Top Ten Football Books: Spencer Vignes

Spencer Vignes is a journalist, author, and broadcaster and fan of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club. Book-wise he has been to date, the author of six titles including The Server, which was listed for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award in 2003. Of his three football books, FBR have been fortunate to review two of them, Bloody Southerners: Clough And Taylor’s Brighton & Hove Odyssey and Lost In France: The Remarkable Life and Death of Leigh Roose, Football’s First Superstar, both excellent reads. His other football title is, A Few Good Men: The Brighton & Hove Albion Dream Team.

Here Spencer provides FBR with his Top Ten Football books, with a nod to his beloved Seagulls for good measure.

(1) Ray Of Hope – The Ray Kennedy Story, by Dr Andrew Lees and Ray Kennedy (Penguin, 1993)

The first serious football book I ever remember reading. A fascinating insight into the life of Ray Kennedy, flipping between his glittering playing career and the growing onset of – and subsequent treatment for – Parkinson’s disease.

(2) Hillsborough – The Truth, by Phil Scraton (Mainstream, 1999)

The book that opened my eyes to the injustices surrounding the Hillsborough disaster. A story that had to be told, told well.

(3) Full-Time – The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino, as told to Paul Kimmage (Scribner/Town House, 2000)

Searingly honest and brilliantly written. Relatively short, yet a reminder that sometimes less is more. If only all football autobiographies were like this.

(4) Floodlit Dreams – How To Save A Football Club, by Ian Ridley (Simon & Schuster, 2006)

The from-the-heart tale of Ian Ridley’s attempts to inject a little pizzazz into Weymouth FC, his hometown club. Entertaining, informative, poignant.

(5) Build A Bonfire – How Football Fans United to Save Brighton & Hove Albion, by Stephen North and Paul Hodson (Mainstream, 1997)

The story of Brighton’s fight for survival during the mid-nineties at the hands of an unscrupulous chairman, in the words of those who were there.

(6) Gus Honeybun, Your Boys Took One Hell of a Beating, by Simon Carter (Pitch, 2016)

A gallows humour account of what it’s like to support a lower-league football club, in this case Exeter City. A genuine must read for all football fans, except perhaps those of Plymouth Argyle.

(7) Left Foot Forward, by Garry Nelson (Headline, 1995)

A year in the life of a journeyman footballer, so the sub-title goes. Yet it was, and remains, far more than that. One of the very best of the early wave of nineties football-related publishing.

(8) Provided You Don’t Kiss Me, by Duncan Hamilton (Fourth Estate, 2007)

Brian Clough, warts and all, by the man charged with covering Nottingham Forest for the local paper during the most eventful years in the club’s history. Absolutely everything I hoped it would be.

(9) Moving The Goalposts – A Yorkshire Tragedy, by Anthony Clavane (Riverrun, 2017)

Sport, society, politics, culture. It’s all here. A thoroughly enjoyable, evocative read, whether you’re from Yorkshire or not.

(10) All Played Out – The Full Story of Italia ’90, by Pete Davies (Heinemann, 1990)

It took me the better part of 30 years to read it, but it was worth the wait. Written with the kind of player co-operation that today’s football hacks can only dream of, yet Davies does their words justice.

Top Ten Football Books: Texi Smith

Texi Smith was born in the North East of England, following Newcastle United, the team he still supports, despite him now residing in Sydney, Australia. Besides continuing to follow the fortunes of The Toon from afar, Texi also supports Sydney FC (The Sky Blues) who play in the A-League. He is the creator of the Jarrod Black series of books under the Unashamed Football Novel banner– Introducing Jarrod Black, Hospital Pass and Guilty Party – all reviewed here on FBR.

Texi gives us his Top Ten Football books, providing FBR with an international flavour to our authors favourites, although there is more than a hint of his roots influencing his choices!

  1. Tony Adams – Addicted

I don’t know why I bought this book ahead of so many others. I read it soon after it was released, and it was a fine introduction to football biographies. It was a very honest read and gave an insight into the psyche of a professional footballer at the top of his game – living the dream whilst living a lie.

  1. Who ate all the Pies – the life and times of Mick Quinn

Another one from years ago. Amidst a well organised boycott, The Toon kicked off the season against Leeds United. I was there to witness an outrageous game, Newcastle coming from 2-1 down to win 5-2 against the pre-season favourites. Mick Quinn became an instant hero with his four goals that day and he continued to be a hero of mine throughout his time in black and white. This book was a yarn, but a likeable one. I’ve since been gifted another copy of the book and I’m tempted to re-read it to see if my perspective has changed over time.

  1. The Newcastle Miscellany – Mike Bolam

I picked this one up in the Back Page, a legendary shop down the road from St James Park, on one of my trips back to see the family in the UK. This is just as it says, a book full of sometimes obscure facts about Newcastle United and was a fascinating read.

  1. Capital Punishment – Dougie Brimson

This one was bought in a bookstore in Melbourne many years ago and I thought it was impressive at the time that a book about football hooligans would make its way around the world onto the shelves of a major book stockist. It was a pretty good read too, and I understand there’s a whole catalogue of Dougie Brimson books now to catch up on. And I will.

  1. Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby

Don’t groan. I know what you’re thinking. I don’t care what anyone says, this was a bloody fantastic read and was ground-breaking. Having lived the Liverpool v Arsenal game in ‘89 in front of my telly in my teens and watched the unbelievable drama unfold, the Liverpool players surrounding the referee after the first goal and the climax in the final minute, this was everything I could have asked for in a storyline. I believe you can read this book again and get a different viewpoint, but on first read many years ago I absolutely loved this one.

  1. Surfing for England – Jason Goldsmith

Sometimes simply the idea behind a book is compelling enough to make you dive in. This one is a series of chapters about players from around the world who were eligible to play for Australia but chose to play elsewhere. A series of ‘what could have been’ stories, the title of the book inspired by a Craig Johnstone quote when asked whether he should play football for Australia. Terrific read and I can’t wait for the author’s next one, which is an equally fascinating subject.

  1. A Season with Verona – Tim Parks

I’m putting this one in even though I’ve only just started to read it. The concept of the book is fantastic, my only gripe so far is that the font is so small that my tired eyes don’t cope when I’m reading at night! I’ve got a feeling so far though that it is a cracker and I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to give it in the coming weeks.

  1. Boy on the Shed – Paul Ferris

Any book about a Newcastle United player, especially one from my era on the terraces at St James, is worth a shot. This one was my holiday read at the turn of this year. I found it superbly written, quite rightly winning accolades back in the UK. It was one of those books that leaves you wanting more at the end. I kind of wanted it to stop so the author could take up the story again later in life and continue it.

  1. Whatever it Takes – the inside story of the FIFA way – Bonita Mersiades

I thought I understand the plot of the 2018/2022 World Cup bid fiasco before reading this one. I’d only scratched the surface though, and this book took me deep into the process and jogged memories of just how disappointed we all were when the winners were announced. A book of two halves I’d call it, a rip-roaring read in the first half that made me wide-eyed at some of the goings on, then a second half of dissecting the characters and trying to work out answers to how and why. The cast list is enormous, there are new names cropping up all the time, but that adds to the craziness of the whole situation. I was absolutely wrapped up in this book and found myself reading well into the night to finish it.

  1. Full Time – The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino – Paul Kimmage

I was given this book by a mate who just nodded and told me to trust him. I’m glad I did. Perhaps the timing of reading this book, the fact that I’d spent a lot of time in France around the same era, or maybe it was just because it was a fabulous read, saw me unable to put this bloody book down. Heart-breakingly honest and wonderfully relevant, I instantly fell in love with this tale and I was almost distraught when I finished it. A 10/10 classic which you simply have to read.

Bench-warmer: Frozen in Time – Steven Scragg. This one doesn’t feature in the top ten as I’ve only recently got it and I’ve not given it a chance over the last few weeks. I need some quality reading time and I’m determined to get stuck in properly – the first chapter bounced around so much that I couldn’t follow, but I’m putting it down to being absolutely wrecked every time I picked up the book. Legacy – Tim Cahill gets an honorary mention too – loved following his early years at Millwall in the book. It did get unnecessarily fluffy towards the end. Still really enjoyed it. Anyone who can put their whole life into words is very brave in doing so, and what a talented player.

Top Ten Football Books: Steven Bell

This site was lucky enough to interview Steven Bell back in September 2019 about his excellent book, From Triumph to Tragedy: The Chapecoense Story and review it shortly afterwards. In October 2020, that book is to be followed up by another incredible story in The Man of All Talents: The Extraordinary Life of Douglas ‘Duggy’ Clark, when Bell uncovers the tale of a man who was to become amongst a number of things, a Rugby League legend as well as a hero in the First World War.

Here though, he presents his Top Ten Football Books, with a noticeable Manchester United flavour, a nod to the club team that influenced his love of the game.

10) Red – Gary Neville

I was surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoyed this after being bought it as a Christmas present shortly after he retired from playing. Interesting, deep and articulate, the book is more reminiscent of Neville the pundit and TV personality than it is of the dour and often scowling right-back.

9) Until Victory Always – Jim McGuinness

Another present – this time from my Irish sister-in-law. This is an underdog story for the ages, told by the former coach of Donegal (Gaelic Football), written grippingly alongside his own personal, and often heart-breaking, story.

8) Between the Lines – Michael Carrick

One of my favourite players, I looked forward to reading his story and, in particular, his own thoughts on his perennial misuse by England. Penned by him personally, it turns out to be a surprising rollercoaster of sporting highs and terrible woes as Carrick discusses his spells suffering with mental illness. As a fellow overthinker, he only went up in my estimations – something I didn’t think possible before opening the book.

7) Alex Ferguson – My Autobiography

Sir Alex was manager of Manchester United when I was in nappies, and his team of Schmeichel, Giggs, Cantona et al are one of the main reasons I fell in love with the game. Reading his story from a toolmakers apprentice in Glasgow to winning The Treble to discovering and nurturing Cristiano Ronaldo was a joy, and a perfect way to reminisce on the 20-years of joy his team had given me.

6) More Than Just a Game – Chuck Core and Marvin Close

The harrowing but wonderfully uplifting story of the Makana FA – set up by the political prisoners of Robben Island at the very summit apartheid in South Africa. The ability to organize and run a football association for two decades helped give the men the confidence and the tools to eventually overthrow their captors. Inspiring stuff, to say the very least.

5) I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic (with David Lagercrantz)

A true rags to riches story. The pages seem to turn with the Zlatan swagger, as his personality and confidence ooze from the telling of his life story. Great anecdotes that let the reader know, Zlatan is not just a character he plays to the camera, it is a way of life.

4) Blessed – George Best (with Roy Collins)

The rollercoaster ride that is part of pop culture but told from George’s heavy heart. What makes this more tragic, is that it ends at such a happy period of his life – and we all know that there was another heart-breaking chapter or two to follow.

3) Doctor Sócrates – Andrew Downie

‘Footballer, Philosopher, Legend’ is the sub-title of this extraordinary biography, and I really cannot add to that. A unique and amazing life told brilliantly and researched diligently. Inspired me to do further research into Sócrates bizarre appearance for Garforth Town in my very own West Yorkshire and subsequently write an article for These Football Times.

2) Back From the Brink – Paul McGrath (with Vincent Hogan)

When I think of this book, I feel my heart get heavy. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days during and after reading. To this day, when I see a positive social media message from Paul I feel instantly glad that he is in a good place. A harrowing read with spikes of unbridled joy and triumph from a gentle giant and a footballer ahead of his time.

1) The Miracle of Castel di Sangro – Joe McGinniss

The reason I immerse myself in and write sports stories. A masterpiece.



Top Ten Football Books: Jonny Brick

Born in Watford, Jonny Brick was actually raised to support Tottenham Hotspur during the Ledley King years. After spending five years in Scotland and going cold on English football, Jonny chose to wander along to Vicarage Road in 2012, where he saw Watford beat Burnley 3-2 on a sunny Saturday. Having spent most of the 2010s working on a bumper book, A Modern Guide to Modern Football, Jonny chose to promote it via a series of interviews with football readers, writers and reporters. The very first interviewee was the editor of this website.

1 The Collected Works of Mike Calvin

You know how you can have all 37 plays by Shakespeare? If I can have the pentalogy by Mike Calvin in one volume I’d be in heaven. It would also free up four slots in my list. It’s easier for me to lump them all together: Family is the best because you end up caring about Millwall. No Hunger In Paradise, The Nowhere Men and Living On the Volcano argue the case for young players, scouts and managers respectively, while State of Play was written as an update on Arthur Hopcraft’s terrific The Football Man. Hopcraft’s heir is a council estate kid from Watford. A National Treasure.

2 The Billionaires Club by James Montague

Having trotted around the world for his previous two books, James turns his aim on the boardroom. Only someone who loves football so much can pick it apart so greatly and James tries to remain objective in his description of the villains and heroes of English football ownership. What’s going on with Chinese investors in the Midlands? This book shows how the best sausage in the world gets made.

3 Inverting The Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson

When I was supposed to be working on my Masters thesis I was instead gobbling up the scholarly text on tacticians. This is a good introduction to Jon’s fine prose style, mixing fact and witticism, and he has fine-tuned it in ten other books on Hungary, Argentina, the ‘Barcajax’ way of Barcelona and the goalkeepers.

4 The Game of Our Lives by David Goldblatt

His two encyclopaedias, The Ball Is Round and The Age of Football, are intimidating. His social history of England and its football is digestible and fully deserving of its prizes.

5 How To Be A Footballer by Peter Crouch

This is a better class of football memoir, as its sales figures indicate. Tom Fordyce’s long similes sometimes overpower the Ealing-born beanpole but Peter, a rare middle-class footballer, has enough self-deprecation to laugh with and at elite football.

6 Always Managing by Harry Redknapp

A leftfield pick. He might not be able to write his name, but he has written five books. This was the memoir he wrote after leaving management so he could afford to settle scores and be (pun coming up) frank. He’s very good on football in the pre-Premiership era, where you can smell the dubbin on the page.

7 Can We Have Our Football Back by John Nicholson

With the help of pros, broadcasters and critics, Johnny convincingly destroys the case for having a Sky subscription, while making points about society, money and class. He may be a little too hippie for some but he has thousands of admirers from his Football365 columns, of which this is sort of a life’s work. The Hermit of any Football Library.

8 Richer Than God by David Conn

A Manchester City fan holds his nose and investigates his beloved club in the wake of the Abu Dhabi regime winning its first trophies. Success is good, as is the regeneration of Eastlands but at what cost? A perfect warm-up for his book on the Fall of FIFA.

9 Saturday 3pm by Daniel Gray

This is a perfect stocking filler for a nostalgic football fan: 50 vignettes of 500 words or so about the little things that matter about life as a fanatic. A third book is out in time for Christmas 2020. Treat yourself!

10 Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here by Anthony Clavane

The movie Airplane has a gag about Jewish sporting heroes. Anthony extends a ‘pamphlet’ to a book, where the likes of Brian Glanville, David Pleat and Mark Lazarus all come out well. The founding fathers of the Premier League, meanwhile, are both Jewish: David Dein and Irving Scholar. Mazaltov!!

On the Bench

The complete works of Duncan Hamilton, including his books on Clough (Provided You Don’t Kiss Me) and fandom (Going to the Match). Das Reboot by Rafael Hoenigstein, which started with Germany losing 5-1 to England and ended in glory. Futebol by Alex Bellos, an encomium to Jogo Bonito. Lastly, Enjoy the Game by Lionel Birnie, a must for anyone interested in Watford and the Glory Glory Taylor years.

Top Ten Football Books: Roger Slater

Roger Slater is a long-time fan, former secretary and board member of Wealdstone FC. As a writer he has been involved with three books for the club, History of Wealdstone FC, Off The Bench – A Quarter of a Century of Non-League Management and Behind the Season. In addition, Roger provides material for the Wealdstone match day programme, the 2nd Yellow and strangenbOUnce websites as well as various forums.  


1.   Left Foot Forward: A Year in the Life of a Journeyman Footballer and Left Foot in The Grave: A View from the Bottom of the Football League by Garry Nelson

Two for the price of one at the top of the list! I’ve always been a sucker for the underdog, and Garry probably had what most people would call an unspectacular career in the game. A ‘steady pro’ my dad would have said, but even over two volumes, a great read especially as it lacks the fake glitz and glamour of those ‘ten-a-penny’ superstar biographies.


2.   The Miracle Of Castel Di Sangro by Joe McGinniss

I loved the thought that this could – and did – actually happen. It’s a while since I’ve read this book, but a lot of the story is still fresh in my mind. I suppose as a non-league fan, there’s a part of me that wonders or is it hopes that something similar could happen over here. Castel rose from Serie C2 to Serie B. It doesn’t sound much as it’s only three levels in Italy, but it’s probably the nearest equivalent there will ever be to the original Southern League Wimbledon making their way to the Premiership….Come on Wealdstone, your turn next!


3.   Clown Prince of Soccer by Len Shackleton and Football Ambassador by Eddie Hapgood

Another two for the price of one here – these days, these two are probably best found at a book fair or a boot fair! I’ve got a historical bent (among others many may say) and having researched and written the History of Wealdstone FC, I really enjoyed reading about football between the wars. Perhaps because I could image what I was reading and even see the images in black and white, yet these two were characters and stars in their own right, though they still travelled to the game on the bus…..


4.   Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You: The Biography by Jonathan Wilson

Was ‘Cloughie’ an enigma? He was certainly a feature of my formative years as a football fan and for that he got my respect and admiration. I can’t believe there are fans today that don’t know who he was, what he did, and perhaps even what he meant to so many….read this and find out!


5.   Big Fry: Barry Fry: The Autobiography by Barry Fry

I’m lucky enough to have met Barry on a number of occasions. No matter what you think of him, it’s probably accurate. If you wrote this book as a script for a TV programme it would be rejected, because all those things can’t happen to one man. The problem is, they did – and they still do.


6.   Where’s Your Caravan?: My Life on Football’s B-Roads by Chris Hargreaves

Who? They all said in unison, and frankly, that’s the point. For every Rooney, Terry, Owen or Beckham, there’s fifty Chris Hargreaves yet without them, there would be many a Saturday afternoon devoid of a reason to escape the house. Just another real pro playing his way round the lower leagues…..


7.   Trautmann: The Biography by Alan Rowlands

As a kid, I knew of Bert Trautmann and his broken neck in a Cup Final. I didn’t know that he was a German Prisoner of War that stayed, nor did I know anything else. This is one of those where the story makes you think and I suppose, makes the book.


8.   Who Ate All The Pies? The Life and Times of Mick Quinn by Micky Quinn and Oliver Harvey

An honest account from an honest pro and all the trials and tribulations that he encountered. I’ve met Mick through Horse Racing – he actually stood next to me as I cheered home a horse I had a share in, to third place on its first run at Southwell – frankly, he’s just a nice bloke!


9.   Stan Bowles: The Autobiography by Stan Bowles

In a former life I worked at QPR – I’d watched Rodney Marsh before he moved on and ‘Bowlesie’ was the next star in the number ten shirt. Strangely, a quiet man (he still is, as if you drink near Griffin Park you’ve probably not noticed him in the pub), this book brings back memories of when a player with that much skill and flair could really make a difference. And I was there one day when he came back from the bookies in an overcoat and his kit ten minutes before kick-off…..


10.       The Bromley Boys: The True Story of Supporting the Worst Football Team in Britain by Dave Roberts

Anyone anywhere who supports a football team – except maybe the ‘plastics’ at the top five clubs – should read this, because whether in your recent memory or not, or even maybe in your future, this could be you and your club. It’s certainly been mine. I followed QPR in 1968, a season when we even cheered if we won a corner….


On the Subs bench:

Just outside the top ten, but right up there (although I’m biased as they all played for Wealdstone FC), Psycho: The Autobiography by Stuart Pearce, Vinnie: The Autobiography by Vinnie Jones, and There’s Only One Simon Garner: An Autobiography by Simon Garner – all worthy of a place in a slightly longer list. Off The Bench by Gordon Bartlett is a damn good read too!


Top Ten Football Books – Dougie Brimson

Dougie Brimson sums himself up on his website as, “…author, screenwriter, commentator, bloke…” and these four words provide an insight into the talents of the man. Brimson spent 18 years in the Royal Air Force, including action in the Falklands War and first Gulf War, before penning his first book in 1996 with Everywhere We Go, which has become something of a cult classic. His years involved in football hooliganism provided an insight that gave that book and subsequent work a very real edge and understanding. Nowadays, Brimson is considered a leading commentator and voice in anti-violence and anti-racism campaigns and has worked with governments in both the United Kingdom and Europe in their work against football disorder.

Since that first step into the literary world, Brimson has been a prolific author producing the following books, England, My England: The Trouble with the National Football Team (1996), Capital Punishment: London’s Violent Football Following (1997), Derby Days: Local Football Rivalries and Feuds (1998), The Geezers’ Guide to Football: A Lifetime of Lads and Lager (1998), The Crew (1999), Billy’s Log (2000), Barmy Army: The Changing Face of Football Violence (2000), Top Dog (2001), Eurotrashed: The Rise and Rise of Europe’s Football Hooligans (2003), Kicking Off: Why Hooliganism and Racism Are Killing Football (2006),  Rebellion: The Growth of Football’s Protest Movement (2006), March of the Hooligans: Soccer’s Bloody Fraternity (2007) and The Art of Fart: The joy of flatulence (2011).

As a screenwriter he is best known for his screenplay for the award winning film Green Street (2005) which stared Elijah Wood, Charlie Hunnam, Claire Forlani and Leo Gregory.

Dougie Brimson is a busy ‘bloke’ and has numerous projects he is working on, including a new book, Wings of a Sparrow and a number of screenplays. Therefore, it was a real privilege that he agreed to take some time out to select his favourite top ten football books, which are listed below:

  1. Left Foot Forward: A Year in the Life of a Journeyman Footballer – Garry Nelson
  2. The Lost Babes: Manchester United and the Forgotten Victims of Munich – Jeff Connor
  3. Guvnors: The Autobiography of a Football Hooligan Gang Leader – Michael Francis with Peter Walsh
  4. All Played Out: The Full Story of Italia ’90 – Pete Davies
  5. Got, Not Got: The A-Z of Lost Football Culture, Treasures and Pleasures – Derek Hammond and Gary Silke
  6. A Season With Verona: Travels Around Italy in Search of Illusions, National Character and Goals – Tim Parks
  7. Manchester United Ruined My Life –  Colin Schindler
  8. How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization – Franklin Foer
  9. Dynamo: Defending the Honour of Kiev – Andy Duggan
  10. Enjoy the Game: Watford Football Club – The Story of the Eighties – Lionel Birnie


More details about the work and the man himself can be found on his website,, and where you can download for free, two of his most successful titles, The Crew and Everywhere We Go.

Top Ten Football Fiction – Anthony Clavane

It was a welcome find this week to discover a Guardian article from Anthony Clavane in which he listed a top ten of football fiction. His selections were as follows:

1. A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines

2. The Damned Utd by David Peace

3. The Unfortunates by BS Johnson

4. The Match by Alan Sillitoe [Review]

5. Goalkeepers Are Different by Brian Glanville

6. The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard R Gribble

7. The Man Who Hated Football by Will Buckley

8. How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The FA Cup by JL Carr

9. The Football Factory by John King

10. The Hope That Kills Us: An Anthology of Scottish Football Fiction edited by Adrian Searle

My first reaction was to total the number of the titles I have actually read. For my sins, I have only read three of the ten, those being the offerings by David Peace, Brain Glanville and JL Carr. So racked with guilt at these gaps in my football reading line-up I intend to, when time permits, take on the challenge of reading the remaining seven and provide reviews for the entire list.

As ever footballbookreviews welcomes reviews from our readers and would like to hear of what you think of the list, perhaps with suggestions of what other books would be worthy of inclusion in your own top ten.