I love to read! Whether it’s the Bible or great theology works, history, current events—you name it, I read it. And in my reading, I’ve found this: books on soccer (minus the merely tactical books) are some of my favorite. Yes, I enjoy the game a great deal, but that doesn’t encompass the totality of my love for this genre.
Soccer, unlike the other major American sports, combined the sociopolitical and socioeconomic issues of a particular country with the game played on the pitch, almost as if it’s either an extension, an escape, or a form of revolution toward a particular government or philosophy. In many parts of the world, soccer (fútbol) is a way out of a repressive or regressive environment.
On Twitter, I put up the beginnings of a library on soccer (right next to my other love, Civil War tomes, betraying my Virginia upbringing):
Building the soccer library, one book at a time. What should I add? pic.twitter.com/W4SYS0jPUs— Rapids South Stands (@RapidsSouthStds) December 16, 2016
Here are the books I’ve read.
- The Rivals Game by Douglas Beattie, outlining the fiercest rivalries in the world of soccer. Eh. Call this a first world problem, but I hated the binding. It’s good, not great.
- Thirty-One Nil by James Montague, with the subtitle, “On the road with football’s outsiders: a World Cup odyssey.” This looks at the World Cup qualifiers leading up to the 2002 World Cup in some remote places. The title comes from a 2001 match where Australia defeated American Samoa, you guessed it, 31-0. This is a favorite.
- Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer by George Vecsey. Sportswriter turned soccer fan, Vecsey talks about, yes, his coverage of eight World Cups, but his story of converting to soccer late in life resonated with me. Our stories and reasons behind the conversion parallel.
- Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Soccer Tactics by Jonathan Wilson. Yes, a historical book on the formations used in soccer during the different eras. Dull? Not the way Wilson brings this to life.
- I Think Therefore I Play by Andrea Pirlo (with Alessandro Alciato). Translated from his native Italian, Pirlo puts scenes from his life in his own particular way. If you’re a Pirlo fan, you’ll love it. If you’re not familiar with him or not a fan of his, you’ll be taken aback by his incredible confidence.
- Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. The very first soccer book I ever read, and what I believe is the best book on the nature of fanatic fandom ever written. He takes you through all the joys and (given the history of Arsenal in the 60s and 70s) anguish of following a club that dug down deep in his DNA. I think it’s time to read it again.
- The United States of Soccer: MLS and the Rise of American Soccer Fandom by Phil West. I loved this book, because it was the first one I have read dedicated to American soccer, specifically MLS. At the turn of the year, I’ll have an interview with the author to talk about various aspects of the book. But seeing the commitment of select owners at the beginning, the rise of the supporters groups, and, yes, Don Garber’s leadership in sustaining MLS for these 21 seasons—this book proves to be a keeper.
I asked you to recommend books. Here’s what some of you said:
@RapidsSouthStds "More Than Just a Game: Soccer vs. Apartheid: The Most Important Soccer Story Ever Told" by Chuck Korr— Jeff Cann (@cinhosa) December 16, 2016
@RapidsSouthStds "Red or Dead" by David Peace about Shankly's Liverpool, I am biased but it's a great read— MaestroOfNonchalance (@graftonfriday) December 17, 2016
@RapidsSouthStds Bill Buford's "Among The Thugs" great read.— Jared Thornburgh (@DoubleOhNegatve) December 16, 2016
And how could we neglect this one...
@RapidsSouthStds Timmy Howard's book is a fun quick read.— TweetsDon'tFailMeNow (@barleydog56) December 16, 2016
There’s nothing like reading a book about this sport. History, politics, religion, sports, hope, dreams—all wrapped in one saga.
What are your favorites?