Top Ten Football books from Chris Jones

Our ‘Top Ten Football books’ list continues to grow with this contribution from author and football historian Chris Jones. He is the author of England’s Calamity? A New Interpretation of the ‘Match of the Century’ which looks at the famous 1953 match at Wembley when Hungary beat England 6-3. The crushing defeat has long been seen as the watershed moment when England cast off its training methods and tactics of the past to embrace new continental practices. Jones however takes a different view in his book arguing that the defeat was not a revolutionary moment but one key part of an evolutionary process.

Here then is Jones’ list:

  1. Football in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano

A Uruguayan philosopher and polemicist shows how it should be done with his focussed vignettes on all elements of the game.

  1. Only a Game?: The Diary of a Professional Footballer, Eamonn Dunphy.

A raw and incredibly open account of Dunphy’s own career and life during a season as a player at Millwall in the mid-1970s.

  1. The Football Man: People & Passions in Soccer, Arthur Hopcraft.

An early journey of analysis which set a bench mark for others to follow from the 1960s.

  1. Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, Jonathon Wilson.

You only ever need to read one book on the development of football tactics throughout the world – this is it.

  1. Three Kings, Leo Moynihan.

Balance in approach blends this detailed analysis of three friends who ruled the British football world for 20 years.

  1. Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football, David Winner.

A unique, tangential book bringing forward new perspectives of how to view the game.

  1. The Age of Football: The Global Game in the Twenty-first Century, David Goldblatt.

The breadth is incredible, assessing the current game worldwide in all its corrupt, money mad reality.

  1. Don Revie: The Biography, Christopher Evans.

The standard bearer for football biographies. If only they were all this good.

  1. My Father and Other Working Class Footballers, Gary Imlach

A touching, deeply written book that takes us into the life of one from a different age.

  1. A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke, Ronald Reng.

A superb and sensitively written book on the life of Enke, outlining the pressure of life and his experiences.

Read the FBR review here:

Top Ten Football books from Chris Lee

FBR continues its quest for the ‘Top Ten Football books’ with a list from author, podcaster and blogger, Chris Lee. Not only should you check out his excellent website Outside Write which looks as its tagline says, to explore the off-pitch story of football, as the curious fan’s football blog, but his two (to date) highly recommended books, Origin Stories: The Pioneers Who Took Football to the World and The Defiant: A History of Football Against Fascism. In addition FBR were honoured to feature as guests on the OW’s podcast looking at The Greatest Football Books Check it out and subscribe to listen to the fascinating range of podcasts available from Outside Write.

Back to Chris Lee’s list, which is an interesting ‘Top Ten’ with some familiar titles and some unknown to FBR. Enjoy!


1) A Season with Verona, Tim Parks

I read this when it first came out (2002) and it set the benchmark for me as a groundhopping tome. Twenty plus years on and it’s not been bettered, in my opinion.

2) The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, Joe McGinniss

In a similar vein and coming out around the same time (1999) as Parks’ book, this is a brilliant account of a niche topic. Written by an American, too – which isn’t meant to sound dismissive; just surprising to be into such a niche football topic

3) Calcio: The History of Italian Football, John Foot

Seminal work. The best of the country-specific books. Great guy too, I interviewed him for The Defiant and he was very generous with his time and knowledge.

4) My Father and Other Working Class Footballers, Gary Imlach

Engagingly told inside story of what it was like to grow up in a footballing household long before the money…

5) Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 years with Brian Clough, Duncan Hamilton

So much written about Clough; this is the best, IMO.

FBR review:

6) Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga, Ronald Reng

The story of the Bundesliga told through the life of one man. A magnificent read.

7) Football Against the Enemy, Simon Kuper

The original ‘football and politics’ book – an inspiration.

8) Angels with Dirty Faces: The Footballing History of Argentina, Jonathan Wilson

One of the finest in the business tackles one of the best (and complex) footballing cultures. Incredibly well-researched.

9) ¡Golazo!:A History of Latin American Football, Andrés Campomar

The abridged history of Latin American soccer in all its complexity.

10) Football in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano

A must on anyone’s shelf – Galeano makes football sound almost romantic.

Plain Strains & Auto-biographies (Act III) – Pap Fiction

He has a lot to answer for does our Roy, and that extends down the football food chain to biographies about lesser lights because what we can’t really forgive in a footballer any more is that he’s just like us. Take Gary Imlach’s My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes and I do mean that. Please take my copy. Such a tiresome book. He didn’t bother to get to know his dad properly when he was younger and so chose to reinvent him after his death. It is an odd piece of writing; part of it is sentimental, dutiful son stuff with a bit of hagiography thrown in. All that really shows is how a son can be both too close to his dad and yet, at the same time, too remote from him. Other parts of the book are simply unconvincing because he never fully justifies the biggest part of the title. John Charles was and still is a working class football hero, Stewart Imlach never was, underappreciated footballer though he might have been.

It is all about perspective. When Gary was old enough to remember his dad, Stewart was coaching at Everton, his playing days long gone. I remember watching THAT Imlach in action in the early seventies as he sprinted on to the field with his medicine bag to administer first aid to an injured player, and I can remember the Evertonians urging him to run faster. ‘Hhum on Stewy Ladz, gerrim bachhhh on his feeess querchhh, or gerrim off and give someone else a shance!’ To them, Stewy was by no means a working class football hero and was only as good as his next sprint’n’sponge.

It won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2005. Ah but wasn’t that the year that only lasted 9 days? Must have been.

Continuing with the theme of perspective, Stewart Imlach was a Scots international and there is no doubt that Scotland has produced some wonderful footballers down the years, all working class, many being true heroes. Billy Bremner, Bill Shankly, Jim Baxter, Denis Law, Hughie Gallacher, Matt Busby, et al. I was looking at the long list of football biographies and autobiographies now available on What struck me was that far more Scots were having books churned out about them than could possibly be merited even given the great pedigree. Some of the immortal names were; Gary MacKay, Brian Irvine, Dave McPherson, Gavin Peacock & Alan Comfort, Ian Ferguson, Jim Craig, Jim Leishman, Jim McLean and John Brown. These might be household names in the Irvine and Comfort households but hardly on the lips of children even in distant England. Then I checked the company address; Football Heaven, Unit 2, Insch Business Park, Insch, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Say no more, give them an Insch…

They did actually have some books about people we have heard of ‘south of the border’ and that brings up another issue; why are there 5 books on Eric Cantona, 8 on George Best and 10 on Alex Ferguson? Can there be that many angles? The more you look at the ‘biogs and autobiogs’ business, the more mysterious the whole thing becomes. Meanwhile, I’m ghosting a semi-fictional autobiography ‘Roy Rush and other heroes still mooching about on Benefits’.


Graeme Garvey