and what it meant to be from that place. This book accomplishes all of that and more. Weaving a story throughout the world, using soccer as the thread connecting all of the disparate dots, this story charts the odysseys – however short – of fledgling footballing nations.
From subpar pitches in the far reaches of Pacific Ocean island chains to manicured plots of picture perfect blades hosting two distinct countries with a veritable smorgasbord of cultural identities contained within; this book brings the reader right down to pitch-level and into the heart of the visceral battle that’s truly taking place on any international soccer pitch. James Montague is masterful in his prose in Thirty One Nil, recanting personal stories gleaned from fascinating interactions with the members of these maverick players across the globe. Montague’s journey takes him from one intriguing international match to the next, stopping in the West Bank, through the morally murky backwaters of sub-Saharan Africa, careening through the chaotic melting pot that is the Middle East, and revisiting former footballing hotbeds now relegated to has-been status on the international stage. We’re exposed to a more human side of the game – gaining insights into the minds and motivations of players from countries that either never were footballing forces or have fallen so far that their World Cup tournament will only ever consist of a few poorly organized qualifying matches requiring arduous travel and atrocious playing conditions.
Through all of this, what we see is that the motivation for these players is not the manicured pitches under the bright floodlights and rubbing shoulders with the world’s elite. It’s the challenge and opportunity brought upon them by the World Cup tournament itself. What many don’t realize is that the spectacle we were just witness to this past summer is only the culmination of what, in essence, is an almost three-year tournament. It begins with the characters of this book, the games in which they risk their pride, sometimes unfathomably more, and ends with the shiny, polished, international media extravaganza that is the World Cup Finals. In this work,Montague gives the rest of the participants in the world’s favorite spectacle their time in the sun, and rightly so.
My Rating….5/5 Jules Rimet Trophies – this book was brilliant!
Next in the queue…
Have you been following along in my own mini-version of a book club? Did Ajax: The Dutch, The War have you pining for your your high school World History class days? Have any suggestions to add to the Footy Books queue? Fire away in the comments below!
Hands clasped, we pray for olé…