Goal.com Weekend Special: The Best Football Books - Part I

Football is not remote from literature and books on football and about football are abundant. In this, the first of a two part special series, Goal.com's Subhankar Mondal informs you about some of the best football books that should keep you busy for a few evenings…..

The books are in no particular order.

1. Football In Sun And Shadow (Eduardo Galeano)

This is one of those books that look at football as much more than just a game. Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano recounts the history of the beautiful game but he does so in his own special way. The book is famous for its usage of poetic language and musical lyrics and often sensational comparisons that make the reader observe the game through a different angle altogether. The best thing about Football In Sun and Shadow is the way that Galeano portrays the game, expressing the emotions of every football fan in apt words and language. And then there's this famous quote: "Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good football. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ’A pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good football happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it." 

2. Forza Italia: The Fall And Rise Of Italian Football (Paddy Agnew)

Paddy Agnew came to Italy in the 1980s looking for work at the Vatican and in football. Having spent over 20 years in a foreign nation whose language he didn't know when he first landed, Agnew gives his own perception of Italian football in this book. He doesn't delve too deep into the history of the game and focuses more on how the Italian football is what it is. There are some fascinating chapters on Diego Maradona, Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian match-fixing scandal of 2006, the Juventus drug-trial and even on Benito Mussolini, all composed in refined prose and with the right amount of personal perception. Paddy Agnew’s sharply chiseled prose and encyclopedic knowledge of the Italian game are marvelous and although initially the book would seem to have been written by an outsider looking at Italian football, in the end the reader would come to acknowledge that Agnew has become an intricate part of Italian football and of Italian culture.

3. The Hand Of God: The Life Of Diego Maradona (Jimmy Burns)

This book is investigative journalism at its best with prominent journalist and writer Jimmy Burns going deep into the murky world that Diego Armando Maradona had constructed around himself to reveal both the good and the ill of whom many believe to be the world's greatest ever footballer. Burns tracks down the rise of Maradona and charts his trajectory, as El Diego becomes the world's most celebrated footballer only to nosedive into the abyss. Jimmy Burns' cutting, direct prose makes the book a delightful read and his painstaking research makes the reader know El Diego the man from a very close distance. Of course, like all books on Maradona this book too highlights the best moments in the Argentine legend's footballing career but here Burns explains the man more than he eulogizes him, perhaps failing to properly credit Maradona for his on-pitch contribution to Argentina, Barcelona and Napoli. A hugely insightful biography, and a controversial one too.

4. White Storm - The Story Of Real Madrid (Phil Ball)

This is probably the best book on Real Madrid’s history in English. Long time Spanish football enthusiast and Spanish football writer Phil Ball charts the club's foundations through its glory years of the 1950s to the modern period. Written from a neutral perspective, White Storm - The Story Of Real Madrid encompasses not only Madrid's history but also explains the club's position in Spanish culture and society in the 20th century. This is a must read book for any Real Madrid supporter.

5. Football Yearly 2009 (Sushmita Ganguly)

Indian journalist Sushmita Ganguly published the Football Yearly 2009 in February 2009. This book reflects on the happenings over the past twelve or so months mainly in Indian football but also touches on the key occurrences in world football. The book includes thoughts of Indian national team coach Bob Houghton, football pundit PK Banerjee, East Bengal coach Subhash Bhowmick as well as an article from the famous Indian cricketer Sourav Ganguly, who is also a huge football follower.

6. The Damned Utd (David Peace)

David Peace's The Damned Utd is not strictly a football book; it is more like a novel on football and on the legendary Brian Clough. The book focuses on the few days that Clough was the manager of the English club Leeds United and tries to convey the inner workings of one of the more controversial football mangers in English football. Peace fictionalizes various aspects and tries to explain Brian Clough the man just as he is. David Peace's work portrays a gloomy and bleak picture of football in the 1970s and more importantly reveals how the beautiful game is not as beautiful or as simple as it is often made out to be.

7. FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals (Andrew Jennings)

Investigative journalist Andrew Jennings' hugely enlightening and informative book FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals delves deep into the shadowy world of football and FIFA. His exhaustive research for four years led him to find out some rather damning facts about the way football's governing body is run and expose the way football is run these days. An explosive revelation of behind-the-scenes happenings, FOUL is a scary and riveting study of how politics and money are playing a huge role in deciding how the football world is shaped.

8. A Season With Verona (Tim Parks)

Tim Parks was initially a Manchester United fan but became a life-long Hellas Verona supporter, never losing his love for his adopted team and his adopted 'homeland' even when the club would slip down the ladder of Italian football into the lower divisions. A Season With Verona is a narrative of supporting an unfashionable club in a foreign nation and the joys and sorrows that are attached to this love. Tim Parks travels around Italy supporting Verona along with the Italian fans of the club and captures his and their emotions in words perfectly. Parks focuses on various aspects of supporting Verona, the politics, culture and the intricacies of it, and writes from an insider's perspective on football in Italy in general and football in Verona in particular.

9. Fever Pitch (Nick Hornby)

Nick Hornby is a celebrated Arsenal supporter and his book Fever Pitch reveals that and much more. This is a book that appears to be an autobiography, a memoir actually, but it does not restrict itself to the limitations and structure of one. Fever Pitch actually explores the growth of Hornby as an Arsenal supporter; as he starts to make football and Arsenal an indispensable and almost obsessive part of himself and of his identity, he starts to relegate all other aspects of life to the sidelines. Matchdays start forming a whole new meaning for Hornby as he starts forming his own conceptions of football and of life. Arsenal fans would love this book and so would the neutrals.

10. Morbo: The Story Of Spanish Football (Phil Ball)

There are many who say that Phil Ball's Morbo: The Story Of Spanish Football is the definite book on Spanish football in English and it would be hard not to acknowledge that claim. This book is not exactly a history of Spanish football but like most of Ball's writings explains Spanish football in terms of the cultural, societal and economic factors that shape Spanish football and make it by far the most interesting and intriguing footballing domain in Europe. Ball charts some of the most politically steeped rivalries in club football in the Iberian nation and explains how the different regions in Spain perceive such rivalries. Morbo, a word that is not very easy to translate into English, is what Phil Ball's book centres around; written in a narrative that appears as much a historical account as an individual perception, this book dispels several myths about Spanish football that an uninformed reader may have accepted for fact.

Subhankar Mondal