In May 2014 my second book Thirty One Nil: On the Road with Football’s Outsiders, a World Cup Odyssey was released by Bloomsbury both here in the UK and in the US. It was a pretty amazing journey that started in the West Bank in 2011 and ended in Zagreb, Croatia two and half years late. My aim was to chart the World Cup qualification process, but through the eyes of the minnows; the teams and nations that would likely never make it, but try regardless.
I met some inspirational people on six continents. If I’m honest, I’m a little lost without the order that World Cup qualification gave me! I have so many memories: Being embedded with the Palestinian team as we flew from Amman, Jordan to Tajikistan for their match against Afghanistan. Getting deported from Russia. Crack hell (allegedly) in Curacao. Being in Tahrir Square during Egypt’s revolution.
But the highlight has to be Samoa, for a moment I’ll remember on my death bed (hopefully) a long time from now. Having called the book Thirty One Nil I had to visit the American Samoa national team, the team the book was named after. They lost a World Cup qualifier to Australia 31-0 in 2001 and had lost every game since.
I was expecting much the same when I got to Samoa for their 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Instead I met a driven Dutchman, a transgender centre back and a goalkeeper psychologically scarred from conceding so many goals. You probably know what happened next. But if not, read the book or, even better, watch Next Goal Wins. A British film crew was there to capture the whole thing and produced the best football documentary ever made. Check out the trailer here.
If you want to read an extract of Thirty One Nil, CNN put together this great six part serialisation covering Kosovo, Eritrea, American Samoa, Egypt, Bosnia and Brazil.
And you can buy Thirty One Nil here. If you are that way inclined.