Finally I finished it, the book that’s been sitting on my bedside table for almost a year, crying out to be read and instilling deep guilt in me every time I forego a quick read in favour of sleep. This is no reflection on the book itself, this is just the way life rolls at the moment, but it was a pleasure to finally get the time to demolish the last three chapters and reignite my desire to read more football books.
Be My Guest is subtitled ‘Football superstars in Australia’ and the cover shows international hero George Best on the cover surrounded by adoring fans, reading a copy of Soccer Action, an Australian magazine dedicated to all things football back in the heyday of the National Soccer League. The two authors of the book, Jason Goldsmith and Lucas Gillard, take turns in first describing an international star who graced the Australian game at some point in the history of our great game, and then a local club who snapped up a number of global superstars in an attempt to put their club’s name in the headlines. The book concludes with a fun section about all those deals that nearly came off, or were rumoured to have been happening, and what could have been if circumstances had been different. It’s a fascinating read.
A level of knowledge of the Australian game is assumed, otherwise this could be fiction, but the majority of the names are well known – anyone of a certain age would have grown up with many of these names being in the forefront of world football. There were sentences that stood out for me; a helicopter clearing water from the field for Kevin Keegan’s first game for Blacktown City made it feel as though he’d flown in straight from his farewell appearance at St James’ Park against Liverpool. Ferenc Puskas trying to convince an official to let him in to the stadium was another great anecdote, and the whole chapter on Wollongong was enthralling.
A number of references gave rise to Google searches, which in turn broadened my patchy international football knowledge – the Tokyo International Tournament (sounds like something from Only Fools and Horses), FIFA banning foreign players coming to Australia, and the marvellously named Wormatia Worms from the German league. The book is also laden with humour, some of it subtle and some of it less so – the ‘roofer’ joke surely belongs in an FA Cup match commentary from the future. The language used is quite poetic at times, “…like many ships dotting the coastline…” was a lovely line that captured the ebbing of a club into obscurity after their shot at fame.
The book has a section of photos in the middle, which sees international superstars in NSL shirts in action at various suburban stadiums around Australia. It evokes quite the scene, and gives the impression that the NSL was laden with big name footballers who played in front of big crowds every week. Maybe that’s the view through rose-tinted glasses.
Any criticisms of the book? Nothing of note, perhaps the in-depth Ian Callaghan section was a little overplayed and page 166 seemed to have missed editing – is it referencing John Chiedozie, the Nigerian winger, or is it taken verbatim from the Soccer House Journal? Very minor points that do not detract from a fascinating read that is packed with information. Honestly, if you pick up this book and give it a go, your knowledge of Australian football will be enriched beyond any expectation. Names such as Ray Gatt, George Donikian and Andrew Dettre pop up, there is mention of Michael Cockerill, it really feels like a warm welcome into your Grandpa’s house to talk about the good old days over a cup of tea and a glass of rakija.
Big congratulations to the two authors – I had the pleasure of meeting both, and sharing plenty of beers, at the Football Writers Festivals. Their knowledge of football is immense, and I’m excited to see what comes next. Alongside Jason’s Surfing For England book, what could be the next intriguing subject of their exciting writing adventures?
For me, this has been a great read, one that has given me more knowledge of the Australian game, and for that I am thankful. I now have a difficult choice. Which book comes next?