Last week, Reading the Game went Down Under as we examined a history of Australia’s National Soccer League. Continuing the international theme, today we look at Titans of the Teardrop Isle by Seth Burkett.
I came to Titans of the Teardrop Isle with a certain knowledge of the story; Seth Burkett had written a column for the Non-League Paper which he’d filed regularly during his time with the Trinco Titans, the Sri Lankan football club owned by cricketers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.
Burkett ended up travelling to Sri Lanka without much knowledge of the club he was joining or the North Eastern Premier League in which they were playing; he’d become aware of the opportunity to play there by answering a tweet.
Now, the author did have a certain pedigree with the ball at his feet. He’d played non-league football for Stamford and March Town United, futsal for Loughborough United, London United and Baku United and received an England call-up in the small-sided game. In addition, as he wrote in a previous book – The Boy in Brazil – Burkett had briefly played professionally in South America.
It would be fair to say that his previous experiences only partially prepared our hero for what happened next. Pretty much everything about the North Eastern Premier League was the opposite of what someone like me – steeped in the English non-League game with its rigid rules and timelines – would expect. Start and end dates come and go, while some of the match venues described by Burkett would give the FA’s Ground Graders the screaming ab-dabs.
But the laid-back Sri Lankan life generally seems to suit the author, who arrived on the island determined to embrace the experience. As he throws himself into his work, Burkett comes to form strong bonds with his team-mates, learn about the complex politics of Sri Lanka and (eventually) play some football.
Titans of the Teardrop Isle is a terrific memoir of what must have been a spectacular adventure. But, like so many of the titles I’ve reviewed in this space, it is more than just a book about football and more than just a memoir. It’s a well-paced tale, warmly told and Burkett’s Titans team-mates come across as almost universally likeable, while even those with whom there is tension show themselves to be fundamentally decent humans.
Furthermore, this book gave me a little insight into how Sri Lanka and its people were seeking to rebuild relationships and their nation after more than a quarter-century of conflict. I was dimly aware of the Civil War there, which only ended in 2009 and had worked with Sri Lankans who had made new lives for themselves in the UK, but it wasn’t (and isn’t) something I know a huge amount about. Titans of the Teardrop Isle doesn’t seek to change that, but it does paint a wonderful picture of a place looking to move forward and of a hugely welcoming people.
Like Tears at La Bombanera, Titans of the Teardrop Isle is a wanderer’s tale and I read it with a degree of envy; as a forty-something father-of-three with no discernible ability to play football, I couldn’t do what Seth Burkett did. However, having read this book, I’m very glad he was able to!
Titans of the Teardrop Isle is published by Floodlit Dreams who, at the time of writing, have copies available for half-price at their website. In my opinion, that would be £4.99 very well spent.