Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Football Book Review #8: One Football No Nets by Justin Walley

This week I have been reading One Football No Nets by Justin Walley. This is the story of a man realising his dream to be an international football manager. You think your club has it bad? Read this book and be thankful for all that you have.

The work ethic – nay obsession – of Walley is evident from the outset. Having burnt himself out doing countless different roles at Riga United, he walks away in 2017, ending up in a Macedonian monastery contemplating what he wants to do with his life. Ultimately the answer is working in football – but he needs to find where he fits within the game (as we all do).

The food in the monastery actually sounds more appealing than much of the fayre on offer at football grounds (you may recall I gave up on pies after a dry anaemic balti pie at Gillingham in August):

Walley is soon appointed manager of Matabeleland and travels to Zimbabwe, where he is faced with food and water shortages, political unrest and dangerous driving. Can he assemble a team of decent players, persuade them to play for free and get visas for them all so they can play in the 2018 CONIFA Football World Cup in England? He certainly has a job on his hands…

The subject matter of the CONIFAs was of especial interest to me. I had planned on travelling to North Macedonia to write about this year’s competition before the world shut down and put paid to that. Walley describes it as a ‘festival of punk football’, which I love. You can find out more about the Confederation of Independent Football Associations here. They describe their objectives as follows:

CONIFA aims to build bridges between people, nations, minorities and isolated regions all over the world through friendship, culture and the joy of playing football. CONIFA works for the development of affiliated members and is committed to fair play and the eradication of racism.”

In a world where football is becoming increasingly distant from the people, CONIFA offers something refreshing and wonderful. The word ‘joy’ stands out for me here. For is that not why we fell in love with football in the first place? And how much pure joy is there in the game at higher levels these days? I can’t remember the last time I saw Jose Mourinho smile.

There is a wonderful theme throughout this book about life’s simple pleasures. Walley lives an unconventional life – with no wife, children or mortgage – which takes him all over the world having adventures.

One Football No Nets is an utterly absorbing read, transporting the reader to Zimbabwe during the final days of Robert Mugabe’s leadership. The reader learns what political unrest, hyperinflation, food and water shortages are like in reality. There is also a constant underlying fear/paranoia of being observed by the authorities and a real risk of not being able to remain in the country.

This all takes its toll on Walley, whose mental and physical health is an increasing concern throughout the book.

In a happy contrast to last week’s book, the photos depicting Walley’s adventures are placed at the end of the book, thus not giving anything away before the end.

Football at this level – as with grassroots and non-league – might not be sexy, but it is football at its most real and tangible and, ultimately, its most rewarding.

This is a wonderfully eye-opening book that has really set me thinking about what is important in life. It is the complete antithesis to the Premier League and FIFA and it is obvious why Walley was drawn to CONIFA and Matabeleland. For anyone becoming disillusioned with the current state of football (which seems to be more and more people I speak to) this is an absolute must-read. Real football is out there. Go and find it and get involved. Just make sure you take time to look after yourself too…

You can buy the book here:

One Football, No Nets

NEXT UP: Escapismo by James Gamlin.


Please do keep your football book recommendations coming! Next week I’m reviewing a football magazine because I make the rules and this mag looks particularly interesting.

Don’t forget you can also read about my awaydays with Blackpool from the 2019/20 season right here


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