This is my second foray into Australian soccer literature, the first having been less than impressive. The good news is that the now 10 year old 'Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters' by the late Johnny Warren is far better, the bad news is that Warren fell into the standard traps of all passionate Australian soccer figures.
Warren had an amazing playing career for someone growing up in Australian during the 1950's where soccer was third or fourth on the list of priorities for most young men (particularly Anglo ones such as Warren). As is fairly portrayed by Warren's title, a fair amount of tasteless stigma was also labelled at those playing the game.
Given the options available to Warren he managed to forge a club and international career that deserves celebration. Representing the St George (Budapest) club with great distinction Warren no doubt had to prove himself able to transcend ethnic boundaries; 40 odd matches for Australia (including the 1974 World Cup) showed much dedication at a time when it was hardly a glamourous lifestyle.
The matches the Australian team of the late 1960's and early 1970's deserve legendary status, not just for the achievements of the team but for the scenarios in which they played. The Friendly Nations cup played as an olive branch to the Vietnamese people by the Western anti-communist forces is an amazing tale for the conditions (warfare) that the tournament was played within. As well Warren eulogises on some of his contemporaries who should receive more credit for their skills by those who believe that legendary status in Australian soccer began with Viduka and Kewell et al.
For the non devoted supporter of soccer in Australia there are two general criticisms that can be labelled at the sport in this country. Number one is that it is constantly racked with in fighting and controversy. Number two is that the sport needs to learn to stand on its own two feet and fight for its place in the landscape; rather it constantly complains about the level of media coverage afforded Australian Football or Rugby League over itself. Warren in the last third of the book spirals violently into into these two criticisms and never recovers. If those in charge of the sport believe it is the best sport then they need to rise above arguing internally or complaining about the competition and simply produce a product that attracts the masses.
Recommend this book for a read and a good summary history of the sport in Australia and an interesting life story that is at the same time stereotypically Australian, but also very different from your usual sporting heroes. Tennis Balls.
Cover image thanks to amazon.com.au