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Who would you invite to your football fantasy dinner?

Choosing the desert island disc you would like with you upon finding yourself shipwrecked on a remote island is a difficult thing.

 

It was a popular hypothetical back in the nineties.

 

Tough to choose between U2’s The Joshua Tree, Buffalo Tom’s Let Me Come Over or The Best of Bruce Springsteen.

 

In much the same vein, a dream dinner party guest list became a ‘thing’ some years back and something of an interesting exercise. Recently, applying it in a football context tweaked my interest.

 

Reflecting on the small handful of players or football personalities with whom I would like to share a meal and conversation was a fascinating exercise and my choices might surprise. The list of candidates is immense.

 

Names like Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona automatically spring to mind, however my selections stem from both personal memories and an interest developed in individuals through documentaries and research.

 

Guest No 1 Matthew Le Tissier

 

Watching the loyal Southampton midfielder bamboozle opponents with a dexterity of skill well beyond the level of most of his contemporaries, is still a vivid memory from my youth.

 

Blessed with freakish skill, Le Tissier managed 161 goals in his 17-year career for the Saints and despite earning eight caps for England, I can’t help think how many more this could have been.

 

Playing in a more powerful and influential club would surely have provided the man from Guernsey with more international representation.

 

In a team annually fighting relegation, Le Tissier produced numerous miraculous escapes to keep his beloved Saints in the top flight. The first midfielder to score 100 goals in the Premier League, the forty year old would earn a spot at my football fantasy table.

 

Guest No 2 George Best

 

I’m imagining George would receive endless requests if people were to send out invites to a dinner such as this. Potentially the most gregarious and unpredictable player to ever lace a boot, Best captured all that is glorious and utterly disgraceful when it comes to life as a modern sportsperson.

 

The Northern Irish international grew from a charming and timid teenager, blessed with freakish talent into a binge drinking, depressed and washed up professional footballer, employed as a gun for hire by cashed up NSL clubs in the USA.

 

It was a far cry from his glory days at Manchester United where he scored 137 goals and quite frankly, made people look silly. Such was his artistry and audacity.

 

It was a tragic decline, as was his failing health in subsequent years. The stories that Best could tell of his drinking, womanising and ill-disciplined career could make an open minded person blush.

 

He lived and played football as it should be, yet the boundaries became hazy and the adoration and attention built immense pressure. A pressure that ultimately saw him lose control over a lifestyle that falsely promised satisfaction, when in fact, it was a way of life that would eventually kill him.

 

Sitting and laughing with George Best could potentially be one of the most enjoyable experiences possible for a football fan.

 

Guest No.3 Ferenc Puskas

 

The term legend is bandied around far too freely in modern life and it should be reserved for the elite, those whose achievements change the way we think about their field of endeavour.

 

Puskas was such a figure and his legacy burns as bright today as it ever has.

 

Playing his early football in an unstable political environment, his skill and goal scoring prowess was clear. As something of a child prodigy, his early football was played at Kispest, a Club bound to be overtaken and renamed by the Hungarian military when Puskas was still only twenty two.

 

The subsequent military titles given to the players led to his moniker of ‘the galloping major’ as he racked up four golden boot titles through the late forties and early fifties.

 

1956 caused turmoil in his life. After three hundred and fifty two goals for his now renamed Budapest Honved, the outbreak of the Hungarian revolution saw Puskas refuse to re-enter Hungary and his Real Madrid career begin.

 

A grand total of five hundred and eight goals in five hundred and twenty one games sees me shake my head as I type. To be granted permission to re-enter Hungary after 38 years must have surely moved Puskas.

 

After a managerial career where he traipsed the globe, even arriving on our shores with South Melbourne Hellas, Puskas returned to his homeland where he mentored the national team.

 

Whether the conversation be political, technical or colloquial, the Hungarian legend would have a story or two to tell.

 

Guest No 4 Johnny Warren

 

It seems fitting to have Captain Socceroo along, particularly with the recent passing of his great friend Les Murray. Watching Murray look to the heavens on that famous night when Australia reclaimed their place on the World Cup stage, in conversation with his old friend, is still a touching sight.

 

I would love to have sat and spoke with Warren. The prophetic line ‘I told you so’ could be unpacked with even more vigour after Australia’s move into Asia, something for which Warren advocated strongly and consistently.

 

Even more meaningful than the 24 occasions on which Warren led the national team, are the authorship of a certain ‘incomplete biography’ and the relentless passion and promotion of the game in a country, not always open to its growth.

 

Warren presented a genuine anger and frustration at the portrayal of football in Australia and listening to his struggles and stories from his early career with Canterbury-Marrickville Olympic all the way through to his media work which saw he and Murray become the faces of Australian football, would be an experience to treasure.

 

I’m thinking roast duck with a red wine jus, matched with Saddlers Creek Bluegrass Shiraz. For dessert, nothing could top a little strawberry and champagne soup. Not sure how we would all do with the accents and age barriers but it would be a heck of a meal for a football fan.
By the way, I’d probably go with Springsteen.

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