Love is pop tart knees and park football

Book of the Week
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The Independent Online
Astroturf Blonde

(Headline, hardback, pounds 14.99)

By Alyson Rudd

THE GUY HAS come all the way from Guatemala to watch his beloved Atletico in the Vicente Calderon, and, before it's even half-time, Barca are stuffing them 3-0. Sitting beside him, concerned at the depth of his grief, Alyson Rudd assures him she has seen Barca crumble in the second period several times lately, and that Atletico will surely pull three back.

They do. The guy from Guatemala tells Rudd she is wonderful. Then Atletico score a match-winning fourth, so he falls to his knees before her sobbing "You are the Madonna." I can confidently state, however, that Rudd is not the Madonna. The Madonna never wrote a book as good as this one.

is better than Fever Pitch. It is fresh, spirited, cheerfully fearless when it comes to being rude about people, and loaded with more bon mots than most writers can muster in a lifetime. I particularly cherish the notion that softball players "are to sport what poodles are to dog racing."

Any debate about whether women can or should play football - or write about it, or even just watch it - has surely been resolved by now to the satisfaction of all bar the most numbskulled chauvinist. While Rudd deals with that issue, however, and will no doubt be tackled on it on the publicity circuit ad infinitum, that is not really what the book is about.

Indeed, Rudd has some justifiably sharp things to say about what women's football can be like. Her account of the first women's team she went to train with (a bunch of foul-mouthed harridans called things like "Dog", "Slag", and "Gary") is ruthlessly, painfully, funny. Later, she finds a better women's club - but in truth, she is always happier playing with her mates, a park side of blokes variously competent or not, whose talents and foibles are lovingly related, and whose exploits form the warm heart of the book.

It is, in short, just a story about loving the game. It is about always having to travel with a pair of boots, because you never know when you might get a kickabout. It is about knowing what is and is not acceptable in the matter of replica shirts. It is about playing on in Regent's Park as the years go by, "regardless of my pop tart knees, of how ludicrous I may look, and how mortified my son will one day be."

If her knees do pack in, she can always carry on as the manager. Some in her park life already call her "Ally-boss", and her efforts to persuade them to play a sophisticated 3-4-1-2 had me (and everyone else in my local, male and female) laughing out loud. A team of social workers duly battered them 6-2, and one of them even had plaits in his hair. Oh, the mortification of it.

So if there's anyone out there thinking they won't bother with this because it is written by a woman, all I can say is, think again. This is one for the Christmas list of every football fan in the country.

Pete Davies