'Up Pohnpei' - the inspiring tale of football's ultimate underdogs - is set to be adapted into a documentary film.
Last Updated: 23/02/12 2:54pm
The tagline to the book 'Up Pohnpei' reads: 'A quest to reclaim the soul of football by leading the world's ultimate underdogs to glory'.
This is not an account of one man's aim to drag Accrington Stanley up through the divisions to eventual Champions League glory on Football Manager.
Nor is it a tale of your rag-tag five-a-side team's attempt to win the cup by replicating tiki-taka on your local 3G pitch.
Nevertheless, it's a story that will resonate with every reader who's ever kicked a ball, or dreamed of glory for the team they support.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007, was one day when dreams such as those were shattered. As England fans trudged down Wembley Way after a 3-2 defeat by Croatia, the feeling of disappointment was palpable across the country - and the disconnect from the modern game that many observers feel was wrenched a little further.
For Paul Watson and Matt Conrad - two football-mad flatmates living in London - enough was enough. With England seemingly a lost cause, they pondered a missionary venture to a far-flung corner of the globe where the game would still have a raw beauty, unsullied by complacency and commercialism. Where in the world could they go?
After a trawl through the atlas and Wikipedia, they happened upon the Federated States of Micronesia - a sovereign nation made up of islands in the western Pacific Ocean. After noting that the football team of one of those islands - Pohnpei - had never registered a victory, their fate was sealed. Like its neighbours, Pohnpei was not even listed on the FIFA World Rankings. However, it appeared the island did have a soccer association (even though its website hadn't been updated in about five years) - and then an email came back, setting forth a remarkable chain of events over the next three years.
'Up Pohnpei' is part football journey, part literary travelogue and wholly uplifting. In many ways, the book serves as a powerful counterpoint to the distractions and obsessions that seem to characterise our own Premier League, and our problems at international level. If you've ever felt that maybe we've strayed too far from the path of what's really important about sport, reading about the exploits of Watson and Conrad will restore your faith in football. Here's seven reasons why the book casts out the modern game's deadly sins:
* England fans are being asked to fork out for a new home kit after their heroes played just eight games at Wembley in the current strip. Pohnpei's players had no kit or boots, let alone a sponsor - clubs like Yeovil and Norwich came up trumps with donations.
* Carlos Tevez's blatant disrespect for Roberto Mancini, the fans and his Manchester City employers was one of this season's low points. Watson and Conrad couldn't risk angering those in power in Pohnpei; offending anyone could have meant disaster for their plans.
* Armchair fans, lazy journalists, arrogant players and smug owners - sometimes we need to appreciate more what hard work can bring. Encouraging young men to dedicate themselves to football in a land where 91% of the population is overweight was no easy task for Pohnpei's new coaches.
* Particularly this season, football in England has been beset by tribal warfare, even though it is now conducted more by keyboard warriors than in any aggravated violence on the terraces. Watson and Conrad soon realised any anger vented towards their Pohnpei players when they failed to deliver would be pointless (everyone runs on 'island time' anyway). Patience is a virtue after all, and slowly but surely their attitude improved.
* As stated earlier, Pohnpei were such rank outsiders in world football that they weren't even ranked by FIFA. Once given belief and a structured league, the players flourished and their changing attitudes shine through, in stark contrast to some of the more pampered professionals from these shores.
* Sometimes we can all be guilty of loving our clubs too much, and it's hard to see the bigger picture when our desire for success is so great. That's why the purity of Pohnpei's ambition - to tour nearby Guam, and win - is so refreshing.
* Last November, the Guardian's Secret Footballer column referred to a sledging tactic often employed during matches by Robbie Savage: "Savage was a particular fan of what we in the trade call 'cashing him off', which involves one player telling another how much money he has and how little money they have in comparison." That's what it takes to get an edge on your opponent nowadays - provoking outright envy. In Pohnpei, the motivation to succeed could never be money. A torrential downpour is always on the horizon, and their bobbly pitch is constantly invaded by toads. Only the love of the game would inspire you to play.
Watson has been busy plugging 'Up Pohnpei' - he was recently a guest on Sky Sports' Soccer AM - and it's currently among the top-selling football books in the UK.
But there's another chapter still to be written - and it needs your support. Conrad is a film graduate, and he took hours of video footage during his adventures with Watson in Micronesia. He now hopes to produce and release a documentary called 'The Soccermen' and with such unique source material, it fully deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. Conrad is asking for people who are inspired by the story to pledge money in order to fund post-production, licensing and festival applications, in return for mentions in the film's credits and other rewards.
The documentary trailer shows elements of sports movies we all love, such as Cool Runnings and Bend It Like Beckham, combined with a glimpse into life on the other side of the planet - as true an escapist football tale as you could ever find.
Conrad says: "A percentage of the profits from the film will end up in a fund for Pohnpei Soccer - that's being set up at the moment with our sponsor.
"We just have to get the film made!"
Underdogs over-achieving, true glory and the soul of football itself - they're all still out there, even if you have to go to the ends of the earth to find them.
To find out more information on 'The Soccermen' documentary project and view the trailer, visit the website.