20120206

Up Pohnpei -- how an English football journalist took charge of the world's worst national football team and turned them into winners

SPORTS BOOK OF THE WEEK

Up Pohnpei: A quest to reclaim the soul of football by leading the world's ultimate underdogs to glory

Published by: Profile Books (Hardcover]

What’s it about?


Football journalist Paul Watson and his film-maker pal Matt Conrad decide late one evening in Watson’s London flat to become international footballers, an unlikely ambition for two lads in their early 20s with no professional experience but one they think they can fulfil if they first identify the world‘s worst national team.
Research leads them to Pohnpei, one of a group of islands in the Pacific known as Micronesia, about 1800 miles north of Australia. The team is ranked 220 in the world, its last known result is a 16-1 defeat to Guam, after which the coach quit and the team effectively disbanded.

The idea runs into a snag when they discover they will need to live on the island for five years before they become eligible to play. So they offer instead to become coach and assistant coach, a job which involves not only assembling a new team but establishing an island league so the players can showcase their talents, which in a population of 34,000 with a 90 per cent obesity rate require considerable nurturing.



Matt is offered a career opportunity in Los Angeles and has to leave but Paul, living in a hotel room paid for by the Micronesian Olympic Committee, stays on and somehow fashions a competitive team. In 2010, three years after the idea was born, the Pohnpei state team wins a match for the first time in its history, gaining revenge against Guam by beating their under-19s 7-1. The result sparks celebrations across the island. Paul hands over the coaching duties to the team captain and returns to the UK, feeling he has rediscovered football’s lost soul.

Who is the author?

Paul Watson, born in 1984, grew up in Bristol and counts himself a Bristol City fan, although he now lives in Twickenham. After obtaining a 2:1 in Italian at Leeds University he worked as a journalist for Channel Four’s Football Italia. He is the brother of the comedian, Mark Watson.

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