Football literature – a bit of a misnomer – traditionally centred on ghost-written biographies and fairly generic club histories. It all changed with Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby’s romance with Arsenal. Hornby wrote an entertaining book and is an accomplished and witty writer. But he has a lot to answer for as he spawned a million pale imitators.
What made Fever Pitch so enriching was that no one had successfully captured the love affair with his club in a single book before. But really, his story was no different from the passionate Rochdale supporter, or the irrational Northampton fanatic. The problem was, for the past 20 – odd years, we’ve had to endure, “a season with….[fill in the gaps]”. We’ve had books about programme collections, missing Panini stickers, how xyz club ruined someone’s life, how xyz club made someone’s life. Every would-be author believed they were delivering something different, something unique in their obsession with a single club. None did it as well as Hornby, or with the same authenticity.
There are, however, some fine football books around, and I’m not talking about the latest version of Sir Alex Ferguson’s life story or David Beckham’s picture book (who on earth would buy this…?).
Here are 10 books that every self-respecting football fan should have on the bookshelf.
Tividale to Wembley by Brian James
This tells the story of the FA Cup, starting in the very first qualifying round and following the winners stage-by-stage. It, too, has been influential in its own way. It is a book that can switch you on to non-league football. Published in 1977 and written by Daily Mail hack Brian James.
The Football Grounds of Great Britain by Simon Inglis
Inglis is an expert on football grounds and this book was a real trail-blazer in opening people’s eyes to the beauty and curiosity of stadiums in Britain. This is a great book to mull over in the close season and look at where you’d like to go in the next campaign. It was published in the 1980s, so a new edition is surely long overdue.
Brilliant Orange by David Winner
Anyone who was fascinated by Johann Cruyff, Ajax and the Netherlands team of the 1970s will love this. It goes deep into the psyche of Dutch football and has you reaching for an orange adidas t-shirt. Why didn’t they win in 1974? Read this.
Rothmans’ Football Yearbook 1970-71
The first edition of the series, a game-changer of a book that has evolved into essential reading, if only it had more to actually read. Iconic in many ways.
Hand of God by Jimmy Burns
There are many books on Diego Maradona, but this one is the best. Burns, a very insightful, and occasionally, hard-hitting writer. He documents the life of the tortured genius that was Maradona in great detail and puts a lot of less savoury elements into context.
The Inverted Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson
Wilson is one of the best football writers around. This history of football tactics is really quite superb and uses the on-pitch strategy of some of the greatest coaches around to paint a glorious picture of the evolution of the game.
The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt
The best overall history of the game I have read, exploring some fascinating social, political and sporting angles. A huge tome, but the one book you should have if you want to know about the origins of the sport and its global expansion.
The Story of the World Cup by Brian Glanville
This book gets reprinted every four years and is the definitive story of the World Cup. Glanville’s a stylish, often pretentious writer, but he’s one of the doyens of international football journalism. Your companion for every World Cup.
The People’s Game by James Walvin
Good, learned work on the social history of British football. Especially good on the early development of the sport.
One from: Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur’s centenary history by Phil Soar and Martin Tyler
Even if you’re not a fan of either club – and I’m not – these two books set a new standard for football club histories. The way both are structured and the way their story unfolds is captivating. It helps that the authors were not dyed-in-the-wool fans of the clubs.
Ten books, then, that sum up the game, its romance, its reality and its deep heritage. Read some of them….read them all, in fact.