Recommended Reading

books

Here’s a list of books I have read over my almost 20 years of following football.  I have forgotten some I’m sure but this is a good start.  Another good source is EPL Talk’s Ultimate Guide to Football Books.  I’m slowly working my way through it.  Enjoy.

Books below are alphabetized by author’s last name.

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The Soccer Diaries: An American’s Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game, Michael Agovino

I loved this book, which starts with a boy’s first game, a World All-Star Game at the old Meadowlands. As the author ran through the rosters, it’s remarkable that this game was played in the United States 35 years ago. From there it’s the drips and drabs of soccer that American fans searched for until the internet and sports channels flooded the market.

I found myself nodding along as the author searched out the beautiful game, either in games near and far or games on TV (which were extremely rare in the 80s and early 90s). It’s here that the book really spoke to me as I found the game later in life and would search bars and bookstores and catalogs for anything that would add to my knowledge of the game.

The book is similar to Fever Pitch in that it covers a long period of time in short little bursts and explores how one fan’s life changes through the years. However it doesn’t focus on one particular team and is not as dark and brooding and introspective as Hornby’s work and the author gives numerous examples of the fellowship to be found in soccer. I have traveled to matches, I have written and podded about matches, and I have met so many great people along the way. In the same Agovino spends time mentioning the many friendships he has developed over the years.

The author brings different perspectives as a fan and writer. Clubs and national teams coming to America for a quick payday, Swiss club teams struggling to find success and relevance, MLS searching for an identity, the fever and passion and joy and disappointments that go into each World Cup. The game has changed a great deal, both at home and abroad, in the last 30 years and the book explores this.

This is the book I would write if a) I could write as well, b) I had as many interesting stories and c) I had the time. If you follow the beautiful game at all, read this book. If you have fallen out of love with soccer read this book.

Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King, Philippe Auclair

Philippe Auclair’s book is simply stunning.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Part football history, part social commentary, part psychology—all amazing.  Philippe’s narrative examines Cantona’s life in total, looking forwards and backwards, while moving through his achievements and failures.  I learned so much about French Football history and the rise of United at the dawn of the Premiership and about the player’s motives and actions.  Couldn’t put it down and can’t wait to read it again.

Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football, Phil Ball

Phil Ball examines the complicated world of Spanish Football, which goes just beyond the games on the field.  The book is not comprehensive but gives snippets of the cultural, political and sporting influences on this league.  A must read for La Liga fans, he has released an updated version.

White Storm: The Story of Real Madrid, Phil Ball

Real Madrid is one of the most storied clubs in world football, and their history is full of ups and downs, heroes and villains, tragedy and triumph, which Phil recounts in this book.  An expansion of the chapter in Morbo, this is a rich book about Los Merengues.

Stillness and Speed: My Story, Dennis Bergkamp

Dennis Bergkamp went under my radar for a long time.  Only now am I getting a sense of how amazing he was.  Yes I saw the goal against Argentina and the goal against Newcastle and the incredible control against Leicester.  But recently I have seen several other examples of control and finishing and the ability to create for his teammates.  Bergkamp was a gifted player that slotted in at Arsenal and raised the level of the Gunners, allowing them to push several versions Manchester United from 1997 to 2004 and the book, Stillness and Speed: My Story, focuses on this a great deal.

Bergkamp’s books is unusual in that it is not a straightforward recap of the Dutchman’s career—born, played at Ajax, moved to Inter, transferred to Arsenal, retired.  Bergkamp, along with David Winner, explains all of these checkpoints but uses a series of interviews with key people in each of those stages to unpack the events.  The style takes getting used to yet it allows for the subjects to share their thoughts in long responses instead of summarizing and merely recounting history.  The result creates a context and aura for a very special player.

Yes, the player had success at Ajax and struggled at Inter, but at Arsenal, there was a fusion of desire and technique that created a historic era at the club.  Bergkamp and Winner do a wonderful job of framing a situation and letting Bergkamp share his thoughts, along with other participants to give a deeper understanding.  This is where the book shines.

In the end, three things stuck out to me after reading this book: Bergkamp was held in high esteem by his teammates, especially at Arsenal and especially Thierry Henry; his pursuit of perfection was relentless; and Ajax is a unique club with a history and culture different than many of the clubs I have read about.

This book is well worth reading if you love Bergkamp or Arsenal, but it is really worth it for the artistic beauty of soccer, of a game that can transcend mere sport.

Africa United, Steve Bloomfield

I picked up this book after taking an online class in the summer of 2013, The Culture of Soccer.  One of the sessions in the class was on the 2010 World Cup, hosted by South Africa.  This book was a nice supplement to those readings, as it went beyond South Africa and gave a snapshot of a dozen other African nations.

The book is an easy read as the author guides the reader through several countries, sometimes relating events in chronological order, sometimes not, sometimes inserting anecdotes and personal tidbits, while at other times letting the events speak for themselves.  Each country is the same but different.  All have issues in terms of government, ethnic divides, and political conflict, yet each country arrived at these circumstances in different ways and has addressed issues with a multitude of solutions.

Sometimes soccer mirrors the situation in a country while in other circumstances, it offers hope to the people, with the Ivory Coast being the best example.  The soccer is in these countries also covers an entire spectrum of strength and success and financial backing.  These leagues and national teams do not have what many countries have and I want to say it’s a miracle that they compete but that seems like hyperbole.  Bloomfield relates time after time that players sacrifice so much to play the game and most times are happy just to have a chance to compete.

The book is worth reading if only to remind people like myself who complain and want more and remain unsatisfied that this is only a game and the situation could be much worse.

Among the Thugs, Bill Buford

I borrowed this book from a friend in high school, and it terrified me.  Buford gives a first hand account of English hooliganism, and it’s not pretty.  It was hard for me to even comprehend the actions of a mob mentality, but engrossing nonetheless.

Barca: A People’s Passion, Jimmy Burns

I recently re-read this book and really enjoyed it this time around.  As I learn more about the club, I am to piece the long history together, and Burns does a good job identifying the themes of the club–early growing pains, repression under Franco and the battle between footballing success and financial viability.  Using key figures in the club, both players and presidents, the history unfolds, ending just after the centenary celebrations in 1999.  Burns uses the last chapter to reflect on the previous 100 years while setting the stage for the future of the club.

La Roja, Jimmy Burns

Jimmy Burns traces the history of Spanish soccer through a series of vignettes that explore the stories, politics and key figures of the game.  I really enjoyed the short chapter style, with each section focusing on an aspect of the sport’s history, from the formation of teams via the British to the emergence of a fledging National Team to the establishment of La Primera in 1928.  From there, the events of the Civil War shaped the development of the country and the game, producing the great Real Madrid teams of the 50’s and a National Team of nearly men, excluding 1964.  The epilogues wraps things up nicely as Jimmy defines the evolution of La Roja to true bullfighters:

Both involved practitioners of relatively small stature who were able to use their skill, courage, and creativity to reduce a much great physical force.  These were poets in motion, as much as they were warriors.

Black and Blue: How Racism, Drugs and Cancer Almost Destroyed Me, Paul Canoville

I am not a Chelsea fan and this was a player before my time, but an opportunity was presented to me with a chance to interview Paul Canoville for the SoccerNomad podcast so I picked up a copy.

The book recounts Paul’s difficult childhood, which included a difficult relationship with his mother and the absence of a father. Unfortunately he had run-ins with the law as he sought his way in the world and was homeless for a time. In terms of football he played on local teams, which meant he arrived at Stamford Bridge unfamiliar with the schoolboy structures and ways that help youths transition to the first team. His time at Chelsea was a mixed bag and while he never hit the heights, he had several memorable moments. After his playing career he wrestled with internal demons, and these further strained his relationships and finances. On top of all of this was a fight with cancer.

Paul reflects on his youth, the racial abuse he suffered at Chelsea, his drug addiction and his battle with cancer with candor. He doesn’t pull punches about his motivations as a younger man and acknowledges the consequences of his choices. He came out on the other side clean and focused and now works as a force for good, sharing his story with youth. His foundation allows him to interact with children in order to stress the importance of education and making good choices.

The book was a great chance to learn more about the history of football and also hear a story of personal redemption.

Bloody Confused!: A Clueless American Sportswriter Seeks Solace in English Soccer, Chuck Culpepper

Veteran American sportswriter Chuck Culpepper flees the States and leagues full of drugs, entitlement, money and bravado and ends up in England, where he encounters the English Premier League.  The EPL is one of the biggest leagues in the world, with its own history and language and culture (and own drugs, entitlement , money and bravado).  Searching for a team to follow, he comes across Portsmouth FC, led by ‘Arry and a blue bear, and a team full of players trying to survive for another year.  Expecting a tension filled relegation, Chuck travels up and down the country and experiences Pompey’s most successful season for over 50 years, a campaign that ends with “one goal from Europe.”  The book is entertaining, informative and engaging, illuminating that sport is sport no matter the locale.

22 Foreigners Running Around in Funny Shorts, Pete Davies

One of the first soccer books I ever read, Davies breaks down positions and gives a brief breakdown of tactics.  The best part was following Kasey Keller’s progress at Millwall in the early 90’s.

Juventus: A History in Black and White, Adam Digby

Juventus is one of the most storied clubs in Italy and author Adam Digby does a wonderful job tracing the history of the club.

Starting with the early days of Italian football as it moved from regional leagues to a unified national league to the first period of success for Juvenuts during the 30’s, Digby recounts how the club rose again due to the emergence of the devastating strike force of Charles, Sivori and Boniperti and soared still further under the management of Trapattoni in the 70’s and 80’s. The 90’s saw another golden period which came to a crushing end due to Calciopoli before the Old Lady returned to the top with a new generation of players and the intensity of Conte.

Digby highlights the key protagonists in the club’s history, illustrating how their arrival, performance and demeanor helped shape the club. Things didn’t always go well for the club on the field or in the boardroom and Digby addresses these times. Whenever La Madama struggled a new hero would arise to help lead the team to success and maintain the Juventus spirit.

Digby is a lifelong Juventino and his passion comes through int he book, so it is not an absolutely objective account, but I consider it a strength and the book is a great introduction to the club and I recommend it if you want to learn about one of greats of world football and some critical moments in Italian football history.

Dynamo: Triumph and Tragedy in Nazi Occupied Kiev, Andy Dougan

Dougan’s book is inspiring and heart-wrenching.  This well written account is summed up in the title: Triumph and Tragedy.

The rise of Dynamo Kiev, founded in 1927, was cut short by Hitler’s swift and brutal attacks into the Soviet Union during World War II.  In June 1941 his forces began their assault and by September, the city had fallen.  Some of the players from the Dynamo Kiev team stayed in the capital for various reasons and eventually reassembled at Bakery No. 3 under the generosity of Joseph Kordik.

As the Germans tried to assuage the occupied Ukranians, sport become one of their tokens of generosity.  Together with players from competitors Lokomotiv, FC Start was formed and the squad played a series of games in the summer of 1942.  FC Start won every single match, and their fixture list culminated in two matches against German troops.  After winning the first match, a second game was scheduled, in which everything was against them—confronted by a SS officer before the match and at halftime; fresher, fitter players; a biased referee; and brutal tactics.  FC Start won again, but the result set off a chain reaction, with the book wrapping up with the different circumstances each player faced after this extraordinary event.

The World is a Ball, John Doyle

John Doyle’s The World is a Ball recaps the journalist’s experiences during the World Cups of 2002, 2006, and 2010 and also the European Championships of 2004 and 2008.  His take on these events is a mixture of match reports, match day atmosphere and personal philosophy, and this point of view created a quite entertaining, informative and thought provoking look back at these tournaments.

Reading the author’s memories of the games made me want to search out the highlights of these matches and tournaments because he was adding an additional layer of context that went beyond the mere result.  While key points of the match were addressed, Doyle shared the build up to the game, the moment of tension, and the hours after, and sometimes elaborated on the impact that echoed days, months and even years after.

He also shared some very personal memories in and around the venues as he interacted with supporters of countries from all over the world.  Despite the possible conflict on the field, fans inevitably shared in the unifying aspects of the game.  Doyle also allowed readers access into the life of a journalist, from the grinding travel schedules to getting credentials to dealing with letting emotion seep into coverage.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book about the game and, more importantly, the ambiance that is created around major tournaments.  His accounts in the stadiums, amongst the swirling madness on the ground, and en route to and from Canada were enjoyable and made me re-think how I write.

Soccer Empire, Laurent Dubois

A fascinating and far flung analysis of French History in terms of politics and football. Dubois looked at the events that led to the magical run of the 1998 World Cup team on home soil and how the promised multi-cultural revolution never came.  Very academic book that required concentration and some knowledge of world history.

Calcio: A History of Italian Football, John Foot

It was a very informative read on the beginnings of organized Italian football and the transition of power from Bologna and Genoa to the big three.  I didn’t realize Roman teams had not been very successful.  The author went out to pick out key players throughout the history of the league before moving to the violence that has been a nagging problem over the years.  He also examined the nature of oriundi in Italian clubs and the national team.

Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano

One of my favorite books for a number of reasons.  Short, easy to get through and revealing stories of famous, infamous, and unknown moments in world football.  Some of the insights are simply mind blowing.  Highly recommend this.

The Simplest Game, Paul Gardner

A precursor to Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid, this book goes through the history of football and the resulting tactics.  Very straightforward with little embellishment, it is still quite good.

Sounders FC: Authentic Masterpiece, Mike Gastineau

Ahead of the kickoff of Atlanta United, I checked out this book and I’m so glad I did. Gastineau does a wonderful job taking the key movers and shakers and weaving their stories together. From supporters to players to media to management to ownership, he provides context for the evolution of the team from the old NASL to the kickoff of the first game in 2009.

Beyond that he analyses the importance of a balanced and effective management team with a shared vision towards a goal and the tricky concept of team dynamics, which are dependent on the attitude of the stars and presence and contribution of “glue guys”. As with every success story there is a lot of hard work and desire combined with some luck and fortuitous timing, and Gastineau reflects on all of these.

A fascinating and informative read, well worth picking up.

The Ball is Round, David Goldblatt

Footy fans, I probably wouldn’t start with this book, but at some point, if you have passion for the game, it must be read.  Goldblatt does an amazing job tracing the development of the game and how football has impacted politics and cultural and vice versa.  The scope and depth of the book are truly remarkable as he dives into the nature of the game and how it has developed throughout history.

Reading this book I realized several things: one, how much I don’t know about the game; two, how much I don’t know about political systems; and three just how much the game has influenced the world. His thoughts and research are organized by region and time period and each chapter contextualizes a particular moment in time while giving the reader a sense of how everything is tied together.

The book is daunting, 900 pages, and will need to read again and again and again to really understand how ingrained the game is in human history, but once I read the last page I felt a real sense of accomplishment and am glad that I took time to make it all the way through.

Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby’s entertaining and mildly disturbing tale of fandom is a must read for any football supporter.  Being at the stadium, having your ear to the ground, supporting the club with your voice and wallet, these things all matter.  And the payoff?  When it happens, especially in the tortured and dramatic way it did for Arsenal in 1989, well it’s beyond words.

Reading this book helped me to articulate where I am as a fan.  Never as passionate as Hornby, his memoir combined with stats and analysis from Soccernomics allowed me to write a two part (part 1  part 2)post on my future as a football supporter.

Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, Graham Hunter

FC Barcelona won their fourth European Cup in May of 2011, their third title in six years, and Graham Hunter establishes the foundations of this amazing achievement, starting with the arrival of Johan Cruyff back to Barca in a coaching role in 1988.  The Dutchman puts the focus back on the cantera and from there adds necessary players to build the Dream Team, which included Pep Guardiola, who eventually stamped his legacy on the club by winning the treble in his first season.  Hunter examines the tough decisions made by players, coaches and management over the last 25 years that have produced one of the greatest teams in terms of achievement and entertainment that the world has ever seen.  This book is a must read for football fans, regardless of club or national affiliation or depth of support.

Walking Through The Storm, Ken Kendra

Ken Kendra is the founder of Raleigh Reds, the Official Liverpool Supporters Club in Raleigh, NC and traveled around the States during the 2015/16 season to follow the Reds, meet fellow fans and write a book. The result is Walking Through the Storm.

The book is several things: a series of match recaps, an assembly of memories and stories, and a look into the life of a fan and supporter group organizer. Liverpool’s season was not boring with a managerial change, frustrating results and two cup finals. The account of the second leg against Borussia Dortmund is quite good which feeds into the trips down memory lane for both the author and the fans he meets along the way. From the most recent fan to the lifelong supporter, everyone has a story to tell. Finally, the Official Liverpool Supporter Group (OLSC) covers the entire US and the book gives insights into not only match days around the country and the fellowship created by gathering to watch games week after week but also into local drinking laws and how to start a local chapter.

The book is an easy read and a must read if you a Liverpool fan, especially in America. If you’re not a Liverpool fan, still worth the read as Ken recaps the season and recounts stories that every fan can relate to.

Soccer Men, Simon Kuper

Soccer Men is Simon Kuper’s compilation of his interviews and profiles from years covering the sport.  The pieces are not just on soccer players and coaches, but also of those associated with the game.  As he states in his intro, Kuper’s intent is to create “a portrait of the profession”, which he does to great effect.  The conversations and examinations of players reveal not just their great ability but also their personality and humanity.  Messi’s historical context, the paradox of Lampard, the intensity of Davids are just a few of the entries.  Plus the composite of managers creates a sense of why some fail and some succeed.  The last couple of accounts were also of great interest, in particular the look at the rising influence of stats in the game and the vision of architects creating shrines for the modern spectacle.

Definitely worth the read.  Easy to pick up; hard to put down; worth reading again and again.

Ajax, the Dutch, the War, Simon Kuper

This book was enjoyable but I think would have gotten more out of it if I had a better knowledge of World War II and the cultural and political happenings of the Netherlands and Europe.  The relationship with the Jews for the Europeans generally and some soccer clubs specifically, is a large part of book. Again I don’t have a good understanding on this topic.  Finally, a deeper familiarity with the histories of Feyenoord and Ajax would have allowed those passages to have made more sense.  Having said all that, I did learn a lot, including the fact that soccer did exist during the war, which surprised me.

Whereas Dynamo was more of a linear story about a specific story line of the war, Kuper bounces around Holland and Europe to share his information and interviews.  The delineation between good and evil is explored and challenges the reader.  My favorite part of the book was anecdotes about various players attempting to keep playing football during the war either by changing their identity or escaping or negotiating with Nazis.

Kuper’s prose tells a tale of a very dark time in human history, and the book is worth reading because it gives a greater context to the influence of World War II on the game, the Netherlands, and football clubs in that country.

Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

More of a book for soccer nerds, Simon and Stefan examine the data of football and what it reveals about teams for both club and country.  Their transfer rules are a must read and their peek into the future of international football is quite interesting.

Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season, Amy Lawrence

The unbeaten league season from Arsenal during the 2003/04 season was a truly remarkable achievement by a remarkable group of players, and Amy Lawrence’s book did an amazing job of capturing that season. She utilized two things that help structure and add depth to the book.

One, she put not only that season but Arsenal Football Club into context. The Gunners were a much different organization in the years following the remarkable league championships of 1989 and 1991 and the transition from George Graham’s 1-0 to the Arsenal to Arsene Wenger’s continental, artistic Arsenal is quite the story. Wenger changed the identity of the club and Lawrence highlighted some of the elements of that change. Plus that season was part of a bigger Arsenal story. The Double of 2002 was followed by a disappointing campaign which left the players, staff and fans unsatisfied and the club looked to push on.

Two, Lawrence used an interesting approach to her book. Rather than a strict pattern of each game and result in chronological order, she identified key attributes of the team and explored the development and impact of leadership, culture, and so on. Players and staff were open with their memories and reflections from that time period and these gave real insight into the mood and environment of a team on a mission. The book ends with an extended one and one interview with Wenger and a recap of what happened to the players in the following ten years. The Wenger interview was particularly compelling due to his philosophy toward management and the game.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read due to the quality of the writing, the insight and the appreciation of the Invincible season. Full access to the team and club gave this book a intimacy that would have been severely lacking had it just been a recap of the 2003/04 season. Worth a read whether you’re a Gunner or not.

Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the World’s Greatest Sports Rivalry, Sid Lowe

When I covered and watched La Liga extensively, Sid Lowe’s Monday La Liga column for the Guardian was a must read. Plus his appearances on Football Weekly and other podcasts brought me up to speed on the league and also gave greater depth.

His book on the these eternal rivals is a fantastic read. A book on either one would be a big enough task but to take both of them head on must have seemed overwhelming. Lowe does a wonderful job guiding the reader through the years, usually taking a particular person or moment to build up the era for the clubs. There is extensive research and discussion into the Di Stefano signing, and I also appreciated the time taken to explain the impact of the Civil War on each city and club, something that’s too often categorized as good/bad, impact/no impact. Everyone in the country was affected and Lowe explains how this moment in Spanish history rippled throughout the following decades.

I really enjoyed this read and further readings will continue to fill in the history of these two historic clubs.

Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism, Andrei S. Markovits & Steven L. Hellerman

Upon first seeing the title, I read it as Exceptional-ism (ie look at how great America is), but after finishing the book, it should be read as Exception-alism.  The US sports landscape is much different than the rest of the world, and the book focuses on the reasons why this is.

The authors did an amazing job of tracing the development of American sports, including the cultural, sporting, financial and technological reasons for why the Big Three and a Half are at the forefront of sports in the United States.  The authors define the Big Three and a Half as American football, baseball, basketball and hockey as the major sports in America, and while their popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years, these sports impact culture and the media more than all others.

As for soccer, the authors looked at the many attempts that the game has made to gain a foothold and the reasons why these failed.  In summary the game failed to take advantage of several key moments at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, and put themselves in a hole from which it is hard to recover.  But with the hosting of the 1994 World Cup and the launch of the MLS, the authors posit that in time soccer could have a prominent role in American sports.  They are also quick to note the influence of the role of women—as fans, players and the Women’s National Team—on the growth of soccer in this country.

Although this book was written at the end of the 20th century and misses out the on the development of the MLS and the US Men’s National team over last 10 to 15 years, the analysis, research and commentary of the authors is interesting, thoughtful and illuminating.  I learned a lot about the Big Three and a Half and share the book’s optimistic view of the future of the game in America.  Good read about American sports regardless of which one you follow.

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, Joe McGinniss

An insight into football in general and Italian soccer in particular, McGinnis weaves an amazing tale of a team’s climb through the divisions in Italian football.  Drama, tragedy, victory and insights are all in there.

Dallas Til I Cry: Learning to Love Major League Soccer, Nathan Nipper

As I read the opening chapters I felt I had found a kindred spirit. A lifelong soccer fan, who had fallen in love with a team thousands of miles away while a team plied their trade just miles away, decided to kick the tires on the domestic league.

The author and I have similar takes on the beautiful game and how it fits into the US sports spectrum. Admirers of quality and narrative, the siren song of the EPL drew us in and we would much rather get up at 745 am and watch a game from across the pond than the afternoon MLS Match of the Day. Why watch a game with football lines, in half empty venues, when you could watch some of the great players and teams in footballing history cheered on by thousands of supporters? Why support a league that, at times, couldn’t get out of its own way? But slowly things changed and you have to take notice.

At some point you have to give the local guys a chance. The book is not so much about the ups and downs of the 2013 FCD season as it a desire to embrace something that’s in your own backyard. There are also glimpses into the craziness of family life, coaching nuggets and a lot of analysis about how MLS is faring in the US sports landscape. Plenty of player critiques (this guy does not like Kenny Cooper) as well as a questioning of Coach Schellas and his player selections are on show as the author’s project becomes an interest becomes honest fandom.

Again this book really hit home with me because I have been engaging MLS more and more over the last several years. Nathan jumped right in, bought a season ticket, watched as many away games as he could and followed the league storylines as closely as possible. His account is an easy read with some poignant insights and heartfelt thoughts from a fan trying to support the beautiful game here in America.

Damned Utd, David Peace

Soccer fans must simply read this book.  Even if you don’t know anything about Brian Clough or Derby County or Leeds United or Don Revie or the English First, Second or Third Divisions, David Peace’s account of Clough’s 44 day stint at Leeds United will draw you in and mesmerize you.  The author’s text is hypnotic as he weaves the events of Clough’s life as a husband, player at Sunderland and Middlesbrough and manager at various stops—Hartlepools United, Derby County and Brighton & Hove Albion—with a day by day account of Clough’s time at Elland Road.  Be prepared for darkness as Peace examines a manager’s battles between doubt and confidence, friend and enemy, failure and success, hero and villain.

Red or Dead, David Peace

Having enjoyed the Damned United so much, this book was on my to read list, and the focus of the Howler Book Club prompted me to pick up a copy.

As a fan of the game, I knew the name of Shankly and of the great Liverpool teams of the 70s adn 80s but not too much more than that. The book educated me on Liverpool in the 1960s, and how Shankly took over a team in the Second Division and built the foundation for the all-conquering side of Paisley. His tenets of hard work, pass and move and team spirit, as well as an intense connection with the fans from both himself and the players were strong elements of the book.

Red or Dead is quite long, coming in at over 700 pages. I got the book in hardcover and it’s pretty hefty. A relatively quick read, the narrator moves the reader through season after season, with short chapters covering pockets of time before the narrator moves on. The style is striking with the repetition of elements (line ups, household chores, pre-season, etc) used through the book. The choice of first person and these repetitive passages are interesting and consume the reader as Liverpool consumes the character of Shankly.

The manager works and works and works and then abruptly leaves. Not knowing the story, I was shocked as Shankly left the club on the verge of immortality. I actually enjoyed the post-Liverpool section more. I felt the narrator was more insightful, more reflective, more philosophical than the manager who was grinding every day, thinking about the next opponent, the next trophy. The continued involvement in the game and the community and the relationships with other clubs was another striking feature of the man’s legacy.

Not sure how to recommend this. If you’re a Liverpool fan, definitely read it. If you’re a soccer nerd, definitely read it. If you neither of those, you might enjoy another book better.

Seeing Red, Graham Poll

A refreshingly open and honest autobiography of one’s man’s rise to the top of his profession and the moment that ended it all.  Really enjoyed his behind the scenes snippets of big EPL matches as well as what it takes to be a top class referee.  He lays his story out there, flaws and all.  A quick, informative read.

This Love is not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juarez, Robert Andrew Powell

A while ago I listened a podcast in which author discussed the premise of the book, and I was intrigued.  Intrigued enough to have it on my wish list for two years yet never pulled the trigger.  The Mexican Primera didn’t quite have the juice of tactics and history of European clubs, but the leader of our local supporters group suggested the book for our first Book Review and that was the impetus I needed to buy it.

Powell took an amazing risk embedding himself in Juarez for several months.  His account of the dangers of simple daily life were startling, making me wonder how anyone could survive day in and day out in that environment.  Time and again, he relayed the attitude of the city residents, who, in the face of overwhelming circumstances, pushed on, creating a normal life in an absurd context.

The Indios climbed from obscurity to the top division of Mexican soccer, hung in there and survived a dramatic playoff run to maintain their top flight status in 2009.  However the 2009-2010 season was awful, with the team setting a record for the longest winless streak in Mexican history, and their futility saw them all but relegated early in the season.  To make matters worse, players were not even being paid by the end of the campaign.

And really the football was secondary to this book.  Powell used his unique placement to inform the readers about the totally different opportunities and environments separated by only a fence.  The atmospheres in El Paso and Juarez were miles apart, which the author put into context by looking from high vantage points into each city and wondering just how this could be.

I give Powell a lot of credit for jumping in with both feet.  From living in the city (the new murder capital of the world), joining the supporters group El Kartel for a roadtrip, engaging the team on an almost daily basis—home and away, developing relationships with players, families and fans, getting involved and participating in the good and bad aspects of life in Juarez.  The book is depressing but hard to put down.  As a cultural and sporting examination, I thought it was quite good and well worth reading.

Turf Wars: A History of London Football, Steve Tongue

This book went on my wish list and moved to the top of the pile when a copy ended up in my hands thanks to a huge Chelsea supporter.

The premise of the book is daunting as is stated in the title: A History of London Football. The author is very comprehensive, taking the reader from the early days of the pre-cursors of the Football League in the 19th century all the way to the 2015/16 season. There are even clubs in there that I had never heard of before.

I have to admit that the book can be a little dry at times. Covering over a 125 years of football is a big ask. Besides the nomadic nature of most clubs in the early, the book touches on key moments, either of a club’s location or success on the pitch. The first two-thirds or so would take multiple readings for me as I am not as familiar with those times but the last section of the 90s to the most recent seasons was really interesting.

Not a book for everyone. I might have focused more on the big teams, but if you want an expansive history of football played in London, this is the book for you.

Beckham Experiment, Grant Wahl

Wahl pulls back the curtain of Beckham’s move to the MLS from Real Madrid and reveals a footballer of great ability wrapped up in an entourage that causes tension, misinformation and resentment at every turn.  A fascinating look at team dynamics and the fledging soccer league in theUS.  Great read.

Soccer in a Football World, David Wangerin

The development of a football based game in America created outlets for rugby, soccer and American football.  Eventually the gridiron version of the game dominated the sporting landscape but the flame of soccer was never extinguished.  Wangerin discussed the regional leagues that have always been present and the several attempts at a national league that have come and gone.  The MLS is the current incarnation and Wangerin explored the issues that face the league—soccer specific stadia, procuring talent and the financial underpinnings of the league.  Throughout the book he also weaved in the history of the National Team, which has seen a move from a totally amateur administration to an organization that created Project 2010 as a way of raising the United States’ international standard.

The book is as expansive as the country and is a fine primer of how the game as grown in the United States over the twentieth century and the matters that it will confront in the future.

Manchester United: The Biography: The Complete Story of the World’s Greatest Football Club, Jim White

Jim White’s book tells the story of one of the world’s great football clubs.  As a Manchester United fan of almost 20 years, I am pretty familiar with the Fergie era and admit that anything before 1994 was a vague knowledge of the Munich Air Disaster, the 68 European Cup win and the relegation of 1974.  Starting with the early days around Newton Heath, White retells the days of near bankruptcy (twice), early successes and failures, the rise of the Busby Babes, the lean years of the 70’s and 80’s and finally, the emergence of Alex Ferguson and nearly 25 years of success at every level.

White’s stories added depth to incidents that I was familiar with—Fergie in 1990, why Ruud and Keano left, the Glazer takeover— and the comments on Sir Alex at the end of the book were especially poignant, considering I read them right after the great man retired, for real this time.  One disappointment was that the lean years were glossed over, and while I agree that it would not have been great reading, it would have given context and contrast to the great times.

If you’re not a United fan, not sure what the book offers you.  A glimpse into a great side, a sense of history.  If you are a United fan, it’s well worth the read.  Biased, not keen to show too many warts, but re-living those moments of glory throughout the years is a treat.  This is a book I can return to time and time again as I continue to learn more about the club.

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson takes the reader through the history of football tactics, including permutations, reactions, and evolutions.  But the book goes beyond just formations and tells the history of game and how it spread all over the world, telling the tales of key people and moments.  A must read.

Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, David Winner

Hard to describe this book.  Not history, not tactical breakdowns, not necessarily chronological.  The author weaves together critical moments and figures in the history of Dutch Soccer and result is wonderful tale of sport, architecture and society.  Super interesting but probably needs a second and third read to get the full impact.

—————-

Read but not reviewed:

Sneaker Wars, Barbara Smit

The Rough Guide to Cult Football, Andy Mitten

—————-

WISH LIST . . . 

1000 Football Shirts, Bernard Lions

Malaga Football Club, David Redshaw

Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season, Amy Lawrence

Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football, Jonathan Wilson

Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett

20 Great Italian Games by Giancarlo Rinaldi and John Taylor

  1. Some cracking literature in this expansive listing, some I’ve read, some I haven’t but the reviews about the books I’ve read are spot on, great minds think a like !

    However just a shout out for a superb publication which is now in it”s 48th year is “Sky Sports Football Yearbook” (nee Rothmans Football Yearbook)
    Primarily all about the English game it is renowned in Britain.
    It covers European stats as well but not as in depth.
    You will lose hours of your day absorbing fact after fact.

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