Football book review: ‘Quote, Unquote – My Top 100 Stories in Football’

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This book from legendary journalist Phillip Micallef covers a self-selection of his best feature articles, interviews and obituaries from the early 1990s right up until his retirement from journalism in 2021.

Micallef’s journalistic output across three decades for News Corp and SBS was matched by very few of his contemporaries, and is now encapsulated through this book which acts as both a career archive and a timely reminder of his legacy.

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It is, as the blurb suggests, a highly subjective overview of Australian and international football within the timeframe of his career. But the end result is an outstanding body of work from a man who was as articulate and deserving as he was, self-admittedly, lucky to experience some of Australian football’s most tumultuous years from within, as well as having to privilege to interview some of the best to ever play the sport.

Micallef’s unwavering passion for the world game is demonstrated in articles ranging as wide as his searing attack on the Socceroos’ playing style during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, his one-on-one with Diego Maradona, hearing the then-suspended Argentine’s plea to FIFA not to let the game die, and upsetting Cristiano Ronaldo fans all of the world with his extensive opinion on why Lionel Messi is the greatest of all-time.

However, he does provide those fans with some consolation, dubbing CR7 the “greatest goal machine in history,” in a much longer article which unpacks the statistics and career accolades which provide substantive evidence for the opposite argument, and the ones that have inflamed the classic schoolboy debate for the best part of a decade.

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Micallef’s work often reads as critical, opinionated and occasionally harsh but always with the best interests of the game at heart, backing up even his most contentious of opinions with meticulous research and a wholehearted argument.

The best example of this is upon his questioning of the A-League’s quality back in 2009, pointing to the clubs’ underperformance in the AFC Champions League as well as the Socceroos loss to China as indicators to the state of the game at the time. It is ultimately this level of critical inquiry and analysis in his work which is sorely missing from a lot of sports journalism today.

But perhaps the greatest reward from this book is not only Micallef’s untainted passion for the game communicated, and communicated well, but seeing have fun through clever wordplay and being able to imagine him bursting at the seams upon being able to write and interview a legend in Pele.

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However, this level of depth and attention to detail in his stories does work against the book to some extent, for either casual fans or ones that do not possess a high level of prior knowledge on the issues discussed.

Despite the overall length of the book not being too long (just shy of 200 pages), the sheer length of each individual story makes it difficult to consume in one sitting, particularly due to the depth and array of perspectives undertaken.

Thankfully, the cover makes it very clear to exactly who this book would appeal to – fellow journalists and true admirers of the game, as this highly rewarding nostalgic journey calls for nothing else.

4.5/5 stars.

Feature image credit: Fair Play Publishing

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Jimmy Alexander
Covering Sydney FC for the 2021/22 A-League season. Studying a Bachelor of Sports Media (Journalism) at Charles Sturt University.

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