In a tiny, decaying aluminum smelting town in southern Tajikistan, a short drive from a raging war zone, Afghanistan take on Palestine in the first Asian qualifier for 2014's World Cup in Brazil. Every player on both teams is risking something by playing: Their careers, their families, even their lives. Yet, along with thousands of other footballers backed by millions of supporters, they all dream of snatching one of the precious 32 places at the finals; and so begins a three-year epic struggle - long before the usual suspects start their higher-profile qualifying campaigns under the spotlight.
Named after the greatest victory (and defeat) that the World Cup qualifiers have ever seen (Australia's 31-0 victory over American Samoa), Thirty-One Nil is the story of how footballers from all corners of the globe begin their journey chasing a place at the World Cup Finals. It celebrates the part-time priests, princes and hopeless chancers who dream of making it to Brazil, in defiance of the staggering odds stacked against them. It tells the story of teams who have struggled for their very existence through political and social turmoil, from which they will very occasionally emerge into international stardom.
From the endlessly humiliated San Marino to lowly Haiti; from war-torn Lebanon to the oppressed and fleet-footed players of Eritrea, in Thirty-One Nil James Montague gets intimately and often dangerously close to some of the world's most extraordinary teams, and tells their exceptional stories.
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
Yes. It's a wonderful journey that tells stories of people most would never otherwise know. The narrative is a glimpse into these lesser footballing nations and why they are that way. Great for Americans, Europeans (and anyone else), football lovers, and non-sports fans. It is an indirect observation of each nation and cultures through the lens of football.
What other book might you compare Thirty-One Nil to and why?
Thirty-One Nil has many similarities to Fleming's James Bond novels; both dive into cultures of which the average reader is not familiar. Whether it be espionage or football, there is some bigger, more impossible obstacle awaiting the next page turn.
How could the performance have been better?
The narrator -while a beautiful British accent, including both French and Spanish accents when needed- seemed to have zero clue as to how to pronounce very basic names.
(E.g. Spain's Iker Casillas is pronounced -using elementary Spanish knowledge- "Ee-cair Cah-see-us" as opposed to his interpretation of "Eye-cair Cah-sill-us" which is cringe-worthy even to an American. He immediately followed up by interpreting Casillas' team Real Madrid not as its proper "Rey-Al Madrid" but "Real" as if there were a Fake Madrid team somewhere.)
This happened so frequently (at least five separate times in the prologue alone) that I sadly have to assume every name is mispronounced. It's too bad, and a very poor job by all those involved in the production because this is an otherwise wonderful storytelling.
Was Thirty-One Nil worth the listening time?
Yes. Despite the pronunciation issues, it is an amazing story and great narration.
Any additional comments?
Know the pronunciation is frustrating going into it, and be willing to accept it. If you do, you will be rewarded with a great story.