Having spent thousands of hours watching football, I have spent a fair few days reading about it too – not just in newspapers, or online, but books too. Not all hit the spot – Shaun Goater’s autobiography or that of Jeff Stelling were entertaining enough, but hardly classics. Listed below are my top ten football books, in no particular order, a varied bunch of reads. With thousands more available, it is just the tip of the iceberg, but the books show that there is much more to the sport than kicking a football around a piece of grass.
A Season With Verona – Tim Parks
Less a football book, than a social commentary on a whole nation paired with a travelogue, the book’s title pretty much says it all. Tim Parks was born in Manchester, moving permanently to Italy in 1980. The book follows Parks’ attempts to attend every game in Verona’s epic 2000-2001 Season in Serie A. During it, we see much of what defines the country, and its football fans, with anecdotes that will be familiar to anyone who follows the beautiful (and often not-so-beautiful) game.
“Addictive reading…each chapter is a short story, the whole book an epic.” The Observer
“A fascinating emotional journey…his descriptions of Italian football are descriptions of Italy itself, its regional differences, its squabbles, its distinctive temper.” The Daily Telegraph.
The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro – Joe McGinniss
The first season spent in the dizzy heights of Serie B, in their entire history, by Castel Di Sangro is shared by American writer Joe McGinniss in what becomes an increasingly fascinating read. McGinniss spends the entire 1996/97 season in the small hamlet of Castel Di Sangro.
The book starts with some reservations, as McGinniss explains in simple terms the rules of football, and you soon realise that (understandably) the book is aimed at an American audience. However, it is written with great warmth and attention, and more importantly, fate supplies the author a staggering story that no Hollywood scriptwriter could have dreamt of, building to a sensational end to a season full of highs and lows, and a fair amount of tragedy too.
Paul Lake – I’m Not Really Here
This goes on the list with no bias from me – whilst it is fair to say there is more to be gained from this book for Manchester City fans, I would strongly argue that any football fan should give it a go. Thinking of all the turgid autobiographies I have read in my time, it is rare to see a footballer’s autobiography written so well, with such emotion, and humour. Co-written with his wife Joanne, it is a must-read, dealing not only with football but with the depths a man can sink to when his life is ripped apart – it shows a side of football we rarely see, and the last line of the book still brings a lump to my throat.
Read my full review here: https://www.footballfancast.com/2011/08/football-blogs/book-review-paul-lake-autobiography-im-not-really-here
Why England Lose: And Other Curious Phenomena– Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
I recently took this book on holiday, and it mysteriously kept disappearing, such was the fascination at what it had to say amongst my friends. A superb read that details various statistical anomalies within football, without ever getting boring, such as:
“Why do England lose?”
“Why do Newcastle United always buy the wrong players?”
“How could Nottingham Forest go from winning the European Cup to the depths of League One?”
“Penalties – what are they good for?”
Why England Lose isn’t in the first place about money. It’s about looking at data in new ways. A prizewinning writer and a leading sports economist have come together to present the sport in a new light, from new angles. The book’s scope is wide – from racism, to the mistakes of the transfer market, to how city size reflects club glory, or which country loves football the most. A great read, as are Kuper’s other books on football.
Inverting The Pyramid – Jonathan Wilson
A definitive football book. It can be a dry read at times, but Jonathan Wilson’s look at basically the history of football, and how the sport was spread and tactics evolved around the globe is a fascinating read. He shows how countries shaped their own methods and styles, looking at how teams lined up in some of the key games in the sport’s history, all leading to the tactical variations used in the present day.
“A fascinating history of tactics, a book that is guaranteed to enhance your football watching: your team may still lose, but you’ll have a far better idea why they did.” The Independent on Sunday
You are the Ref: The Ultimate Illustrated Guide to the Laws of Football: Keith Hackett & Paul Trevillion
A book that reaffirms how ignorant I am about parts of the sport I love.
It’s a penalty to the away side. Just as the kick is about to be taken, the home side’s official mascot suddenly jumps up behind the net, dancing. The penalty-taker misses and turns to you in outrage. What do you do?
You are the Ref is the cult classic comic strip from legendary Roy of the Rovers artist Paul Trevillion – if you’r eone of the few people not to have stumbled across the strip, it puts you in the spotlight and asks the question: what would you decide?
Written by former international referee Keith Hackett, and brilliantly illustrated by the aforementioned Trevillion, it is the perfect book to test your knowledge of the laws of the game, great for dipping in and out of, with added profiles of some of the game’s biggest names. You’ll be amazed as much at what you didn’t know as what you did.
Add plenty of extra trivia and a top ten spot is guaranteed.
Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino: by Tony Cascarino
One of only two autobiographies on the list, it is not a surprising choice, often listed as one of the best.
The book was received so well due to the searing honesty of Cascarino – he does not hold back on admitting his thoughts, and his many mistakes. It is well-written too of course, as it was put together (I.e. ghost-written) by award-winning Irish journalist Paul Kimmage, written in a style akin to a thriller by slowly revealing details.
Cascarino reveals all – he talks of his gambling, and his worship of Jack Charlton, and hatred of Glenn Hoddle. He talks of his crippling self-doubt, and of taking unknown medicines whilst at Marseille. And then there was his international career…
The Guardian said, “Compared with the standard-issue footballer’s autobiography, this is Tolstoy.” Perhaps not quite, but it’s brilliant storytelling, and gives a shockingly honest portrait of one footballer and his world.
Continued on Page THREE
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
Fever Pitch is both an autobiography and a footballing bible rolled into one, winning the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 1992.
Everyone knows about the book, so little needs to be said – but it makes the list because quite simply Hornby is an excellent writer – any football fan could associate with his stories of what the game meant to him, how it affected the rest of his life, from work to personal relationships, and how it shaped who he was. His story of growing up in a world that revolved around football is a familiar one for millions of us, and the climax to the story reminds us why we do what we do.
Broken Dreams: Tom Bower
Another one from the archives.
Broken Dreams is Bower’s controversial account of how some of the sport’s most high-profile managers and chairmen have been getting their snouts in the trough at the expense of their clubs and the game.
Focussing on the likes of Terry Venables, Brian Clough, Ken Bates and Harry Redknapp–and a huge cast of FA officials, club bigwigs and super-agents–Bower draws together threads from existing sources, with newly acquired information from over 200 interviews, weaving a compelling tale of vanity, greed and corruption at the heart of the football establishment.
The book is a real eye-opener, raising serious doubts over the characters of many of the nation’s most famous footballing names. We read of missing money in Redknapp transfer deals, Ken Bates’ disastrous business decisions and Terry Venables’ even worse business dealings. But there’s lots more about the murkier side of the sport, of what goes on behind the scenes, the extent to which money tarnishes the actions of those that run the game and our clubs, the bungs, the missing money – and even to this day much of what it has to say is relevant. Little has changed.
Another William Hill Sports Book of the Year, in 2003.
Football Grounds of England – Simon Inglis
Does what it says on the cover – lots of pictures of football grounds, and how they developed (though not up to date by many a year). What’s not to like?
What else should be on the list?