Did 2021 do it for you…?

If we don’t grab our opportunities while we can, we’ll be commenting at the end of every year to come with “thank god that’s over … ”

Whilst we’ve all been through the Covid ringer this year, with normality disrupted, travel restrictions imposed and everyday events cancelled, this year has still seen some remarkable milestones for the Unashamed Football Novel series.

Remember, if you’re on your phone, you can scroll the slideshows to see more.

When three became four

The year started with a flurry of activity on the yet-to-be-released book number five – the fourth in the series, Anna Black – This Girl Can Play, was undergoing extensive sandpapering to buff out some of the rough edges, so the quieter times during January were spent getting the next book underway and established as an actual work in progress. Of course, as soon as work and school and football and life took hold, the writing tailed off, but I had a good base from which to relaunch later in the year.

The Anna Black book got real when a book launch date in March was pencilled in by publisher Fair Play Publishing, iconic bookshop Gleebooks the venue for an evening of football chat, laughs, book signings and selfies. A blow to the projected audience for the event came when Sydney FC announced that their Premiership deciding game would take place at Cromer Park on the same evening – of course I would have liked to have been there too, but this was way more important! Thanks to the tenacious organising skills of Michelle, and the slick event coordination of Bonita, the evening was a great way to introduce future Matildas star Anna Black to the football world.

Friends, work colleagues and football people were all there to help celebrate, and an evening at the local Mexican cantina was a great way to finish off the night.

When I bumped in to Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend soon after at a game at Kogarah, the idea of some sort of promotion for the latest novel was floated, which led to a photo opportunity at Macquarie Park prior to the W-League semi-final showdown later in the week. This was a great mix of being a fan and being an author, and we had plenty of photos with the Sydney FC girls, as well as a quick chat with Ryan McGowan and a photo with the entire Sydney FC men’s defensive line.

The article appeared on the Sydney FC website and is still here today. What an honour, and a big thank you to Dave Warriner for putting it together, despite his other questionable football allegiances (it’s Sunderland, okay?).

Anna Black scored some good early reviews and feedback over the course of 2021, none more glowing than on the Sporting News website and also on Goodreads and the UK site Football Book Reviews. Readers have been impressed by the flow of the book, that the central character is a female footballer and that this is a female football book for the here and now, for young adults and upwards. And later in the year we had the release of the audio book via Google Play and Audible – I listened to it, my first audiobook experience, on a long trip and it was excellent, making use of the ability to speed up the narrator to get the flow right.

And Anna Black has been pictured in the hands of some very big names too. I’m convinced that when a Matildas player finally gets into the book, they’ll love it, and it will capture the imagination of a nation heading for a World Cup in 2023. Ann Odong will love it, the Ladies League are loving it, and hopefully Sam Kerr and Emily Gielnik will love it too. Copies have gone to local girl Alanna Kennedy, Canberran Karly Roestbakken and Football NSW Institute graduate Bryleeh Henry, all who have strong connections to the storyline, but I have no way of knowing whether they received them or not.

Meanwhile, book number three – Jarrod Black Guilty Party – continues to receive a lot of love. A pitch side banner at Newcastle Blue Star FC, a progressive non-league team who are every Newcastle United fan’s favourite weekend football fix if the Toon aren’t playing, has given this fast-paced North-East based football drama a new lease of life in the UK. Their social media presence is second to none and when I finally make it back to the old country, I’ll be popping in for a visit.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Newcastle Upon Tyne

The first two books in the series, Introducing Jarrod Black and Jarrod Black Hospital Pass, have had some fine reviews and feedback too this year. I was told that books are a slow burner, and it might be just now that the general public are beginning to notice this growing series of football fiction novels.

Check out this interesting article from 2021 in the Melrose Park Village Talk, a local newspaper that follows local people. The origin of the name Texi is summarised at the end!

The future of the Unashamed Football Novels series is bright – the fifth book was completed during the lockdown period late in the year and submitted for review. A release date is not yet known, but has been announced as coming soon in 2022. Whilst the title of the book is also not set just yet, and the story has not yet gone through the heavy culling and scrutiny that is the editing process, I’m confident we’ll have another cracking book to share in a few months’ time. And 2022 will see more football fiction released by Fair Play Publishing, expanding the genre and bringing it into the mainstream. Get in!

Meanwhile, there has been plenty of journalism to keep me entertained this year. In addition to the constant stream of match reports on this website, The Roar‘s weekly A-League tips and predictions segment keeps me busy and up-to-date with the competition, and I’ve somehow hit the lead early in a bid to emulate my Euro 2020 tipping success on the same website. Quite a feat when the panel of four contains the voice of football himself, Simon Hill! A guest article on Kick360 also expanded horizons for future writing, but in reality, this has been an altogether quieter year for articles.

This website, now with its own domain and no WordPress adverts, has become a melting pot for match reports and book updates. Sydney FC men’s and women’s, Matildas and Socceroos, the mighty Gladesville Ravens NPL2 under 14s and even a bit of West Ryde Rovers Over 35s action thrown in there. Almost every live game I watch ends up here. It’s the ideal spot to practice and hone my short article writing style, which I don’t feel is established yet and certainly hasn’t gained that many followers. Having said that, there is a Facebook page Come on you Boys in Blue who regularly share the Sydney FC men’s reports on here, which I am more than happy with. Attracting a consistent readership is the golden ticket, for now I will simply persevere and write as much content as I can in the hope that someone somewhere enjoys it.

Now, it is with great shame and disgust that I admit to only finishing two books this year. That is abysmal, although I’ve probably read Anna Black more than twenty times from beginning to end if that’s any excuse. The first book was Ben Smith’s autobiography Journeyman, which is a warts-and-all journey through the lower leagues of English football. There was something about it that kept me interested throughout, and for quite a chunky book, I got through it quickly. The second book was Riding Shotgun, the autobiography of Socceroos player Andy Bernal. I was at the book launch to hear Andy speak; he is as engaging as his book and he had a good crowd of football people to support him and the launch. The book itself I knocked over in a week. It’s the kind of journey that sucks you in, and having met the man himself I can imagine himself in all the situations in the story, good and bad. I’d recommend that book to anyone looking for an edgy biography of a player and a man who lived on the edge and in the fast lane for some time.

I’m currently reading Be My Guest by Jason Goldsmith and Lucas Gillard, learning all about the top overseas players who graced the Australian leagues over the years. The font is a little small that it makes late night reading a little difficult and the same can be said for my other readers on the go, A Season with Verona by Tim Parks seems to want to cram a lot on to a single page. I’m enjoying it, but the eyes get tired quickly at night when I have my only opportunity to read. There are others on my bedside table that need some attention too. I promise to be a better reader in 2022.

My football supporting landscape changed in 2021 and has continued to change. Any opportunity to see live football is pounced upon, and maybe that’s born out of the possibility that every game might be the last for a while. I’ve managed to catch every Sydney FC men’s home game this year, a record that was destined to be spoilt at the last hurdle when the FFA Cup quarter-final was scheduled to the same time as the women’s game in Wollongong on Dec 30, but that clash disappeared thankfully and we enjoyed a 5-0 away win for the women. I did miss the first five minutes of a Big Blue after racing from Andy Bernal’s book launch and finding parking a bit tricky so close to kick off, but I’ve been to them all, and they have been mostly very enjoyable. That’s the beauty of live football – no two games are the same and there is always something a little different every time. Away games have been more difficult to get to, as there were clashes with my own football during the winter season – a 3pm kick off in Sydney doesn’t mix well with a 5pm kick off in Newcastle. The year started well with trips to Wollongong for the men and Newcastle for the women, and following the women’s game has become more and more important as the year continued. There’s a totally different vibe and as a fan, you feel more connected to the action and to the players. Of course, with the World Cup in 2023, I’m getting into the excitement earlier than most.

An article in The Roar on the announcement of a new era at my home town club Newcastle United was a plea to let us long-suffering fans have our moment of celebration after the departure of Mike Ashley and his horrible clique of Cockney cohorts. Supporting Newcastle United is hard. There are more downs than ups, and we have not had a major trophy of any kind in my lifetime. The Intertoto Cup and the Championship winners trophy do not count. I’ve managed to get to a few games at Cheers bar in the city, the last one a glorious sing-song just after the takeover was announced and an exquisite Callum Wilson overhead kick. There will be more next year, and hopefully we’ll still be in the Premier League next year or I’ll need to renew my BeIn Sports subscription.

Of course, thanks to my daughter Aurelia, I’m also one of Gladesville Ravens’ NPLW Under 14s (soon to be under 15s) greatest fans, and have continued to produce content from match days and take photos thanks to my NPL media pass (hopefully that gets renewed). Aurelia also captained her school team, which was quite the honour, as they made it through to the final of the area tournament only to fall at the final hurdle.

On the flipside, my son Zach gave up football cold turkey this year, no summer soccer, no winter comp, no refereeing; the lure of work and the beginning of the HSC making that choice quite easy to make for him. He’ll be back! On a personal note, I’ve been plagued with injuries this year, the sort of niggling injuries that, coupled with advancing years and extra lockdown kilos, make it more difficult to maintain the decent standard that I’ve enjoyed over the years. Over 45s has been calling for a few years, but with the 2021 season cut short, there’s unfinished business in the Over 35s and I can see myself going round one more time, strapped up and smelling of Painaway.

I took a step back from managing this season, I think the time was right to pass that on, but it has been a pleasure to be involved with West Ryde Rovers and I hope to continue playing for many years to come. I even had a taste of walking football until Covid lockdown hit, now that’s a real career-prolonging sport. I should be good for another year of refereeing too, that’s been a good thing to get into and it allows me to recover from the previous day’s game and give something back to the football community.

Thanks to all the good football people I’ve met and have enjoyed live sport with over the last 12 months. The Meadowbank Ultras provide lively discussion every fortnight, and thanks to the Twitter-verse which is 99% positive, with the few bad eggs discarded, I feel up to date with the things and the people that I want to know.

And big thanks to Michelle, who has become my football partner, my lockdown walking buddy and we have been to most games together this year. As a freshly divorced man in 2021 the rush to get back in the game is understandably not there but there’s perhaps more to this relationship; we’ll see how 2022 sees that blossom! You read that here first, there’s your reward for reading this far.

Thanks for reading. Love to you all. See you at a football game in the new year, see you at the Football Writers Festival in March and catch you on socials. The year 2021 – over and out.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: