Today (3rd March) is the 25th World Book Day – a celebration of books, reading and the difference that can be made to young people by having the opportunity to read for pleasure. But the joy of reading isn’t just for kids. There’s been an explosion in high-quality football writing over the last 30 years or so, with something for everyone, no matter what your interest in the beautiful game.
Over the last year or so, I’ve got into the habit of reviewing the best football books I’ve read and the Football in Berkshire team asked me for some recommendations: here are five of my current favourites.
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro – Joe McGinniss
What do you get when an American journalist with a limited understanding of soccer and an Italian village football club who’ve somehow ended up in Serie B come together? The answer is a remarkable tale which is possibly one of the greatest football books ever written. McGinniss becomes embedded in the club, forming deep bonds with the players and even travelling with them as they take on historic giants Genoa and Torino in a bid to survive.
In this gripping tale, McGinniss introduces the reader to an Italy you’ll never find in the Lonely Planet and tells a story that veers from funny and inspiring to utterly bleak. If you haven’t already read it, you definitely should.
The Farther Corner – Harry Pearson
Back in the mid-1990s, Harry Pearson wrote The Far Corner which was subtitled ‘A mazy dribble through North-East football’. Immediately lauded as a classic, The Far Corner remains in print today but I’m going to bring things up to date and suggest you read the sequel.
Each chapter in The Farther Corner is centred around a specific Northern League match. The matches, though, are only part of the point, in much the same way they are when you’re at the ground. I find that there is as much to enjoy in the rambling conversations to be had on matchdays, as there is in the play itself and so it is here; there are digressions, reminiscences, and dry humour alongside the recording of the high and low points of each match. At times, I almost felt that I was at the matches too, sipping a barely-drinkable instant coffee from a Styrofoam cup.
Harry Pearson is a writer I admire hugely and this is among his finest work. It is a hugely rewarding read, which is beautifully written.
A Tournament Frozen in Time – Steven Scragg
Remember the European Cup Winners’ Cup? Well, the next book on my list is a look back at this long-discontinued tournament. It’s not a linear history; instead, it concentrates on some of the more interesting clubs to have won the competition and on some of the quirks in its history.
Steven Scragg writes in an engaging, easy-to-read and entertaining style which makes for a freewheeling journey that takes in East Germany, the Soviet Union and the blue (but not red) half of Liverpool, as well as a Final which attracted a smaller crowd than Binfield’s trip to Wembley for the FA Vase Final.
The first part of a trilogy which also includes Where the Cool Kids Hung Out which focusses on the old UEFA Cup and The Undisputed Champions of Europe which is about the original European Cup, this is an excellent book. It reminded me of a time before pay-TV and group stages dominated European football. It’s an excellent book and if you enjoy it, the sequels will prove well worth your time.
Tears at La Bombonera – Christopher Hylland
This is a pretty unusual book. The author (half-English, half-Norwegian) upped sticks and moved to Buenos Aires; Tears at La Bombonera is the story of the six years Hylland spent living in South America. As such, it’s a football book that isn’t really about football. Part memoir, part travelogue, part groundhopper’s journal, this is a tale of how football can bring people together and be the starting point for all manner of adventures.
Tears at La Bombonera is very readable and hugely engaging. In these uncertain times, it’s an instant ticket to Argentina and beyond.
All Together Now – Erik Samuelson
The original Wimbledon FC rose from non-League football into the professional ranks and went on to win the FA Cup and when that club was relocated to Buckinghamshire, their supporters set out to do it all again. All Together Now is the story told by Erik Samuelson, who was the long-serving CEO of AFC Wimbledon, having been involved with the club almost from day one.
Painstakingly researched and written in a manner that seeks to be fair to all involved, All Together Now is a useful reminder that football remains a sport in which it remains possible to move through the Pyramid on sporting merit, as well as being a revealing glimpse into the inner workings of AFC Wimbledon as both a football club and a business. However, it mixes difficult decisions with dry humour and you don’t have to be an AFC Wimbledon supporter to enjoy it (I’m not).
Enjoy the book
Although I’ve limited myself to five books here, there’s any number out there well worth exploring. I’m certain that, if you asked me for my recommendations in a week from now I’d come up with an entirely different list! This World Book Day, you could treat yourself to one of my suggestions or you could read something else entirely. The most important thing is that you enjoy the book, no matter what you choose.
Football in Berkshire has compiled a list of all our book recommendations via the website GoodReads – see them all listed here.