Review of Lawyer's book: '23 Sweet FAs' by Andy Sloan


“If you expect the unexpected, sport an open mind and a welcoming smile you will be amazed by the adventures and the “luck” that comes your way” writes City solicitor Andy Sloan.  His adventure took place the year he left university, when he borrowed a few thousand pounds, gleaned a football table from a friend's flat, generously donated for one last adventure before retirement and set off overland around the world to watch the World Cup in Japan. He also wrote to the Football Association of every country he would pass through, asking to play table football on the pitch of the national stadium. His funny, engaging book charts his ride on the wave of goodwill which arises from anything associated with football during a World Cup year.


Andy, the table and Everest



Goodwill was one element in his surprising success, but so was Sloan and his associates’ cunning.  For me, the excitement of the story comes not from the football, but from following the gang’s increasing confidence and success - they begin as naïve rookies, perfecting their patter to gain entry to French provincial stadiums, but by the end they can demonstrate a masterclass in blagging, deciding at each stage of their quest whether to strategically appear as amateurs or professionals.  They have the choice of both, as on the one hand they are recent graduates going overland to Japan with a football table, on the other they are performers in an increasingly media-saturated environment, proudly toting a “broadcast-quality camera” alongside their iconic table.  And off they go, appearing as enthusiastic amateurs in Europe, appearing as professionals in Asia, and running past security guards on to the pitch where both these tactics fail.  


While Sloan’s encyclopaedic stock of quotations and potted histories punctuates his polished retellings of his run-ins with authority, his infectious enthusiasm gets the reader through the periods where the throb of narrative life dims.  On one occasion he relates how a moment of disappointment was ‘saved by a delightful patisserie. Several current buns and a sandwich later, all of life’s little problems were resolved’, which made me sigh, and flick to check how many pages were left, and discover there were 280.




Sloan and his entourage are fully embraced by the mania for football in Japan and Korea, which exposes them to a brief frenzy of coverage on worldwide television networks and in newspapers.


By this stage, media-savvy and polished, they are able to play their situation for all its worth.  They experience several brushes with stars, culminating in an audience with Pélé, and gaining what seems like a deluge of complimentary tickets to World Cup matches.  The dream-ending for the book would have been victory for England in the World Cup.  In 2002, as this year, the press predicted glory.  Yes, and in 1919, meteorologist Albert Porta predicted that an alignment of six planets would create a magnetic current so great that the sun would explode and engulf the earth.  That didn’t happen either.  “I remember it as if it were yesterday”, writes the doleful Sloan of England’s defeat by Brazil.


Not quite Pélé


Yet for some reason the book’s most compelling chapter is not the World Cup final, or England’s defeat by Brazil, it is the Iran v Iraq match. Here, the pages convey an electric tension as “the pure, white shirts of the home side streamed forward but every move lacked the killer punch”. Killer punch is right – the Iraqi away-side was at the time managed by Uday Hussein, and defeat really could have meant death for the players. Oddly, the England matches are described in a more perfunctory way, and the World Cup final itself is despatched in a few lines.


I was also left curious about Sloan’s bruising experiences with journalists – a slight edge of rancour creeps into the normally bluff authorial voice when he and the table enter the media churn of the press-rooms and players’ hotels of Korea and Japan. Words which came readily to the author before, such as “awe-inspiring” and “sensational” are replaced by words like “rat-race full of egos” and “baptism of fire”, and I wanted to know why.


But dwelling on the negative does not seem to be in Sloan’s nature. The message of the book is, rather, summarised by the quotation from Goethe inside the cover: “Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic”.  Though the newspapers at the time wrote about the brushes with celebrity to which the table was a passport, the message the book conveys is that determination and pursuit of a goal is its own reward:


“The table football quest had been hailed as “brilliant”  “a stroke of genius” and “a great idea” during the course of our journey.  Yet it was simply a drunken moment.  The only “brilliance” came from the fact that we had carried it out.  That was it”.


And that’s why I found myself so fervently on the side of the table’s stewards – not because I have any great interest in whether some guys can see some World Cup matches or set up a football table on expensively-manicured pitches before a security guard runs over and tries to throttle them, but because of what they proved by trying to do so.  


During Sloan’s adventure, the most daunting of logistical challenges were faced and overcome by persistence and positivity, and this overriding message makes 23 Sweet FAs a funny, unexpectedly inspiring book.


23 Sweet FAs is available on Amazon (click here). And you can see Andy's website here.


Andy is curently a lawyer at Lovells.  This review was penned by an A&O trainee.


Monks playing table footy in Laos

If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.


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