Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Review: Sheilas, Wogs & Poofters - Johnny Warren

by Ben Roberts

This is my second foray into Australian football literature, the first having been spectacularly less than impressive. The good news is that the now decade-old 'Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters', a seminal work by the late and revered Johnny Warren is far better.   The bad news is that Warren fell into the standard traps of all passionate Australian soccer figures.

Cover image thanks to
Warren had an amazing playing career, as he grew up in 1950s Australia where soccer was third or fourth on the list of sporting priorities for most - particularly "Anglos" such as Warren.  As is obviously - but fairly - portrayed by the title, a fair amount of tasteless stigma was also cast at those who played the sport.

Given the options available, Warren managed to forge a club and international career that deserves celebration. Representing the St George (Budapest) club with great distinction, Johnny Warren had to prove himself able to transcend ethnic boundaries; this culminated in 40-odd matches for Australia (including the 1974 World Cup) and showed bagfuls of dedication in an era where football hardly provided a glamourous lifestyle.

The matches played by the late-60's and early-70's Socceroos deserve legendary status, not just for the achievements of the team but also due to the scenarios in which they played. 

The Friendly Nations cup was played as an olive branch to the Vietnamese by Western anti-communist forces and is an amazing tale for the conditions (warfare) that the tournament was played within. As well, Warren eulogises some of his contemporaries who should receive more credit for their skills by those who believe that legendary status in Australian soccer began with Viduka and Kewell et al.

For the non-devoted supporter of soccer in Australia, there are two general criticisms that are aimed at the sport in this country. Firstly, the sport is constantly racked with infighting and controversy. Secondly, that the sport needs to stand on its own two feet and fight for its place in the recreational landscape; rather, it constantly complains about the level of media coverage afforded Australian Football or Rugby League. In the last third of the book, Warren spirals violently into into these two criticisms and his argument never recovers. If those in charge of the sport (ed: I'm looking at you, Ben Buckley) believe it is the best sport, they need to rise above internal strife and complaints about the competition and simply generate a product that engages and attracts the masses.

This book is recommended for a good summary history of the sport in Australia and an interesting life story that is at the same time stereotypically Australian.  It  is, however, very different from your usual sporting heroes.   

Three stars.

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