Football has produced some awful literature, ranging from the wittily titled Ashley Cole biography My Defence to manager Steve Bruce’s gripping series of thriller novels entitled Striker!, Sweeper! and Defender! (all of which are now mysteriously unavailable online). But while there are some dire books on the subject, there are also some truly excellent ones which deserve to be recognised. Here are just five.
1. The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt
If any book can claim to be the definitive guide to the history of world football, then this is it. Goldblatt charts the rise of the planet’s most popular sport from its humble beginnings to the global all-consuming, multi-million industry it has become. At 992 pages it is far from a quick read, but one can dip in and out of it at will if necessary. Goldblatt writes with elegance and wit, punctuating the narrative with occasional match reports to emphasise the importance of the game itself, while not shying away from football’s wider historical and socio-political significance.
2. Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson
On the face of it, a book about the evolution of football tactics from the 1870s to the present day does not sound like a page-turner. And yet, that is exactly what this is. Wilson’s account is both entertaining and insightful, full of visionary characters who helped shape the modern game such as the English coach Jimmy Hogan, the bowler-hat wearing boss of the Austrian Wunderteam Hugo Meisl and the notoriously hard to please Béla Guttmann. Don’t be put off by the diagrams; this is an outstanding piece of work by one of the world’s best football writers and one which is well worth a read.
3. A Life Too Short by Ronald Reng
In November 2009, German international goalkeeper Robert Enke stepped in front of a train and took his own life aged 32. A Life Too Short is an account of Enke’s lifelong struggle with depression, as told by his friend Ronald Reng. It is moving, sensitive and difficult in equal measure, and a story which is about much more than just football. Above all, Reng highlights an issue which must be discussed more in modern football and sport in general – that of mental illness.
4. Fear and Loathing in La Liga by Sid Lowe
Barcelona and Real Madrid are the only two clubs which can truly claim to be the biggest in world football, and while some fans may be tired of El Clásico, they are undoubtedly two of the most interesting as well. Lowe debunks a few myths about the two sides, while pointing out facts which are conveniently omitted from either of the club’s official histories, such as the fact that Madrid were founded by two Catalans. Perhaps most interestingly, he demonstrates that the two clubs are in fact almost symbiotic despite their hatred for one another. As Real chairman Florentino Pérez says, ‘If Barcelona didn’t exist, we would have to invent them’.
5. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
Football has changed drastically since this was first published in 1992, the year the Premier League began, but it remains the best piece of fan writing there is on the game. Hornby, an obsessive Arsenal supporter, picks certain games to underline the relationship between football and his life, and captures exactly what it means to be one of the faithful. Crucially, Fever Pitch paved the way for football literature to be taken seriously, and so must be considered a seminal work.
This article first appeared on Palatinate.