The is the poet who won football, Uruguay’s Eduardo Galeano, put this sign on his door every four years: ‘Closed for Soccer’. He then spent a month watching the World Cup and writing about it. His Soccer in the Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano is the greatest book on football. Only Mexican writer Juan Villoro God is round that’s a challenge.
Nobel Laureates who love football and occasionally write about it include Gabriel Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Albert Camus, Gunter Grass, and Orhan Pamuk. However, football writing is not considered literary. Simon Kuper — who wrote some of the best — once said books about football ranked “even lower than the self-help books sold in airports.”
The 1990s changed that. Galeano’s masterpiece appeared in 1995. “I wanted reading fans to lose their fear of soccer, and soccer fans to lose their fear of books,” he explained. The best of football writers, Hugh McIlvanney and Brian Glanville, published collections, and football began to attract writers whose livelihood did not depend on the game.
Pete Davies’ Everyone played (reissued as A night in Turin) and to Nick Hornby High fever set the trend. Davies, a novelist, was invited by England’s manager at the 1990 World Cup to travel with the team and was given access to the players. The result, the best behind-the-scenes record of a tournament, made football writing sexy. As done High fever
Here are 11 of the best for both fans and casual readers.
SOCCER IN SUN AND SHADOW by Eduardo Galeano: A book of passion and intelligence, of insights and thrills, written by a self-confessed “beggar for good soccer,” and presented in a series of vignettes. “The history of soccer,” said Galeano, “is a sad journey from beauty to duty. When the sport became an industry, the beauty that blossomed from the joy of playing was torn from its roots. Condemned by professional soccer is all useless, and useless means not profitable…”
GOD IS ROUND: Tackling the Giants, Villains, Triumphs, and Scandals of the World’s Favorite Game by Juan Villoro: This is a collection of Villoro’s essays about football. He called Maradona the only ‘slave-cum-liberator’ in sports history: a player driven by early adversity and later insults. Beauty in a good game is important. Here’s what he said: “In this game, which allows for so much magic and wonder, Cristiano Ronaldo plays just one sport.”
Brilliant Orange: THE NEUROTIC GENIUS OF DUTCH FOOTBALL by David Winner: A flavour, from the introduction, “If this is a book about Dutch football, you’ll probably wonder why it contains pages and pages about art and architects , cows and canals, anarchists, church painters, rabbis and airports but barely a word, for example, about (clubs) PSV and Feyenoord… And the reason, I think, is that this is not so much a book about Dutch football as a book about the idea of Dutch football…”
FEVER PITCH by Nick Hornby: A funny, touching story of the novelist’s obsession with Arsenal and the way in which his life and the development of his football club are intertwined. Hornby explains, he “fell in love with football because I eventually fell in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, not thinking about the pain or disruption it would cause.”
McIlvanney on FOOTBALL: If journalism is literature in a hurry, it’s also the first draft of history. McIlvanney is gifted enough to make what is written in daily deadlines read like the measured prose of a historian.
SOCCER AGAINST THE ENEMY – HOW FOOTBALL SHAPES NATIONAL IDENTITY by Simon Kuper: The author travels to 22 countries to understand why the surprises seen in the right perspective are inevitable because of our geopolitics.
A NIGHT AT THE TURN by Pete Davies: Davies never wrote another book on football, but it was enough to put him in the Hall of Fame.
THE BALL IS ROUND – A GLOBAL HISTORY OF FOOTBALL by David Goldblatt: At nearly 1,000 pages, it’s comprehensive. On Indian football: “In a country that remained divided by the hierarchies of the caste system, cricket proved more accommodating to differences than football’s universalism…”
FOUL! THE SECRET WORLD OF FIFA – BRIBES, VOTE RIGGING AND TICKET SCANDALS by Andrew Jennings: The ugliness behind the beauty.
GOLAZO! A HISTORY OF LATIN AMERICAN FOOTBALL by Andreas Campomar: What sport means to a continent. ‘Tell me how you play, and I’ll tell you who you are,’ wrote Galeano. This book explains how.
A GAME OF TWO HALVES edited by Stephen F. Kelly: We meet soccer lovers AJ Ayer, Camus, Harold Pinter, George Orwell, JB Priestley, John Arlott, Hugh McIlvanney, Alan Ross and others, who shed light in the game with their prose and poetry. To immerse yourself in the whole World Cup.