BY DAVID MARPLES
It seems a shame to break it to you so early in this review, but in all likelihood, you are probably not living the dream right now. The Football Pink is a very fine football website indeed and has the awards to prove it but sat here reading this is, at best, a temporary diversion from you attaining your dream but most probably a mild curiosity regarding whether the book at the top of this review is worth buying or not. In short, chances are that you’re not living the dream right now.
Let’s cut to the chase and come back to dreams later – this book is worth buying. It is worth buying, reading, digesting and loaning out for someone else to read too.
Those dreams though – the thing with dreams is that if you leave them even for a minute to switch the kettle on or tie your shoelaces, they’ve wandered off in a state of mild boredom and irritation with you and your pontifications. They’ve gone to sit down, chew the fat and maybe even share a bag of crisps with someone who will look them in the eye and tell them that they (adopts Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye voice in ‘The Last of the Mohicans’) “will find you”.
Burkett schmoozed and serenaded his dream. He was offered a wing and a prayer of a chance of fulfilling his boyhood ambition of being a professional footballer by entering into the unknown and mysterious world of Brazilian football.
He found it tough at first. His tales of life in Casa dos Filtros – a kind of Youth Hostel for the young players hoping to make it with Sorriso Esporte Clube – portray a challenging time for our young protagonist. If he isn’t dealing with a chairman who utters not even half-truths every five minutes, he is coming to terms with unusual storage places for toilet brushes while finding ways to avert his eyes from young Brazilian men pleasuring themselves seemingly at every available opportunity.
Not only are we offered a thoughtful and reflective account of life in Brazil for a young man pitted against numerous others chasing their dream – racism, sexism and corruption are all addressed here – an insightful view of Brazilian football is also on offer. Brazil is indeed a foreign country and they absolutely do things differently there: “Nutmegs were celebrated more than goals.”
This is all a far cry from the quaint market town in Lincolnshire by the name of Stamford, which boasts the rather improbably named football club Stamford Daniels, where Burkett was once screamed at for daring to venture across the halfway line while playing left back: “What are you doing? Defenders defend. Now get the fuck back into your own half!”
The manager here was clearly yet to embrace the concept of the modern marauding full back…or indeed, relinquish those old fashioned English tactical values.
Burkett is a grown man by the end of his odyssey: he has completed his quest to maturity in this footballing bildungsroman. On watching his team from the stands one last time having accepted that in reality, he would not secure a first team place and his dream slowly evaporating, he reflects on his earlier frustrations with his Sorriso manager: “My frustration had been the result of youthful exuberance. I was too busy channeling all my energy into a desire to play that I had never stepped back to see the bigger picture. I suppose it was the folly, or the blinkered naivety, of youth. Instead of being bitter I sat back, and let the 11 men entertain me.”
The boy from south Lincolnshire achieved his dream of being a professional footballer in Brazil. He didn’t win the Campeonato Brasiliero Serie A but he did learn an awful lot about himself, Brazil, the game of football and this thing called life. There is a strong sense that the whole experience made him a more rounded individual. The setting may be Brazil but the problems are universal. Although the coda contains a lovely ancestral anecdote and at the opposite end of the spectrum, a tragic update from Sorriso, the book is at its most engaging in the narrator’s portrait of what it is like to exist in that ultra competitive world on the lower rung of professional football. Despite the setting being alien to most of us, essentially the story is of a young man striving to achieve, grow, succeed and mature in this most stressful and on occasions, downright bewildering world.
The Boy in Brazil by Seth Burkett is available to buy from Amazon HERE