Football writers on the Best Books of 2015

Jack Pitt-Brooke, Football journalist for The Independent and i

GoldblattAt a time when the game of football itself is subject to endless dissection and analysis, The Game of our Lives by David Goldblatt tells the other story: what does football mean to us in Britain in 2015? Why does it matter? How do we experience it? How has it changed? From half-and-half scarves, to billionaire foreign owners, YouTube fan channels, and the rest, Goldblatt tells us with great narrative skill how we got here. Or, in the subtitle of the book, about ‘The Meaning and Making of English Football’. It is a remarkable piece of scholarship, showing an understanding not just of football, but of history, society and culture. Because the state of modern football, ultimately, is the state of us.

Matt Gardiner, sports bookseller at Waterstones and founder of Manchester Football Writing Festival

9781780893273(1)Living on the Volcano is another astonishingly strong book from the author of “Family” and “The Nowhere Men”. Mike Calvin has once again reached heights with his sports writing which seems to be unfair on his peers.  His ability to gain access to the people who really count is phenomenal and ensures once again that “Living on the Volcano” is a triumph.  The chapters which focus on the lower league managers are for me the strongest as we hear from men who don’t often make the headlines.  I for one can’t wait for what Mike does next.

Michael Calvin, Sports journalist for The Independent and author of Living on the Volcano and The Nowhere Men

The Soccer SyndromeCall me Mr Retro if you wish, but my football book of 2015 was first published in 1966. The Soccer Syndrome by the late John Moynihan has just been republished by his son Leo, through Ian Ridley’s Floodlit Dreams imprint, with an evocative new foreword by Patrick Barclay. It is a classic, an overdue reminder of football’s lost innocence which, in an age of corporate artifice, has rarely been more relevant. I worked with John as a young reporter; he was sardonic and perceptive, with a voice as rich as mulled wine. He understood football’s essential humanity – this is your chance to do likewise.

Paul Grech, author of Il Re Calcio: Stories From Italian Football

2015 has seen my shelf being enriched by a number of great new football titles.  As an avowed fan of Simon Hughes’ writing, I terribly enjoyed ‘Men In White Suits’, his analysis of Liverpool’s fall from grace in the nineties through the experiences of some of the players that shaped that decade.

From a football coaching perspective, I also enjoyed reading Carol Dweck’s Minset and Ian Leslie’s Curious.  Although neither one is a football specific book both have ideas that should inspire anyone who deals with coaching and indeed I wrote extensively about the impact of the latter book.

However, if I were to pick my favourite read for the year I would have to go for Michael Calvin’s Living on the Volcano.  This dissection of football manager, thanks to the experiences of famous and less well known managers, puts into focus the reality of football management.  Although I was never under the illusion that it is as easy a job as many seem to think that it is, there were passages in this book that still took me by surprise.

Martin Greig, co-founder of BackPage Press

InvincibleFrom the moment we founded BackPage – in 2009 – we wanted to publish a book on Arsenal’s Invincibles. Along with Pep’s Barca, they were the team that had most fired our imaginations.  We published the definitive book on Barca, but never got round to the Invincibles. Then Amy Lawrence wrote Invincible. At first I was devastated that we had been beaten to the punch, but on reading it I was simply thrilled that the subject had been properly documented. Invincible is excellent. Amy’s passion shines through. It is a sports book with a beating heart, like all the best ones.

Daniel Storey, deputy editor of Football365 and football freelancer

I believe in miraclesI Believe in Miracles is Daniel Taylor’s account of Nottingham Forest’s European Cup-winning team, told through the eyes of players, supporters, journalists, managers and club officials but knitted together perfectly by one of this country’s finest sportswriters. The book is split into two sections, the first regarding Forest’s rise to the league title, and the second the remarkable run to double European glory. At each stage of the journey the reader is given nuggets of information and anecdotes, all reminiscing about an achievement that will never be repeated.

There have been countless biographies and autobiographies written about each individual in that all-conquering Nottingham Forest era. This should be seen as the definitive book.

Sachin Nakrani, writer and editor for The Guardian and creator and co-editor of We’re Everywhere, Us

OstrichWe live in a world filled with season diaries (I should know, I’ve written one myself) and the job, therefore, of anyone who decides to go down that path is to avoid the obvious, well-worn methods of telling the story of nine months on planet football​ and provide the reader with something different​. Alexander Netherton and Andi Thomas achieve that with Are you an Ostrich? their take on the 2014/15 Premier League season with a book that is as sharp with its humour as it is with its considered, serious insight on the wider issues/topics-of-debate in the domestic game. So one one hand it creates a superbly surreal world in which Arsene Wenger cannot eat his breakfast without literally everything going wrong, while on the other offering the most powerful and intelligent take on why Ched Evans should not be allowed anywhere near a football pitch that I’ve ever read. Are You an Ostrich, which references the former Leicester manager Nigel Pearson’s infamous remark to a journalist near the end of the 2014/15 campaign, is a delight to read by two writers who have become experienced football diarists but continue to offer a fresh and must-read contribution to the genre.

Harry Pearson, football writer and author of The Far Corner

Touching DistanceMartin Hardy’s Touching Distance tells the story of Newcastle’s 1995-96 season, the year they could and – maybe – should have won the title for the first time since the 1920s. It’s built around a series of insightful and often funny interviews with key players including Peter Beardsley who relates how he informed his telephone-less parents that he had signed for his hometown club from Vancouver by sending them a postcard. Inevitably he got to Newcastle from Canada before it did. Ultimately Touching Distance is a bit like The Day of the Jackal – you know what the outcome will be but the author cranks the tension up so nicely that by the final chapter you start to suspect there might be an unexpected twist at the end.

Alex Stewart, freelance football writer

The Football's RevoltMy favourite football book of 2015 is only partly from 2015. To be precise, The Football’s Revolt, by Jan Le Witt and George Him, was originally written and illustrated in 1939 and reissued this year by the V&A. Witt and Him were two Polish artists who moved to London to work for the museum’s in-house design team, and also produced posters for the war effort, as well as their sumptuous children’s books. The Football’s Revolt tells the story of a match between Goalbridge and Kickford, a fierce local derby that gets out of hand when the football takes umbrage at being kicked so hard and takes to the clouds. The book at once manages to capture the intensity of football and its fans, while also undercutting that with sometimes very subtle humour. It is surreal and sly and celebratory, with a resolution that extols the simple pleasures of the game. The illustrations are lush and funny, perfectly complementing the style of writing. The Football’s Revolt is a great book for children, but will cause a wry smile to any football-loving adult who picks it up, and it is my football book of 2015.

Dermot Corrigan, football writer for ESPN, Irish Examiner, WSC and Unibet

Brilliant OrangeDavid Winner’s Brilliant Orange is not a traditional football book, but it’s still the best explanation of how and why the sport has evolved over recent decades. Johan Cruyff dominates, of course, but artists Johannes Vermeer and Jan Van Eyck are also brought into show how the Dutch are “a nation of spatial neurotics” for whom use of space is “a matter of national survival”.

Put more simply, with the ball you expand the pitch as much as possible, without it you restrict the space available for opponents to play in. Winner finds early evidence of this sophisticated tactical approach in the 16th century, when a visiting Spanish side [well, army] was squeezed of space in defence and thereby defeated – “anticipating by nearly 400 years the Total Football concept”. Spanish football caught up around 2008, and Cruyff’s influence at Barcelona is still strong. This book was published back in 2000, but is just as important today.

Ian Ridley, football writer and publisher of Floodlit Dreams

One of my favourite football books, and one that influenced me as a young football writer, was The Soccer Syndrome, by John Moynihan. It combines wit with perception, elegant writing with sharp opinion, and informs equally about the game at the highest level as well as on public park.

When his son Leo Moynihan approached me about re-issuing the book 50 years on to mark both its original publication and a half-century since England won the World Cup, I was delighted to work with him on it.

The result is a new edition, with foreword by Patrick Barclay and afterword by Leo, that we hope keeps alive the memory and spirit of John, who died a few years ago, and offers a chance to a new generation of readers to enjoy what remains a charming and relevant insight into English football.

George Rinaldi, English and Italian football writer and author of the upcoming Calcio’s Greatest Forwards

9781780893273(1)It comes as no surprise to say the most enjoyable football book I’ve read in 2015 was Living on the Volcano by Michael Calvin. It has become rather expected of Calvin to deliver such brilliance packed in to a small space, but he has done so once again with this superb reading of football managers. He isn’t afraid to scrutinise when he sees best, and also gives a number of different interviews with the Premier League’s top coaches. These managers do, however unfortunate, keep to a very stylised and cliché based response which might hamper the true feel of the book, but the writing is what I came for and it didn’t disappoint.

Adam Hurrey,

9781906850722The best football book I read this year was Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League by Ian Plenderleith. The North American Soccer League is a fascinating chapter of football’s not-too-distant past. On one hand, it was a hugely ambitious, forward-thinking enterprise; on the other, an unsustainable financial mess. Whichever cap fits, the NASL burned half as long it perhaps ought to have done, but surely twice as bright.

Ian Plenderleith’s deals dutifully with the well-worn NASL stories – Pelé, Cruyff, Beckenbauer et al – but it is the peripheral nuggets that really keep the pages turning. The decision to move franchises to Las Vegas and Hawaii, in particular, provides the author with some entertaining tales of ageing journeymen struggling with both the unbearable heat and the obligatory four-day benders.

If you’re into your footballing curiosities – and if not, why not? – Plenderleith’s meticulous (but never pedestrian) retrospective is as compelling as it gets.

Iain Macintosh, ESPN football writer, author and editor of The Set Pieces

I would say Matt Dickinson’s Bobby Moore: The Man in Full. That was very special.

Bobby Moore

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Chris Bruce interview – The Five-a-Side Bible

With Christmas fast approaching, the perfect football gift book has arrived just in time. The Five-a-Side Bible is a must for all ‘ballers in your life, young and old. I caught up with author Chris Bruce to discuss the inspiration, the features and the fun.

Q1. You made the brilliant decision to start 5-a-side.com back in 2013. Was it a long-term plan and where did it come from? Was it an instant hit?

I’d love to be able to say that it was always my vision to create 5-a-side.com as it is today and eventually release a book but I’m afraid I’d be lying. The truth is that I love 5-a-side: the game its self, the culture, trying to improve at it. So back in 2013 I thought it would be a fun idea to start writing about it, and share my thoughts on the internet. It was really just a release for me back then.

For a long time there was hardly anybody reading it at all but I didn’t care. It’s a passion not a business, and I was just enjoying writing about the sport I love. Gradually over the months people started finding the site and giving me feedback on it, which was really nice and spurred me on to write more. It turns out that there are a lot of people who like reading about 5-a-side – no surprise as there are millions who play it – and it has been great to connect with people who all share that enthusiasm for the game.

five a side

Q2. At what point did you start to think ‘You know what, we could make a great book out of this’?

Truthfully, that thought hadn’t occurred to me until the publishers, BackPage Press, got in contact and convinced me of the potential of it. Through the website I had stumbled across a part of the football community that wasn’t well catered for but BackPage Press were the ones who saw the potential for making a great book out of it. They had their finger on the pulse and had seen how popular the game had become, so they contacted me and we began talking about what we could produce.

Within about an hour of brainstorming we had come up with so many brilliant ideas of what we could put in the book.  It’s at that point that I just thought: wow, this could be something great.

Q3. There are so many brilliant features and anecdotes in the book but I think my favourite is ’15 Players You Always See At 5-a-side’. Which type of player would you say you are? And what’s your favourite feature of the book?

I’m now 34, and I can see myself starting to become ‘the veteran’. In the book, we describe that character as the one who knows all the tricks on both sides of the law, the sort of sneaky guy who knows what he’s doing and is rarely beaten. He’s also the one who starts to look a bit vulnerable in the last 20 minutes, when he employs the dark arts to stay on top of the whippersnappers.

I like to think that my use of the ‘dark arts’ is kept to an absolute minimum, but there’s no doubt that a bit of know-how can be crucial in 5-a-side.

It’s so hard to pick a favorite feature of the book – there were so many that were fun to work on. I like the interview we did with Matt Le Tissier; the reasons for not turning up to 5-a-side (a constant bugbear for any organiser); the best collection of 5-a-side team names (including the likes of ‘Murder on Zidane’s floor’ and ‘the Neville Wears Prada’); and some cracking real-life stories of crazy occurrences and people losing their temper.

Q4. In with all of the fun, there’s plenty of useful advice, especially in terms of tactics, fitness and nutrition. In 5-a-side I’ve always found these to be ignored elements but have they been really popular parts of the website? And is that a sign of the game being taken more and more seriously?

One of the beauties of 5-a-side is how informal it is. People, regardless of ability, body shape, or sanity, just turn up and enjoy a game with their mates. It’s a world away from professional football. Part of the 5-a-side culture seems to be that you don’t want to be seen taking the game particularly seriously.

But on the other hand people want to be good at it. And to be good at it there are things you need to know, and ways you need to prepare. 5-a-side.com has been sharing these tips for a while now and you’d be surprised at how many people are using them to improve their game. The book contains the best of those tips: the things that will make you a better player and improve your playing experience without going over the top. It’s all practical advice that you can apply.

Q5. One element I wasn’t necessarily expecting in the book was the history of the UK ‘movement’ and the interviews with pioneers like Sof. Did that take a lot of research or was that background something that you were already familiar with?

Since starting the site in 2013 I got to know quite a few of those guys. There’s a really interesting culture that has developed and some wonderful players have graced the 5-a-side pitches of this country over the years. The very best of the players can do some mesmerising things with the ball, which is all the more startling when you consider that they’re not professional players.

In the book I wanted to talk to a few of them about what makes them so good, and what their stories were. It’s really intriguing to hear the journeys some of them have been on in the world of football. Hopefully people will find those sections an interesting read – especially since I managed to persuade these 5-a-side legends to share some of their tips.

Q6. When you’re putting together a book like this, I imagine it takes a lot of collaboration with a lot of people. Did you have a team to work with? How was it working with BackPage Press?

The team has comprised of myself, plus the publishers BackPage Press (in particular Martin and Neil) – not even enough to put out a 5-a-side team between us. It’s remarkable how much we got through in such a short space of time.

BackPage have been great to work with. It really helped that they play 5-a-side themselves and understood the target audience, so when we collaborated on it we all knew what we were talking about. The experience they brought as journalists as well as the enthusiasm they brought as regular guys who play the game was a great combination. It really was a pleasure to work on it with them and I learned a lot in the process.

Q7. The book looks great; it’s the perfect giftbook size with great colour images throughout. Was the Christmas present-buying market always the intention here? After all, more people play 5-a-side than any other type of football and I for one will be buying plenty of copies for friends and family!

It’s the sort of book that you can dip in and out of. It’s entertaining and goes at a nice pace so I think it will be ideal as a gift for anyone who plays 5-a-side. And yes, there are lots of people that play, so even if a small proportion of them buy it the book should do well. Having a broad appeal across the spectrum of 5-a-side players was something we always wanted to achieve.

Q8. Were there any bits that you were sad to leave out? Will these be appearing in The 5-a-side Bible 2?

With a project like this you could go on forever, constantly adding new things to it. When we had to draw a line and stop I was full of thoughts of other things we could have done. But stepping back and looking at what we have managed to produce, I’m really happy with the way it has turned out.

Of course, it would be nice to one day get around to doing some more of the things we wanted to – but as you say, that’s for the 5-a-side Bible 2!

To buy The Five-a-Side Bible click here

Visit 5-a-side.com for the latest tactics, tips and anecdotes from the world of five-a-side.