Ten Must-Read Football Books!
With the lack of a games at the moment, we’re suffering withdrawal symptoms from top-class football.
Here’s a list of ten football book recommendations to read and help get you over the slump.
A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng
Author Ronald Reng had always planned to write a book with and about his friend Robert Enke, a German international goalkeeper. A fascinating yet harrowing insight into the mind of a goalkeeper and the oft-hidden self-critical nature of a professional footballer, the story culminates in Enke’s suicide in 2009.
Despite knowing in advance about Enke’s terrible fate, you read it in the hope that things improve, that he realises just what he’s got. Reng’s book may have finally transpired as a result of tragedy but it’s a fitting celebration of Enke’s short but absorbing life.
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss
Not just a great football book, this is a great book full stop. American journalist McGinniss settles in the remote Italian village of Castel di Sangro with the aim of charting the progress that season of the local football team who had improbably reached Serie B. He couldn’t have timed his stay better.
A chronicle not just of a season in the life of a previously obscure side, but also a riveting story full of drama, humour and hope. If McGinniss had instead sat down and decided to pen a work of fiction, he couldn’t have scripted it better. It’s also a tale that poignantly encapsulates the beauty of Italy and its calcio but also the dark side of both.
My Father & Other Working Class Football Heroes by Gary Imlach
A book that should be compulsory reading for every current, bling-heavy Premier League footballer. Imlach charts his father’s modest football career whilst movingly learning about the person his dad actually was.
This is a beautiful account of what British football once looked like, a time when players cycled to games and held down off-season jobs to support their families. Imlach is clearly proud of his father’s achievements and should be similarly proud of this moving tribute to a man the game would have forgotten about otherwise.
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
This memoir has been accused of many things since its release in 1992, not least selling football to the middle classes just as the Premiership was launched. Every football supporter, however, can identify with this love letter to Hornby’s beloved Arsenal.
For non-football fans it’s an enlightening insight into the mindset of the obsession with the game held by otherwise normal men and women. The game may have changed extraordinarily in the years since its launch but this book remains as fresh and relevant as ever.
Only a Game by Eamon Dunphy
He may be best known for his gloriously cantankerous views as a football pundit on Irish television, but Dunphy’s journalistic talents were first apparent in this ground-breaking season diary from over 30 years ago.
This is a brutally frank account of life inside a professional football team’s dressing room. Other season chronicles such as Garry Nelson’s “Left Foot Forward” deserve a mention but Dunphy’s classic was pioneering at a time when football biographies were sober, polished tomes.
The Damned United by David Peace
So successful it was subsequently made into a movie, Peace’s work of “faction” is a fascinating tale of Brian Clough ill-fated spell as manager of Leeds United. The book jumps from Clough’s 44 day reign as Leeds boss and his successful career beforehand, all told from the manager’s viewpoint.
An extremely polarising book, it’s been criticised by both those close to Clough and that Leeds United side as being disingenuous and disrespectful to Clough’s legend. Despite the many grey areas this remains the great football novel.
Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner
As much an analysis of Dutch culture as it is of its football, Winner’s book is an absorbing look at the history of the game in the Netherlands and investigates why such a small country has produced so many world class players yet underachieving teams.
It is also illuminating from a tactical viewpoint but at the same time is entertaining and never patronising. A book that is clever, technically brilliant and full of flair – just like its subject.
El Diego by Diego Maradona
Most modern football autobiographies are banal, airbrushed affairs but, just as in life, Diego Armando Maradona’s is an inimitable outlier. An enthralling warts-and-all narrative of Maradona’s early life and career, the writer’s candidness is startling.
Even more surprising is the Argentinean’s skilful prose – though the book is not ghost-written it sometimes feels like he’s had some assistance from the Hand of God.
Broken Dreams: Vanity, Greed & the Souring of British Football by Tom Bower
A shocking exposé of the seedy underbelly of the football world, Bower explores the greed and corruption that is rife within the “beautiful game” in Britain. Though not a fan himself, Bower’s book is a devastating dissection of the finances of UK football and if you don’t know the score look away now.
It makes for gory and, sometimes, depressing reading but is investigative journalism at its very best.
Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino by Paul Kimmage
Most professional footballers are viewed as somewhat one-dimensional characters by fans, used to clichéd post-match interviews and inoffensive sound-bites to satisfy media obligations. So when a book as brutally honest as this comes along it makes it all the more exceptional.
Part memoir, part confessional it is a captivating insight into the mind of a professional sportsman riveted by fears, regrets and self-doubt. This book is one aspect of his career about which Cascarino can have no doubt – in a career riddled with break-ups and fall-outs, Kimmage may well be his most successful partnership.