As usual, one of the first things I did when I woke up this afternoon was to scroll through my social media feeds. “Happy World Book Day!“. I normally take literal interest in such egregiously lame attempts to celebrate something for the sake of it, but, for some reason, I decided to consult your favourite search engine to check.
The search results were inconclusive. As far as I can tell, World Book Day falls either on the 5th of March or the 23rd of April, or possibly on both. Now, it is sad enough that the average person reads as seldom as they do. But devaluing such a pleasurable and rewarding act by lumping it in with these international days of “empowerment” twice really pissed us off.
Let’s fucking do away with “World Book Day” and encourage each other to enrich our lives and certainly our minds with less Love Island and more literature regardless of what day it is. In this spirit, we would like to present FBTG‘s Top 10 non-fiction books related to Football. Disagree with our selection? Then feel free to comment your recommendations below!
Freeman, Simon. John Murray (Publishers), London. 2005.
We start with one of the most obscure reads on this list. When we think of great Footballing nations, we do not think of the countries in the Middle East / of the former Ottoman Empire. But when we do think about Football in these countries, we almost never think of Iraq.
Freeman sheds a rare but deserved light on decades of hope and heartbreak in one of the most poorly treated countries on Earth. Baghdad FC goes all the way from the supreme lows of the systematic torture of Footballers at the hands of the Hussein regime, to the impossible highs of Iraq’s Olympic triumph.
Simons, Rowan. Pan Macmillan, London. 2010.
As the international Football press increasingly turns its attention eastward, more Football literature will be dedicated to the Chinese Super League and the Middle Kingdom more generally. For that reason, Bamboo Goalposts stands out as the single book on Chinese Football that you should read now.
An overly enthusiastic Brit begins his adult working life in China but is distraught to find a lack of Football playing opportunities that await him there. His proactive, entrepreneurial nature propel him to do something about it, and his memoir written years later is as hilarious as it is thought-provoking.
Behind The Curtain
Wilson, Jonathan. Orion Books, London. 2006.
Many of Wilson’s works could have made this list, but of all of them, this is the one we preferred. In typical FBTG style, Behind The Curtain profiles the current state of the domestic Football leagues of all modern nations states that formerly made up part of Communist Europe.
Wilson’s book is brief enough to be enjoyable but detailed enough to give the reader real insights into the way the game is played (and managed) in countries that they may struggle to point out on a map. I think I read it cover to cover in less than two days.
Dynamo: Defending the Honour of Kiev
Dougan, Andy. Fourth Estate, London. 2001.
Outside of Ukraine, it is quite a surprise that this story is not better known. But its lack of international recognition is perhaps symbolic of the grave loss of life and loss of history that befell millions of Europeans in the 1940’s.
Dougan’s Dynamo: Defending the Honour of Kiev details Kievan resistance under the Nazi’s during Operation Barbarossa. The book tells the story of a group of professional Kievan Footballers who continued playing during occupation, only to meet a gruesome end when they were invited to compete against a team representing the Luftwaffe.
Fear and Loathing in La Liga; Barcelona vs Real Madrid
Lowe, Sid. Yellow Jersey Press, London. 2013.
Readers of FBTG know full well the distaste we have at the extent to which the world’s megaclubs dominate headlines, your social media feed and definitely the blogosphere. So why is a book that is dedicated exclusively to Europe’s most high-profile fixture in this list? Because Lowe’s research and sheer expertise on the matter are worth acknowledging.
This Spanish Football historian does a brilliant job of exposing the truths and dispelling the myths of El Clásico. Fear and Loathing in La Liga; Barcelona vs Real Madrid is – there is no other way to say it – a classic.
Campomar, Andreas. Quercus, London. 2014.
Seen as passionate, raw, unpredictable, occasionally wild and culturally similar enough to be comprehensible, South America is probably the continent that most fascinates and evokes Europeans, both in terms of Football and in terms of culture more generally. Probably because of this, Western writers that dedicate pages to South American Football too often indulge the European suspicions of inebriated passion, raucous debauchery and endemic violence.
Campomar offers something different. ¡Golazo! is a refreshingly impartial yet informed summary of the evolution and relevance of Football across the South American nations. However, given Campomar’s Uruguayan upbringing, it is perhaps little wonder that his work is fairer to South American Football than most are.
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro
McGinniss, Joe. Time Warner Paperbacks, London. 1999.
It’s okay if you have never heard of this team. We hadn’t either. But that is part of the magic of The Miracle of Castel di Sangro. An American accompanies the minnow club during its maiden voyage in the 1996-1997 Italian Serie B season – and duly gets put through a hell of a lot more than he bargained for.
McGinniss’ work paints an adoring picture of small-town Italian life while also casting a damning indictment of how professional sports clubs are often run. The obscurity of the subject club magnificently inclines the reader to suspect that professional Football in general is far less glamorous than we want to believe.
Pirates, Punks & Politics
Davidson, Nick. Sports Books, York, 2014.
The news that FC St. Pauli has quite a large following of fans that identify with left-wing politics is news to absolutely nobody who has even a vague interest in international Football culture. However, it takes a little more investigation to answer the obvious follow-up question; why?
Davidson’s book is the logical starting point for anybody interested in learning more about Germany’s most culturally distinctive professional Football club. Written through the impassioned eyes of a true enthusiast, Pirates, Punks & Politics explores the origins of FC St. Pauli’s fan culture while offering engaging matchday accounts at the Millerntor.
Kuper, Simon & Szymanski, Stefan. Harper Sport, London, 2012.
In our opinion, this is the most indispensable Football book written in the 21st century. A sports writer and an economist join forces to produce the definitive “smart thinking” Football orientated book, breaking down vast data sets and applying the skills of an economist to answer all the big questions you ever had about the game.
But what’s more, the accessible language in which their conclusions are presented means you will naturally find yourself picking it up for reference time and time again. Trust us on that one.
This Love Is Not For Cowards
Powell, Robert Andrew. Bloomsbury, New York. 2012.
The keen eyed among you will have gathered that this list is structured alphabetically. That said, if we were to change the order of these works in order to finish with our personal favourite at the end of the list, the final book we mention would not change.
This Love Is Not For Cowards is a wide-eyed American writer’s brutally honest memoir of a year spent following the newly-promoted Football club of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, the “most dangerous city in the world”. Powell’s writing is emotive, succinct and effortlessly engaging, and this book does the story he tells (and the unfortunate citizens of Ciudad Juarez) the full amount of justice it deserves.
Though they are all bangers, if there is one book from this list that FBTG would like to recommend, it is this one.
Stay safe team.