In November 1985, the troubled streets of Belfast are torn up by rioting yet again. In amongst the angry mob, we find nine year old Tommy, nonchalantly dribbling a ball through the insanity. Whilst politicians argue over the peace process, there’s only one thing on young Tommy’s football-mad mind – the forthcoming World Cup, where Northern Ireland will take on Brazil. For the South American giants it’s just another step on the path to inevitable global domination, yet for Northern Ireland, and young Tommy, it’s the biggest game of their lives. They are two countries that couldn’t seem further apart: Northern Ireland, with its Orange men and Republican curbstones, the Rev’d Ian Paisley and Fergal Sharkey; and Brazil with its carnival, its Samba, with Pelé and the ‘beautiful game’. On the football field, eccentric Northern Ireland coach Billy Bingham (they call him Mr FIFA – “a fee for this and a fee for that”) must plug together a bunch of misfits and third divisioners. Brazil are led by none other than the philosopher-captain (Dr.) Sócrates, who has, in part, inspired the collapse of his country’s ruthless military junta, and they are the hot favourites to scoop up football’s ultimate prize. As bunting replaces bombs on the streets of Belfast, and Catholic and Protestants alike turn their attention to the big match, Tommy’s dockworker turned philosopher father Arthur uses his son’s passion for football to enlighten him on the events that make up his chaotic world. The story interweaves young Tommy’s coming of age tale with the trials and travails of the hapless Northern Irish team over the nine months leading up to their ultimate game, in the stifling heat of Mexico at the world’s greatest festival of football. As the hours tick down to the ultimate battle, with his lead striker crocked, Bingham is forced to place his faith in young rookie, Davey Campbell – “the next George Best”. Back home, Tommy waits anxiously for the biggest day of his life – because the day of the match is also his tenth birthday – and his father has promised to take him to the “top of the World” – the massive crane at Belfast Docks where Arthur works. From here he can see the whole of his world, but can he understand the lessons his father, inspired by the Greek philosopher Socrates, is trying to teach him? This is a story of two nations, two teams, and a father and a son, the things that divide them and the things that unite us all. Set against the backdrop of the 1986 World Cup and the sociopolitical backgrounds of both nations – this is the story of the world’s smallest footballing nation, taking on its best. With laughter and passion, this is the ultimate story of the beautiful game and what it means. —Anonymous
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