The female protagonist

The football fiction genre is the nichest of the niche when it comes to sports writing. After the historical moments, world famous figures, club legends and fantastic tournaments, there sits a tiny slither of books that are purely for entertainment rather than reference. Take out the picture books and the children’s stories, there’s not much left to choose from, although I’m sure Lee McGowan could point you in the right direction.

Now throw in the fact that the protagonist is a female footballer, well we’ve almost won in a game of ‘Guess Who?’.

There are many excellent books out there about women’s football. In-depth stories of the history of football (Girls with Balls, Never Say Die) and some of the untold stories of the difficulties of trying to break through in a male-dominated sport in different countries (Under the Lights and in the Dark). A great number of them are (auto) biographical works about USWNT players and their subjects are global superstars. Their reach is big, in the States at least, and the fact that the women’s national team is clearly more successful than the men’s, means that even non-footballing members of the general public have heard of them and are interested in what they have to say (Breakaway, One Life).

The Women’s World Cups in 2015 and 2019 brought a whole new wave of entertaining books, as the women’s game exploded in the UK. (The Roar of the Lionesses, Arrival) There is definitely proof that a market does exist for football books about women.

Ok, so we have a growing selection to choose from if we want to read about women’s football, the history and the achievements of individuals and teams. But what about some fiction about women’s football? The rather discouraging statement “people are not interested in books about women players” is a myth that I am now seeking to debunk, but I haven’t quite got there yet. I have been asked why I write football fiction and not something mainstream that would see me open up to a potential audience probably 5,000 times the size. Well, it’s what I enjoy, that’s all I can say.

When it came to writing Anna Black – This Girl Can Play, was this a crusade to bring female football fiction to Australia? Not really. I had the idea, it seemed like the right time to write about the women’s game with the FIFA Women’s World Cup a chance to come to Australia. My daughter was playing at NPL level and I was refereeing women’s football on my Sunday afternoons, so some of the background took care if itself. Some extremely useful input from Matildas legend Heather Garriock then gave it some realism and some crafty smoothing of jagged edges by editor Bonita Mersiades made it suitable for publication. And then As One 2023 happened and Australia and New Zealand won the rights to host the World Cup.

What we have as a result is an entertaining book (not my words), a story of breaking free and finding your destiny, and a pacy read that should give anyone from teenager upwards a real buzz. To keep things interesting, you’ll need to keep your phone with you when you get to the second half of the book – you’ll see! If you’re not excited for 2023 after reading Anna Black – This Girl Can Play, I fear that you have lost all hope!

The book is available from all the usual book stores and online as a paperback and as an eBook, including the publisher Fair Play Publishing (who also gave us the excellent Encyclopaedia of the Matildas) and the usual suspects Book Depository and Amazon. It does carry a 15+ rating, but once you’ve read it, you’ll understand and you’ll be happy to pass it on to your young teenage football tragics.

So, aside from the legendary Bend It Like Beckham, where else do we get our fix of female football fiction? Maybe Danielle Warby can point us in the right direction? Tom Palmer asks the same question.

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