Reading The Game

By John Sloop (@NCAMookie), staff writer


Alright, the holidays are over or soon will be. You’ve got that “let down” feeling after all the build up. You also have, amidst all your other gifts, a few Amazon dollars to spend. You’re also a soccer fan. Or a nerd. Or both.


Regardless, you enjoy immersing yourself in all types of soccer knowledge. Below are a few books about soccer that I recommend. Each is very different, and each serves a different function. Some are classics, and some are quite new. I love each of them.


Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch: You couldn’t have any list about soccer and not include this one. Yes, it’s humorous but, more, it provides insight into any fan’s relationship with a team. While a lot has changed about football and fanship since the time Hornby grew up to be an obsessive Arsenal fan, the dynamics and relationships between fan, supporters, club, and gender remain spot on. If you’ve read it before—which is likely—new editions have an afterward in which Hornby discusses some of the differences between the game he describe in 1992 and the game today.


Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow: I really love this book, although I have many friends who do not. Written in a lyrical, poetic style, Galeano provides a scattered history of soccer from the beginning of time to the present. There are over a hundred short chapters here, some focusing on single “famous” goals, some focusing on particular games, some on rules, players, and buildings. It’s endlessly fun and will have you googling for more information. The poetic style informs the passion. First published in 1997, more recent editions include chapters up to the 2010 World Cup.


Franklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization: This is a lovely and original book. Looking at soccer as a global game, Foer uses its role in a variety of cultures and contents to, in effect, provide understandings of multiple world problems and possibilities. A sample of chapter titles, each beginning with “How Soccer Explains” will give you a sample of what this book does: “The Jewish Question,” “The Sentimental Hooligan,” “The New Oligarchs,” “Islam’s Hope,” and “The American Culture Wars.” A recent edition includes an updated afterward to discuss new changes in global politics.


Jonathan Wilson, Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics. Too many people read this book and then dub themselves experts at tactics. In my mind, the book just does not function that way. Instead, by telling a history of changing tactics, Wilson provides a history of the global game. Yes, you learn some fundamentals about tactics on the way, but this book is far more a history of the global game, giving you insight into how and why changes take place, than a guide to tactics.


Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, Soccernomics: Why England Loses. . . . : Published on the heels of the massive success of Freakonomics, this volume (with a blurb from Stephen Dubner) attempts to work similar magic in the world of soccer. Utilizing statistics and business principles to provide “hidden” dimensions of the game, you learn a lot about league structures, national games, players, agents, and club politics. It’s a very good read. Most recent addition delves into new changes in the soccer economy.


Simon Critchley, What We Think About When We Think About Soccer: The author himself describes this book as an attempt to write a “poetics of soccer” and to describe the “sensate ecstasy” of fanship. While this description is on the mark, and while he quite often quotes Heidegger in building his case, such a description misses the point that I would want you to take from this book. This is a beautifully written attempt to understand most aspects of soccer fanship by understand the affect, or emotional impact, of being a fan. I really love this little book, and I think you will, too.


Laurent Dubois, The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer: I am jealous that this book was written. Dubois provides us with seven chapters, entitled “The Goalkeeper,” “The Defender,” “The Midfielder,” “The Forward,” “The Manager,” “The Referee,” and “The Fan.” In effect, he uses each of those “studies” in order to discuss the history and politics of the game. While providing insight into individual players, this is more of an amazing narrative about the game that is written in a style that allows you to feel and understand the awe with which Dubois holds soccer. This is a real gem and infinitely readable.


I would love to hear from others about their favorite books about their specific clubs. To start this off, I asked my colleagues at Speedway Soccer for their book recommendations for their clubs. It turns out that Slape and I are the only people who read (for the record, Andy mumbled something about James Franco, Davey denied ever reading, and Ben kept blurting out "Fergie!" without actually making a recommendation).


For Liverpool fans, Slape recommends Raphael Honigstein, Bring the Noise: "It was a hard decision choosing my favorite LFC book so I went with the one I have read most recently. Many fans know the Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool and Dortmund but what about before then? Raphael Honigstein takes a look at the formative years of Jurgen Klopp from his playing days, coaching at Mainz and beyond. It a really interesting look at the man behind the big smiles and hugs. Honigstein did just release an updated version cover the past two season at Liverpool as well.


Also honorable mention to Brian Reade, An Epic Swindle: 44 Months with a Pair of Cowboys: If you want to learn about Liverpool going almost to the brink of existence, this is the book for you."


For Chelsea, the “official” narrative by Rick Glanvill, Chelsea FC: The Official Biography, is a fine place to start to get a good understanding of the first 100 years of the club. While sanitized, it does touch on some of the low points (e.g., the Headhunters). I’m not thrilled with the writing stylistically, but you walk away knowing a good amount of detail about the club’s origins and historic rivalries.


If you want a Chelsea book with swagger, I like Greg Tesser’s Chelsea FC in the Swimming ‘60s: Football’s First Rock ‘N’ Roll Club. Tesser writes at a great pace and gives a great understanding of the rise of agents and marketing.


I would love to hear from others with their recommendations for books about soccer in general or about particular clubs.


Get your read on. And let's get those NSC books started.

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