Book Review: The Odyssey of a Soccer Junkie by Patrick Johnston

Odyssey: a long and eventful or adventurous journey or experience.

Junkie: a person with a compulsive habit or obsessive dependency on something.

Both the words odyssey and junkie form part of the title of this book by Patrick Johnson, and so their definitions provide a clue to readers of what is in store.

First though some background on the author. Patrick Johnston is an American who excelled as a goalkeeper whilst at Duke University and then pursued a professional career in England and the USA. Since that time Johnston has also worked as a building contractor and more recently as a freelance photojournalist and football coach.

In terms of format of the book, the 329 pages are divided up over 14 Chapters, with each (for the most part) focussing on a particular trip. It would have been good to see some images from his adventures included as this would have broken up the text, as would have starting new Chapters on a fresh page. The book would also have benefited from tighter proofreading which would have picked up on various typos ensuring for instance, the correct use of ‘to’ and ‘too’.

Of the content itself – by looking at the list of the excursions, the reader gets a significant clue as to Johnston’s particular obsession. So amongst the Chapter titles are the following; Mexico 1986, Italy 1990, France 1998, South Korea/Japan 2002, Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 – all venues of the FIFA World Cup.

Quite simply, Patrick Johnston is a Soccer Junkie, with a particular penchant for World Cups.

In addition there are Chapters featuring the 2004 Copa America in Peru, the 2006/07 Argentinian League Play-offs, 2008 UEFA European Championship Finals in Austria/Switzerland and three trips to England for a variety of league and cup fixtures.

Johnston uses the device of a conversation with a passenger on the flight to South Africa in 2010 for the USA v Algeria World Cup fixture, to relate the story of his adventures. At the end of each Chapter, with Johnston having told the tale of his exploits, the passenger offers a reflective remark or observation, which rounds off each section of the book.

The Chapters are for the most part entertaining, with some of the stories bordering on the unbelievable. They all show that Johnston thrives on the buzz of just turning up at games and then attempting to get a ticket, with the notion of actually planning travel or accommodation often mere details besides the need to get his football fix.

In order to make this happen, Johnston is fortunate that he has connections. There is for instance his Uncle who is able to sort flights, another individual known only as the “Benefactor” who manages to provide World Cup tickets on some occasions and various friends and relatives living in a variety of countries across the globe able to provide a bed. In addition, the author also has more than his fair share of luck on occasions, although he might argue that this is down to experience, gleaned over years attending games.

There is no doubt that Johnston’s story is indeed an odyssey, with his adventures covering 24 years as he lays bare his football obsession.

However, there were issues and questions left answered. There is for instance the juxtaposition of his views on English football. On the one hand, Johnston professes his love of the game in England (through three visits in the book and also having adopted Newcastle United as his team), yet on the other is quick to portray all England fans as an undesirable mob to anyone that will listen.

In addition, there is the issue of ticket touts. They are an unwanted part of football as well as other sports. Their existence is only perpetuated by those willing to pay over the odds for tickets and those in organisations who are willing to sell tickets to the touts for profit. Johnston’s ‘adventure’ in some places relies on this trade and for me it’s not something I’m comfortable with. Whilst we live in a world where greed is considered as good and there is a profit to be made, then this will unfortunately continue.


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