Popular American comedian and TV star Groucho Marx once famously said, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Although witty, the core message of Marx’s statement has been proven right time and again with millions around the world influenced by the power of words and learning more about life through books. The world of football has been no different with 2018 being another great year for football books. The interest around all aspects of the game has shown no signs of declining. Choosing some of the top books for the year is no easy task but we’ve given it a shot.
State of Play: Under the Skin of the Modern Game by Michael Calvin
Michael Calvin has written some of the finest football books over recent years with each one of The Nowhere Men, Living on the Volcano and No Hunger in Paradise being a must read into various facets of the game (football scouting, management and the youth game). State of Play continues in the theme with Calvin turning his sights on the morality and emotive aspects of the game and those who work within it. With the money at the top end of football being far greater than ever experienced, he looks at the key issues that, if unchecked, will stop this from being a game anymore.
Also Read: How Futsal is shaping modern day footballers
When Footballers Were Skint: A Journey in Search of the Soul of Football by Jon Henderson
On a similar vein to State of Play is Jon Henderson’s ‘When Footballers Were Skint’ albeit his approach is significantly different. Rather than focus on what is happening today, Henderson looks at players from half a century back and, through interviews manage to piece together a picture of what the game looked then which, inherently, brings out the massive differences from the modern game. A compelling read not least as this will likely be the last major work that manages to captures the first hand views of these individuals.
Heads Up: My Life Story by Alan Smith
Despite twice ending as English football’s highest scorer, Smith was not that highly regarded outside of Highbury where he spent most of his career playing for Arsenal. Indeed, he played just thirteen times for England, despite scoring regularly at club level even in – especially in – the most crucial of games. As with his playing career, there is the risk that this biography too is underrated. It shouldn’t be. Smith talks with refreshing honesty about his career and displays a rare ability to evaluate his achievements.
How to Be a Footballer by Peter Crouch
As with Alan Smith, Crouch too has been underrated throughout his career where the stock phrase has been ‘good skill with the ball at his feet for someone so tall’. Yet he has achieved so much not simply because of his talent (and there was plenty of it) but also the ability to use his intelligence to beat defenders and score goals. This witty biography too highlights a player who could think despite the chaos of modern football.
The Boy on the Shed by Paul Ferris
This is the third biography on this particular list, and although the name of Paul Ferris will be significantly less known than the other two biographies, the book was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the year. Ferris started off at Newcastle where he made his debut at sixteen years of age. Injury took that early promise from him but he adapted by becoming a physio. It is this story that he recounts in the book and, for all of his lack of popularity, it is a fascinating one nevertheless.
Going to the Match: The Passion for Football by Duncan Hamilton
For over a century, the only way to watch most games was to actually be in the stadium in which they were being played. That has changed over the past couple of decades with the TV screening practically every game from the world’s biggest leagues. Whilst this has increased the popularity of the game and allowed millions to see games that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, the reality is that nothing can compare to watching a game in person. It is on this aspect that Hamilton focuses, using it as a mirror for football’s changing culture and character.
The Barcelona Way: Unlocking the DNA of a Winning Culture by Damian Hughes
When a club is as successful as Barcelona have been over the years, it is natural that people will start looking at them to see how they manage to do it and what lessons there are that can be applied not only in the world of football but even beyond. This is what Damian Hughes has done, analysing how Barcelona have created a culture that allows them to keep on winning almost regardless of personnel. Hughes has explored the idea of translating this secret to almost any area to achieve the desired results and has addresses issues in work environments by interviewing key people who have forged this DNA at the club.
The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer’s Next Superstars by Sebastian Abbot
This is an easy book to get wrong. It is easy to be blinded by the millions that the Qatari government (and others) are throwing at football in order to achieve political acceptance, in this case by combing the African continent for young talent to train at their lavish academy. And yet Sebastian Abbot manages to stay clear of these pitfalls, delivering instead, a book that looks at the harsh realities that these young footballers have to face as they hope to fulfil their dream of making it as a professional, whilst also highlighting the importance of mental attributes necessary for anyone to excel.
Two Tribes: Liverpool, Everton and a City on the Brink by Tony Evans
In this look at the 1985-86 season, Tony Evans focuses on his home city clubs of Everton and Liverpool and paints an evocative picture of the season in which, more than any other, Liverpool was the capital of English football against a backdrop of social unrest. The book takes you into the unforgettable cup final between the two clubs that happened a year from the unfortunate Heysel disaster. As anyone who has ever read any of Evans’ previous books – or indeed, followed him on Twitter – will know, his commentary is unlikely to stick only to football. And so is the case here which is fitting as you cannot tell the story of two such important forces in a city like Liverpool and extract them from the fabric of the city.
World in Motion by Simon Hart
A lot of books that come out in a World Cup year tend to have a limited shelf life as their primary focus tends to be capturing the surge of interest in the game. It is probable that World in Motion benefitted from that surge but this is a book that will live on. World in Motion takes a look back at Italia 90 – the World Cup that kick-started a cultural revolution in English football – by travelling all over the globe to talk to the players, managers, and fans who brought that summer to life.
Between the Lines: My Autobiography by Michael Carrick
Michael Carrick has been the perfect embodiment of balance and calm in the Manchester United midfield for well over a decade and has been described by many as the best midfielder in England during his time as a player. The book takes you deep into Carrick’s world as he discusses what it is like to play alongside world class players, working under Sir Alex Ferguson, his dressing room experiences and his struggles with mental health and in the National team.
Building the Yellow Wall: The Incredible Rise and Cult Appeal of Borussia Dortmund by Ulrich Hesse
Every week, fans find themselves looking out for Borussia Dortmund’s results. If their game happens to be on TV, more often than not eager fans around the world would certainly watch it. And it is an ambition of many around the world to one day attend at least a game at their Westfalenstadion. But why is that? Why are there so many people who are attracted to Borussia Dortmund despite their lack of European dominance? Those are the questions that Uli Hesse has tried to answer, charting Borussia’s rise following their brush with financial meltdown.
The author of this article, Paul Grech, has written two volumes of Il Re Calcio, quick read e-books that feature stories from the history of Italian football. You can find them here.