The NSL is alive and thriving

As someone who first tasted NSL football at a boistrous North Sydney Oval on a Friday evening back in 1999 as Northern Spirit went down to a single goal defeat, my connection with the former national competition was brief. What I do remember though was the earthy atmosphere at those games and how low-key some of the games could be for a top-level national league at a venue totally unsuitable for promoting the game of football. But it was brilliant. With a touch of excitement then, I delved into this “Sliding Doors Football Tale” from a fellow Meadowbank Ultra, Prof Mark Bowman.

This book, like its author, is clever, and it’s not easy to review it without giving away some of its most ingenious twists. The sliding doors moment that is suggested in the sub-title, takes place right at the start, in a FIFA World Cup qualifier on home soil that all Australians remember with dread. This time, somehow, a pivotal moment takes a different direction and qualification is achieved, well ahead of the real-life turning point of 2005. For those who were at that fateful game, this will leave the reader fully charged for the rest of the story.

The result is a different version of history, featuring the same players, the same personalities, but with the key difference being the structure of the national league. The author’s hopes and wishes of how things could have been shine through; it is not the utopia that you would expect though, and we are presented with an alternative reality as opposed to a better outcome. The book is thought-provoking and the use of characters that every football fan over the last twenty years would know makes this completely believable.

While you don’t need a thorough knowledge of the National Soccer League, there are parts of the storyline that go into depth about people and decisions made from the past. When the story gets into its stride though, we follow an exciting timeline of the evolution of football in Australia through the last twenty years. Some of the gems in here include the relocation of the Ferenc Puskas statue, the unveiling of the MFS, the Melbourne Football Stadium, a prominent indiginous AFL star having his own sliding doors moment to choose the round ball game, and there are many moments to make you smile as events that happened in real life are replayed in a different context.

The story wraps up with some introspection as the author becomes a character in his own book, attending a game at the new home of Northern Spirit and we get a brief insight into the matchday experience at an NSL game in the late 2010s. How good it could have been.

As mentioned earlier, there are many moments in this story that are down-right clever, and to give away those moments would be a disservice to the book and the author. I suggest you get your hands on a copy of The Yawning Giant and immerse yourself into an alternative history of Australian football. It’s a great read, and the author shows their deep knowledge and passion for the Socceroos in an intriguing tale.

Available from Fair Play Publishing here, as well as all online bookstores of repute.

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