Valentine’s Day Book Guide

Goal.com's Matthew Braine didn't realize February 14 was Valentine's Day until late, so he's got some options for makeup gifts if you did the same.
By Matthew Braine

Did you, like me, forget that yesterday was Valentine's Day? If so, and you’re looking for a great footie book to give that special one you owe big time, one of these five goodies should quench his or her thirst for knowledge. And perhaps earn you some forgiveness.

Among the Thugs
By Bill Buford


While soccer as a game is unnerving, pulse pounding, and exciting, the same can be said about hooliganism. However, to be fair, hooliganism is a very small and mostly frowned upon aspect of the game, especially during this day and age. But during the 1980’s, this uprising among fans was at its all time high in England. Renowned journalist and author Bill Buford dives into this sea of violence, drinking, and semi-organized havoc as he makes his way into the Manchester United firm and begins to realize that the hooligan culture is not only dangerous but addictive. Buford introduces the reader to various characters along the way including Mick, the heavy drinking, mountain of a man, who teaches Bill the ropes as he delves into this new world. Buford travels with these supporters all over England and ends his true tale in Sardinia, Italy, where an attempted standoff with the local police turns violent not only for the supporters but for Buford himself. This high octane read is a page turner of the highest caliber and is an essential addition to any fans collection.

Fever Pitch
By Nick Hornby


Most fans out there have probably read Fever Pitch, or have at least seen that awful movie version featuring Jimmy Fallon and the Boston Red Sox. Colin Firth starred in the English film that was at least about soccer, however, nothing compares to the original memoir that every fan can identify with. Hornby, a mad Arsenal supporter, takes the reader through his childhood, teenage years, and adulthood, all the while celebrating and mourning his club’s fortunes. The book covers over 20 years of the Gunner supporter’s life and ends just before the introduction of the Premier League. Arsenal’s 1971 League and FA Cup double are covered along with 1980’s disastrous FA Cup final loss to West Ham United. Hornby’s writing is free flowing, poetic, passionate, and above all else, real. The author embodies the spirit of every fan. His breathtaking highs and unbelievable lows are what being a supporter is all about. Hornby delivers on all accounts: his accuracy, attention to detail, and match reports are vivid and somehow he threads in his own life story seamlessly. This is a must-have, not only for soccer fans, but for readers in general.

How Soccer Explains the World
By Franklin Foer


This National Bestseller tackles globalization by examining different aspects of soccer as related to world culture. Foer expertly examines the sociological aspects of the game by analyzing some of the heavy and interesting issues of the world. The opening chapter begins scarily as the author tells the story of Red Star Belgrade and how the Balkan Wars played a role in the club’s great success in the early nineties. The Red Star firm, Ultra Bad Boys, is fronted by another organized army that goes by the name “Tigers.” This group is headed by international criminal and Serbian freedom fighter Zeljko Raznatovic aka Arkan. Foer shows how these organizations aided Red Star in their success by using violent tactics that sometimes turned fatal. Aside from that gripping tale, Foer dives into the Celtic/Rangers rivalry which tackles Catholic and Protestant angles. Tottenham’s embrace of Jewish fans and Brazil’s slick underhanded dealings are also here. All 10 chapters make for interesting and informative reading. You won’t get any match reports or vivid game action here, however, Foer does a great job of explaining how the game of soccer shapes and moves the social climate and vice versa. This is a history and sociology book no doubt, but it shows how soccer is intertwined and is certainly a quality read.

Soccer in Sun and Shadow
By Eduardo Galeano


This interesting read is more of a guide book or poetry collection than a novel, yet it hits on nearly every mark. Galeano, a Uruguay native, lives and breathes soccer and it shows. In Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the author gives his poetic view of all things soccer by describing several topics and acts including “the goal” and “the bicycle kick.” Galeano not only covers the ins and outs of the game, but also the players and important events that have shaped the game including every World Cup through 2002, Romario, Baggio, Maradona, and of course, Pele. There are 222 notes in this 226 page book, which means that falling in and out of each page is easy as pie. It’s hard to call this one a page turner as sometimes you can find yourself yearning for more commentary on a certain topic, however, Galeano does a fantastic job of getting nearly everything he wants to say into small pieces. His words are like lyrics in a song, flowing freely into the reader’s brain which makes this a great read no matter how you slice it.

My Favourite Year: A Collection of Football Writing
Edited By Nick Hornby


This collection was first published in 1993 and is a British special. Each respected journalist and author (13 in total) writes their account of the season that was most important or special. Nick Hornby, the editor of this work, chooses not Arsenal, but Cambridge United for his unique season. Hornby recounts United’s 1983/84 campaign, in which the club went 31 matches without a victory. Hornby admits that his astonishment with this horrid run is on par with his joy for Arsenal’s great success stories. Every account is brilliantly composed, including Olly Wicken’s “Dilusions of Grandeur”, which recaps Watford’s 1974/75 season. Wicken, 11-years-old at the time, is mesmerized with his beloved Hornets and makes the reader believe that his club has achieved great success all season. It is only in the end that the reader finds out that Watford had a dreadful season and was actually relegated to the Fourth Division. This remarkable story, along with the others, makes this collection a great find and may be tough to get a hold of. However, if you can grab a copy of this British import, it will be worth the trouble. Each story is pure delight and proves how wonderful the game truly is.

Matthew Braine covers Americans in the UK for Goal.com. He can be reached at matthew.braine@hotmail.com