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Any chance of a game? by Barney Ronay

Release date: 28th September, 2005
Publisher: Ebury Press

List Price: £10.99
Our Price: £7.69
You Save: £3.3 (30%)
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Possibly the greatest dramatic portrayal of football ever seen on our screens was Jack Rosenthal's magnificent 'Another Sunday and Sweet FA' which first appeared in 1972. This was not a screenplay littered with Hollywood stars, nor did it concern itself with the World Cup or top flight football, but concentrated instead upon a referee's attempts to control two rival teams.

Rosenthal had most players arriving for the match clutching a final cigarette; during the game, one goalkeeper is accosted by an furious ex-girlfriend as he leans against his goalpost; the quality of the play is exceptionally poor; the players argue and fight as the frustrated referee struggles to introduce the concept of fairness to the game. You can almost smell the alcohol lingering on the breath of the 22 participants. Welcome to Sunday morning football.

Anyone who has ever played Sunday football will be familiar with poor pitches, dog mess, uncut grass and penalty spots where the groundsman appears to have emptied half a bucket of lime, now formed into a solid pyramid shape, just for a laugh. Stand back from this scene for a second, one replicated across the land most Sundays, and it becomes easy to appreciate the scope for dramatic interpretation as Rosenthal did so brilliantly 33 years ago. Now Barney Ronay has done something similar in print; it is a must-have book for anyone ever forced to play football in odd socks.

Sunday morning football has always known its place at the very bottom of the footballing apex, although it does provide a final run-out for blokes who are more than a little overweight and who cannot recover from niggling injuries as rapidly as they used to. Still, it's cheaper than buying a ridiculously flash car or, the absolute nadir when it comes to efforts to recapture lost youth, an ill-fitting wig.

Ronay appreciates Sunday football's inherent humour; tales of trials with Premiership clubs no longer cut the mustard. Reality is setting in fast for players at this level, while defeat is used as an opportunity for self-deprecation. Of course, the player who always stands out in a Sunday morning encounter (he's now about 54) is the one who has played at a higher level, a guy who was always considered as being pretty decent instead of being "pretty good at being 3-0 down at half time."

Any Chance of a Game? is the story of a season with Bolingbroke Athletic, a team which has descended rapidly through the lower the Sunday leagues to the point where another relegation would leave them with nowhere to go. Naturally, the book is full of characters who would have slotted easily into a Rosenthal back four: from captain Keith, resplendent with stories of his 'involved' emotional life, to midfielder Dan, the epitome of cynicism.

Ronay too is a player in this struggling side, not a sideline observer and as Bolingbroke Athletic career ever downwards, one can see their decline mirrored by the author's footballing prowess. Next he'll be looking at a convertible BMW. But Ronay manages to draw a line before toppling into that particular black hole by ensuring the reader has a real affinity with Bolingbroke, rooting for them to succeed against all the odds. Their track record is not good, but then if that was a pre-requisite for wearing odd socks, no-one would play Sunday morning football, would they?


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