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)


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World Cup diary 2018 – Wednesday 27 June

Going to be honest and say that the first batch of games from yesterday which saw Group C conclude, passed me by. I’ve nothing against Denmark, France, Peru or Australia (well maybe Australia, as an Englishman it’s great to see the Aussies lose at any sport), but my focus was on the evening games in Group D involving Iceland, Croatia, Argentina and Nigeria. As a result I merely picked up the final scores in early evening that saw Denmark and France go through after a 0-0 stalemate, with the French topping the group and Australia finish bottom of the table after a 2-0 defeat to Peru in the other game.

So to the events in Group D and my match of choice involving Iceland and Croatia. I have a friend working for Iceland in their media team, so firmly nailed my colours to the mast of the Vikings hoping they would beat the Croatians and the result of the other game went their way. However, it was not to be despite the Iceland side giving it everything that they had. Chances came but in the end they looked a tired side and when you consider that in a good summer temperatures can reach 20-25 degrees Centigrade in Iceland, yet had to perform in temperatures of 30+, were the weather conditions a factor for their exit? Ultimately though they slumped to a 2-1 defeat which left Iceland with just a point from their three group fixtures.

With the game finished I switched channels to catch the last seconds of the Argentina and Nigeria game, where a cracking finish from Marcos Rojo just four minutes from time saved the two-times World Champions from exit of the 2018 tournament at the expense of Nigeria. For all the brilliance of Messi’s first-half goal and Rojo’s winner, the abiding image was of Maradona in the stands celebrating the second Argentinian strike by standing and displaying offensive hand gestures. I can’t share the opinion of those who consider him a ‘great’ since his image during his playing days will forever be tainted by the ‘Hand of God’ incident in 1986 and his banning from the 1994 World Cup for drug use. His antics since the conclusion of his playing days have reduced him to a laughing stock and embarrassment to his country.

Back to events on the pitch and those results from yesterday lead to the following last 16 ties:

June 30 France v Argentina          July 01   Croatia v Denmark

World Cup diary 2018 – Saturday 23 June

Friday’s games could all have been labelled as the ‘late, late show’ starting with the Group E encounter between Brazil and Costa Rica. VAR once again had its part to play twelve minutes from time, thankfully reversing the on-field decision of the referee to award Brazil a penalty after a theatrical collapse from Neymar. With ninety-minutes up, the score was 0-0 and a frustrated and petulant Brazilian team looked to be heading for a second successive draw at these Finals. However, in the first minute of stoppage time, Coutinho fired home after a knockdown in the box to save his teams blushes. Then just five minutes later, Neymar got a less than deserved second for the five-times World Cup winners. As with the Brazil squad in 2014, I just can’t warm to them and have fingers crossed that another beating a la Germany four years ago is waiting in the wings for Neymar and his chums.

Iceland were next up against Nigeria in Volgograd, and despite starting well, lost out to a brace from the Leicester City striker Ahmed Musa (49′ & 75′) who is currently on loan with CSKA Moscow. Despite the fantastic support of their fans, Iceland couldn’t handle Nigeria in the second-half and even a penalty ten minutes from the end, which would have given them a lifeline was blazed high and wide by Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson. It was a result that gave fresh hope to Argentina being able to now make the knock-outs.

The final game turned out to be controversial for a number of reason. Serbia were good value for their 1-0 lead at the break courtesy of on-loan Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic after five minutes. However, the Swiss were significantly better in the second-half and an absolute screamer from Granit Xhaka. Despite that Mitrovic continued to be a threat and should have had a penalty mid-way through the second period, as when he attempted to get his head on a cross, he was in what only be described as a two-man rugby tackle was hauled down. Now you don’t need VAR to see that it was a blatant penalty, so quite what German referee Felix Brych was thinking goodness only knows. The Serbs were then punished again as in the final minute Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri broke from the half-way line to score the winner. As with Xhaka, Shaqiri celebrated with a gesture that had political significance.

As the BBC explained: Serbia has hit out at a “provocative” double eagle celebration by two ethnic Albanian goalscorers in the World Cup…Their gesture is a nationalist symbol representing the double headed eagle on Albania’s national flag. Critics say it could inflame tensions among Serbian nationalists and ethnic Albanians… Xhaka and Shaqiri’s families are from Kosovo, where a Serbian crackdown on the Albanian population only ended with NATO military intervention in 1999…Xhaka’s father spent three-and-a-half years as a political prisoner in Yugoslavia for his support for Kosovan independence. Shaqiri was born in Kosovo and his family fled to Switzerland as refugees…Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority declared independence in 2008 but Serbia, its ally Russia and most ethnic Serbs inside Kosovo do not recognise it.”

Many say that sport and politic shouldn’t mix, but history is littered with examples of the when tournaments are used as propaganda or provocation by countries and their governments. And when the world is watching it is the biggest free advertisement going.