Stuck for what to read?
The books below are just a small selection of some of the best football writing from the past few decades. From Hunter Davies’ The Glory Game to Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, these books helped define and shape the football writing of today, and put paid to the assumption that football books are low-brow literature.
If you know of a book that’s worthy of the ‘classic’ tag, please tell us about it on the Contact page.
Soccer at War 1939-45, by Jack Rollin (2005)
This is a revised edition of Jack Rollin’s compelling account of the national game during this defining moment in history, when surprisingly enough football continued to be played and watched.
It was first published 20 years ago and recognised as a classic work on football’s history. This edition contains the one of the most comprehensive collections of statistics on football during the wartime period.
Buy this book from Amazon
Power, Corruption & Pies – Volume Two: The Best Writing from the Second Decade of WSC, foreword by Adrian Chiles (2006)
This anthology takes up the story from 1997 to 2006, the second decade of legendary football fanzine When Saturday Comes.
It was an era when the football bandwagon became a juggernaut, apparently with no-one at the wheel. In spite of rampant commercialisation, the game nonetheless retained its appeal, even among those for whom almost every season is a sequence of disappointments.
The second WSC anthology reflects the big issues of the era, from the rise of the Champions League to the disappearance of old football grounds, with trenchant opinions on a range of topics including the heyday of football boardgames, the calamitous decline of the FA Cup and Delia Smith’s unusual half-time announcements. Throughout its existence WSC has provided a platform for innovative football writing. Widely known authors such as David Conn, Dave Hill and long-standing contributor Harry Pearson all feature in this book. Most of all, WSC gives space to the view of those who know football best: the supporters.
Buy this book from Amazon
Power, Corruption and Pies: A Decade of the Best Football Writing from When Saturday Comes, edited by Doug Cheeseman, Andy Lyons and Mike Ticher (1997)
If anything was directly responsible for promoting the intelligent side of football literature, it was WSC.
It finally found the high street in 1988, having begun in 1986 as a fanzine only available from specialist outlets. This collection follows on from The First Eleven, which brings together the first 11 issues of WSC. Read more…
The Passion and the Fashion: Football Fandom in the New Europe, edited by Steve Redhead (1993)
This book was one of the first to analyse the changing culture of the soccer terrace.
Commentators are now as likely to refer to the carnival or “party” atmosphere at football matches as violence and disorder. This does not mean that “football hooliganism” – as the media labelled it for the past 30 years – has somehow disappeared. Read more…
McIlvanney on Football, by Hugh McIlvanney (1999)
HUGH McIlvanney is one of the best sports journalists to have ever graced the Sunday papers. This book represents a collection of his best football writing, spanning a career of nearly 40 years.
The book, at first glance, does not look all that large, but a second look reveals it to be a dense, 350-page volume of more than 70 articles mainly for The Observer which are arranged thematically, rather than chronologically. Read more…
Manslaughter United: A Season With a Prison Football Team, by Chris Hulme (1999)
One of the best things about this interesting book is the deceptive title – at first glance, one thinks that this is just another book about a certain team at the top of the Premier League that wins things occasionally.
But the subtitle reveals a more sinister focus (although, given the ever-growing number of disturbing allegations in the tabloids, the subjects of prison and soccer are maybe not that far apart after all). Read more…
My Father and Other Working-Class Football Heroes, by Gary Imlach (2005)
This book, a deserved winner of the 2005 William Hill Sports Book of the Year prize, tells of Channel 4 sports presenter Gary Imlach’s quest to find out more about the life of his footballing father Stewart following his death from cancer.
It is a superbly written and incisive tale of the relationship between a father and a son, made all the more poignant because the father is no longer there to speak out. His story is told through newspaper cuttings and grainy photographs, old programmes and dusty pennants – anything that Gary could get his hands on to discover just what kind of man his father was. Read more…
Football in Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano (1997)
This book is a poetic and eclectic look at the history of world football.
Galeano, who is Uruguayan, takes the reader along in small sections which describe not just the hard facts, but the less well-known folklore and anecdotes behind such elements of the game as the ball, players and various countries’ traditions. Read more…
Only a Game? by Eamon Dunphy and Peter Ball (1976)
Brian Glanville wrote in the preface to the original 1976 edition of this book that “Dunphy’s diary is…infinitely removed from the ‘ghosted’ pap which, with its endless banalities and disingenuousness, has so long been inflicted on us”.
But Only a Game? could also be called ‘ghosted’, as Dunphy collaborated with the journalist Peter Ball for his book. Here, though, the ghost-writer’s intervention is hard to detect – it is clear he has taken a back seat and let Dunphy’s voice tell the story. Read more…
The Far Corner: A Mazy Dribble Through North-East Football, by Harry Pearson (1994)
The telling words on the front of the 1997 edition of The Far Corner (shown in picture) say: “Forget Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, this is the football book of the new age”.
Bearing in mind that Fever Pitch was published just two years before The Far Corner, it is clear to see that new ages come and go with increasing rapidity these days, not least in football literature. This tale of north-east football from the grass roots to the glamour of the Premiership brilliantly satirises the glut of “devoted fan” books that inevitably followed Hornby’s book. Read more…
Left Foot in the Grave, by Garry Nelson (1997)
GARRY Nelson’s diary of the highs and lows of a struggling third division football club sees English professional football through the eyes of Torquay United.
From early season cheer to end of season gloom, the day-to-day problems of players, backroom staff and management are revealed in this critically acclaimed insight into the the beautiful game.
Buy this book from Amazon
Also recommended: Left Foot Forward: A Year in the Life of a Journeyman Footballer, by Garry Nelson and Anthony Fowles
Left Foot Forward: A Year in the Life of a Journeyman Footballer, by Garry Nelson and Anthony Fowles (1995)
Written in diary format, this book chronicles Charlton Athletic’s mediocre season of 1994/1995.
Though on the front cover it credits Nelson as sole author, it is actually co-authored by Anthony Fowles. But unlike the ever-increasing mass of ghosted biographies cramming the high street shelves, this hardly matters as Left Foot Forward shows absolutely no inconsistencies in style. In fact, Nelson’s personality comes through so strongly it is hard to discern the specific contribution of the co-author. Read more…
Football Against the Enemy, by Simon Kuper (1994)
SIMON Kuper travelled to 22 countries from South Africa to Italy, from Russia to the USA, to examine the way football has shaped them.
At the same time he tried to find out what lies behind each nation’s distinctive style of play from the carefree self expression of the Brazilians to the anxious calculation of the Italians. During his journeys he met an extraordinary range of players, politicians and of course the fans themselves, all of whom revealed in their different ways the unique place football has in the life of the planet.
Buy this book from Amazon
The Glory Game, by Hunter Davies (1972)
This fly-on-the-wall book about a season in the life of Tottenham Hotspur is widely regarded as a contemporary classic in football literature.
Davies is meticulously observant and unbiased, and his research is impeccable. He shows the same qualities which brought acclaim for his biographies of people as diverse as The Beatles and William Wordsworth. He does not just follow the players – such as Ralph Coates, Alan Mullery and Martin Chivers; but also the travelling hooligans on the ‘Skinhead Special'; the manager Bill Nicholson; the club’s directors; and the fans. Read more…
Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby (1992)
This is the book that helped sales of football literature hit fever pitch.
Before Nick Hornby wrote his tale of his boyhood obsession with Arsenal, which he never grew out of, football books were largely something to be sneered at. If you were reading about the game it was probably because you were a Sun reader who could not manage sentences with more than three words. Read more…
The First Eleven, first published in 1992
This collection brings together replica editions of the first 11 issues of When Saturday Comes, the groundbreaking football fanzine which started in 1986.
The first issue was limited to only 100 copies available by mail-order only, and, as WSC co-founding editor Mike Ticher points out, it was “put together with all the meticulous production skills of a chimpanzee wearing boxing gloves”. Read more…