Four Football Books to Read in Early 2017

1. Above Head Height: A Five-A-Side Life by James Brown (Quercus, Feb 2017)

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In December 2015, former NME and GQ journalist James Brown wrote a very moving tribute to one of his teammates who passed away. The article struck a real nerve with the ever-growing five-a-side fraternity and this book will surely expand on the weird and wonderful camaraderie that exists between people who only meet for an hour every week. Novelist Tony Parsons has gone so far as to call it ‘The Fever Pitch of five-a-side’.

2. Shades of Blue: My Life in Football and the Shadow Within by David White and Joanne Lake (Michael O’Mara, Feb 2017)

David White played for Manchester City for eight years, between 1985 and 1993. He’s always been a club legend but in the last few months, he’s entered the national spotlight as one of the first brave men to go public about sexual abuse at the hands of former Crewe Alexandra youth coach, Barry Bennell. This promises to be a groundbreaking account and in Joanne Lake (co-author of I’m Not Really Here, a groundbreaking account of depression in football), White has the perfect support.

3. Doctor Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher, Legend by Andrew Downie (Simon & Schuster, March 2017)

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I’ll be honest – I was a little sceptical about this one at first. Sure, it’s got a great cover but do we need another book on a Brazilian legend? The answer, as it turns out, is absolutely yes because this is an unusual biography about an unusual player. Downie is in possession of unparalleled insight; ‘he has had exclusive access to Socrates’s unpublished memoir and many of the tape recordings left by Socrates’. So I think this will be a special book indeed.

4. Nolberto Solano: Blowing My Own Trumpet (Mojo Risin’ Publishing, March 2017)

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I’m a big fan of cult footballers and they don’t get much bigger than Sir Nobby of Newcastle. Judging by his Twitter account, I reckon the little Peruvian has plenty of tales to tell about his time on Tyneside. ‘Armed with a lifetime of memories and his trusty trumpet,’ the publisher website states, ‘Solano reveals all in a story filled with hope and punctuated by painful life lessons.’ I can’t wait for this one.

The Football Book Calendar – August to November 2016

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August

Angels With Dirty Faces: The Footballing History of Argentina – Jonathan Wilson

The Roar of the Lionesses: Women’s Football in England – Carrie Dunn

Ring of Fire: Liverpool into the 21st century: The Players’ Stories – Simon Hughes

Hope – Hope Powell

 

September

A Yorkshire Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of a Sporting Powerhouse – Anthony Clavane

The Bottom Corner: A Season with the Dreamers of Non-League Football – Nige Tassell

No Nonsense: The Autobiography – Joey Barton

Fearless: The Amazing Underdog Story of Leicester City, the Greatest Miracle in Sports History – Jonathan Northcroft

Bayern: Creating a Global Superclub – Uli Hesse

The Wenger Revolution: Twenty Years of Arsenal – Amy Lawrence

The Manager – Ron Atkinson

Martial: The Making of Manchester United’s New Teenage Superstar – Luca Caioli

 

October

My Turn: The Autobiography – Johan Cruyff

Jamie Vardy: From Nowhere, My Story – Jamie Vardy

Saturday, 3pm: 50 Eternal Delights of Modern Football – Daniel Gray

Tunnel of Love – Martin Hardy

The Man in the Middle: The Autobiography of the World Cup Final Referee – Howard Webb

The Football Ramble – Marcus Speller, Luke Aaron Moore, Pete Donaldson and Jim Campbell

 

November

Pep Guardiola: The Evolution – Martí Perarnau

The Illustrated History of Football – David Squires

Hail, Claudio!: The Man, the Manager, the Miracle – Gabriele Marcotti

Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game –  Karl Ove Knausgaard and Fredrik Ekelund

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

Autumn Football Titles – The Top Six

1. Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin (out now)

A new Calvin book is always a treat worth waiting for, and Living on the Volcano is no exception. Football management is his biggest and toughest topic yet, but Calvin maintains that high level of range and insight that we’ve come to expect from him. For my full review, visit http://wp.me/p5bRPr-9v

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2. Das Reboot: : How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World by Raphael Honigstein (out 3rd September)

Since that 5-1 defeat to England that we’ll never let them forget, Germany have rebuilt themselves as world beaters at both club and international level. Every revolution must have its historian; over the last decade or so, Guardian and Blizzard writer Honigstein has emerged as the go-to man for all things Fußball. Great title, great jacket; this promises to be an excellent look at modern football’s biggest rebirth.

Das Reboot

3. A Season in the Red: Managing Man Utd in the Shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson (out 20th August)

Have there ever been bigger boots to fill? Moyes taking over from Fergie at Old Trafford was a nice narrative that most people wanted to see work out. Sadly, it didn’t, for a variety of reasons. Ever wondered what went on behind the scenes during that turbulent 2013-14 season at Old Trafford? Guardian journalist Jamie Jackson is the man to tell you.

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 4. Diego Costa: The Art of War by Fran Guillén (out now)

After a poor start to the season, Chelsea need their star striker back to his fearsome best; all power, speed and goals. While Costa works his way back to full fitness, read up on his fascinating journey to becoming one of the best players in the world and toughest opponents. For my full review, visit http://wp.me/p5bRPr-9F

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5. Touching Distance: Kevin Keegan, the Entertainers and Newcastle’s Impossible Dream by Martin Hardy (out now)

With billionaire owners now fixing the football hierarchy for years to come, we have to treasure the old stories of unexpected success. We’ve all heard about Newcastle’s 1995-96 season – Asprilla, Ginola, attacking football, goals galore and Keegan’s fate-tempting speech – but this promises to be the definitive account of those entertaining times on the Tyne.

Touching Distance

6. Autumn sees a number of autobiographies battling it out for that final spot: Steven Gerrard’s My Story, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Leading, Jose Mourinho’s Mourinho, Sam Allardyce’s Big Sam. It’s probably best not to expect too much from these.

Up There

Up There: The North-East, Football, Boom and Bust

By Michael Walker

deCoubertin Books, 2014

51CE1dvjciL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As a very Southern boy, ‘Up There’ is exactly how I’ve always viewed the North-East. During my lifetime, the region’s biggest football clubs have yo-yoed between spectacular near misses and equally spectacular declines, with an ardent fan base the only real constant. This season, Middlesbrough are favourites for Premier League promotion, while Newcastle lost manager Alan Pardew to a team eight places below them in the table, and Sunderland have now sacked Gus Poyet after just one win in twelve games. It seems there’s never a dull day along the Tyne, Wear and Tees.

Michael Walker’s Up There: The North-East, Football, Boom and Bust is the definitive history that the region deserves, a combination of the untold stories and the stories that deserve to be told again and again. As with Promised Land, Anthony Clavane’s classic book on Leeds United, Up There is as much about social history as it is about football history. There is a noticeably separate identity in the North-East of England; ‘Part of that is distance, part of it was industry and part of it is political. Part of it is football.’

Where Clavane wove race, religion and literature into each era in turn, Walker chooses to set the social scene in one go, with first section ‘The Culture’. From the golden years of the early 1900s to the often grim reality of today, the North-Eastern decay is depicted in detail on several, inter-connected levels: money, jobs, community; the decline of coal mining, the decline of shipbuilding, the decline of local football.

With this backdrop established, that latter theme becomes the focus, as Up There takes a footballing journey from Bob Paisley through to Mike Ashley. Childhood neighbours turned arch rivals, Brian Clough and Don Revie; the Charlton brothers, perhaps the most famous Geordies to fly the nest; and, of course, Alan Shearer’s second coming on Tyneside. The thread that links these three narratives, and many more according to Walker, is exodus – talent born in the North-East, but sadly most successful elsewhere.

The later, modern sections are brilliantly and succinctly done. In around 20 pages, Walker tells the exhilarating story of Middlesbrough’s last 20 years, from Juninho all the way to Aitor Karanka. Conversations are used as key structural devices – the words of Newcastle’s Rob Lee and Sunderland’s Niall Quinn work very well as pivots for the highs and lows that surround them. Up There even manages to cover the lower tiers, with chapters on Hartlepool, Gateshead, Darlington and the Northern League.

Carefully researched and thoughtfully structured, Up There is also very well-written. Walker is highly skilled at combining the best aspects of short-form journalism (anecdotal details, insightful interviews, concise scene-setting) with a more literary eloquence. ‘If there is a constant down all the years at Newcastle, it is the milking of devotion’, Walker argues at one point. Later on, he describes Quinn as ‘a worried man. Wearside had a few of them, its talking wounded.’ The style feels perfectly suited to the subject matter, a rather bleak kind of beauty. With writing like this, perhaps the North-East won’t always be quite so ‘overlooked’.

Buy it here