Book Review: The Away Leg – XI Football Stories on the Road by Steve Menary & James Montague
Whilst there is nothing like the routine for fans of attending home games, there is something altogether different about an awayday. Whether it be the planning required in attending a different venue, ensuring travel arrangements and match-tickets are in place or the banter and pints pre and post-game – away games just have a different feeling. COVID stopped all that it in tracks, and as football slowly restarted it was played Behind Closed Doors with fans merely spectators via their TV or laptop. However, with the vaccine roll-out programme and the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, we look forward to the 2021/22 football season and getting back to games, but until them The Away Leg brings readers stories of awaydays with a difference. Indeed if M&S did football awaydays, then it would surely be like those described in The Away Leg.
This book contains, appropriately, eleven stories from respected football writers and journalists of various trips featuring games from around the globe and in a range of competitions. Therefore you won’t find tales of tinnies and trains on away trips to Blackpool, Port Vale or Tranmere, but instead of politics and history in Buenos Aires, Pyongyang and Tbilisi.
What is central to them all is a particular game at the heart of the story, but which is the pretext to a greater and more significant narrative. So in the instance of the I’ve Come Home by Nick Ames, the featured game is the Iceland v Kosovo World Cup Qualifier in Reykjavik, whilst the focus of the story is the Icelanders qualifying for the World Cup in 2018. Elsewhere there is One Nil to the Arsenal by Catherine Etoe, centred on the UEFA Women’s Cup Final in Sweden, in a story which is an exploration of the development of the Arsenal women’s team and their manager of the time Vic Akers.
Every one of the eleven chapters has a story to tell, whether that be the way FIFA runs the game in Harry Pearson’s excellent, The Democratic People’s Republic of FIFAland or Steve Menary’s melancholic analysis of the decline of football and rise of rugby union in The Georgian Crossroads.
Given the quality of writing and the topics they cover, it is difficult to select a favourite, but a couple which standout personally are Saturday Night Lights by Arik Rosenstein, with a powerful piece centred around an Israel State Cup Quarter-Final fixture in Jerusalem and The Final Final by Martino Simcik Arese and the extraordinary and explosive events surrounding the 2018 Copa Libertadores Final in Buenos Aries.
These stories may not be anything like the experience of most fans, week-in, week-out, but show that memories are not necessarily made just by the ninety minutes on the pitch, but more often by the sights, sounds and events leading up to a game or indeed the significance of the occasion. You’ll never look at awaydays in the same light again.
All proceeds from this book will be donated to the national social care charity Community Integrated Care.
(Pitch Publishing. May 2021. Paperback 256 pages)