Thursday 23 November 2017

Striking a chord with the women's game in Wexford

Book review

Dean Goodison

Under the Lights and in the Dark
Under the Lights and in the Dark

The title of this latest offering on women's soccer strikes a sharp chord. With staggering accuracy, it's Ferrycarrig Park on a dozen or so Saturday evenings a year. 'Under the Lights and in the Dark' is a collection of untold stories by Gwendolyn Oxenham.

The essence of the book is that these are footballers too, high class players, performing at the top of their game. Their achievements make few ripples, most don't pay attention. Yet, these women have stories, have unique histories, they have lives outside of football and this is a glimpse at some of them.

Firstly, the style of the book is typically American. That's the first plus, as publications from across the Atlantic tend to be better researched and put together with more care than the general money-maker over this side of the pond.

On top of that Oxenham has a nice, inclusive, easy to understand writing style. The twelve-year-old girl reading this as part of her English homework will be as engrossed as the 60-year-old who never dreamt that these things could happen to a female soccer player. That's a fantastic skill to have as a writer.

While the author leans heavily on connections to the Portland Thorns, a side that averages 17,000 fans a game, that is perfectly understandable. Out of that giant oak of a club, the branches divulge fascinating lives.

As each chapter focuses on a separate issue and on different players, alternate stories will hit home to people in contrasting ways. Personal favourites include 'The Football Refugee', a chapter telling the story of Nadia Nadim, whose father was killed by the Taliban.

'Play Away the Gay' follows in a really strong middle section of the publication. Given that most of these lives and stories take place in the last two decades, some of the content in this chapter is jaw-dropping and maddening in equal measure.

Oxenham ends the book on a slightly peculiar note, leaping away from the players into the stories of the fans. While some might say that it's an irrational jump from the main focus, it's done superbly well and actually could teach people around the Women's National League a lot.

The big thing to take away from the fandom of the Portland Thorns is not necessarily their commitment, because that's what being a fan is all about, and they do it better than anyone else, but it's the rivalries that they have built with other teams.

The game can't go anywhere while managers tweet each other praise and players pat each other on the back. Sport is about rivalries, you can't expect random football fans to take you seriously when such back-slapping is rife.

There are a beautiful few lines, describing the Portland supporters', The Riveters, verbal feuds with Seattle, amongst others. In their chants they used flagrant language to denounce their opponents and Oxenham nails their sentiment:

'They had no interest in toning things down. Because that - the notion of toning it down for a women's game - is what the Riveters found offensive.'

If only a few more heads involved in the women's game in this country 'got it' like the Riveters.

Maybe have a read of this, see if anything hits a nerve and then head out to the next game in Ferrycarrig.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

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