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.

Euro2020 Special – Top Ten Three Lions Autobiographies (Part 1)

With the Euros just around the corner, we’ve got 51 matches across 30 undiluted days to look forward to, and an opportunity for England to bring home the trophy (or not, as the case may be). And there’s plenty in the way of England football autobiographies to keep you going if you really want to get into the spirit. From old classics brought out by Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard, to newer releases from Stuart Pearce and Andrew Cole, and the 74 books from David Beckham (but who’s counting), there are already some great autobiographies from the Three Lions out there, but there’s always room for more. So here’s my top ten autobiographies of former England players that I’d like to read:

  1. Paul Ince

I had to double and triple-check that the player nicknamed ‘The Guvnor’, the midfielder with two Premier League titles, two FA Cups, a League Cup, three Charity Shields, a European Cup Winners’ Cup and a European Super Cup to his name, and that’s just whilst at Manchester United – as well as over 50 England caps – has never written an autobiography, but he hasn’t. An alumni of West Ham, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Middlesbrough and Wolves, and a key cog in both Euro96 and the 1998 World Cup, before a managerial career spanning Swindon Town, Macclesfield Town, Milton Keyes Dons, Blackburn Rovers, Notts County and Blackpool, Paul Ince has had a remarkable football life and surely has some stories to tell, not least as ‘Gazza’s minder’ on England duty.

  1. David James

There are probably few England goalkeepers more iconic than David James, whether that’s doing his stuff between the sticks or trying his hand up front for Manchester City. It’s said that goalkeepers are a different breed and there’s no doubt there’s something mercurial about James. As well as being part of Liverpool’s Spice Boys generation and an FA Cup winner at Portsmouth, James served as first-choice keeper in Euro2004 and the 2010 World Cup. His playing career spanned some 10 clubs, including outings in both Iceland and India, and he sits fourth on the list of all-time Premier League appearances, is second only to Petr Cech for clean sheets and tops the charts for penalty saves. Away from the pitch, he is an accomplished artist and competed on Strictly Come Dancing, but it’s his on-the-pitch life, in some memorable teams with some memorable players and managers that James’ story really lies.

  1. Jermain Defoe

If it was up to me, Jermain Defoe’s 57 England caps running up to 2017 would be double that number, but alas (maybe thankfully), I’m not the England manager. There is no doubting though Defoe’s goalscoring instinct, continuing to get his name on the scoresheet north of the border as his Rangers side secured the 2020/21 league title. Starting with West Ham, his move to Tottenham probably did him no favours with the claret side of London, but it was with the Lilywhites where he really made his mark across two spells and a loan. Wherever he has played, including for the national team, Defoe has found the net, and yet he’s probably suffered from the tag of super sub – indeed, he’s the Premier League’s top scorer as a sub. However, he’s also the eighth-highest goalscorer in Premier League history and still isn’t too shabby at 38. When he eventually hangs up his boots, there will be one incredible journey to look back on.

  1. Danny Rose

There are a multitude of voices and stories in football, though often, it seems, we only get to hear a few of these. In recent years, however, Danny Rose has stood out above the parapet to offer a snapshot of himself and his experience in football, and it hasn’t always been glowing. As his 14-year association with Tottenham recently came to an end, having been one of the latest to fall out of favour with Jose Mourinho, his future currently remains uncertain, but at his height he was one of the best left-backs in the country. Rose’s off-the-pitch struggles have made headlines, but his speaking out on depression was not only a significant move for him but for football, and one that merits a lot of respect and support. Rose deserves the right to share his story as much or as little as he wishes, but I’m sure there will be many, both within football and beyond, for whom Rose’s story will be pertinent.

  1. Micah Richards

Is there any more entertaining a pundit than Micah Richards? Whether he’s being completely fanatical about Manchester City, telling Phil Foden he loves him live on TV or cementing his bromance with a reluctant Roy Keane, Micah Richards was made for the gig. On the pitch, he was part of the transformation that saw Manchester City enter the footballing elite following that historic first title in over forty years, alongside the likes of Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Mario Balotelli. His decade at City was followed by less auspicious spells at Fiorentina and Aston Villa, whilst only 13 England caps surely doesn’t do the defender justice. He did feature in the 2012 Olympic football team, but whilst it’s his career at the Etihad that he’ll be remembered for, his TV career may yet surpass even that. Who knows, perhaps even a book with Roy Keane could be on the cards – now that would be worth a read.

  1. Joe Hart

Charles Joseph John Hart, aka Joe Hart, was another former City player who was instrumental to Manchester City’s changing fortunes, where he won two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup. Another member of the goalkeepers’ union, Hart was first-choice for England in Euro 2012 and 2016 and the 2014 World Cup, notching up some 75 caps. Domestically, he was the first of only two players (the other being Petr Cech) to win four Golden Glove awards and although he featured only in cup games in 2020/21 for latest club Tottenham, at 34 he remains very much part of the top-flight set-up. Goalkeepers’ careers are invariably full of more ups and downs, and Joe Hart has had his fair share of both.

  1. Joleon Lescott

When Joleon Lescott won promotion to the Premier League with boyhood club Wolves, he must have thought his career was just about to begin, but knee surgery saw him miss the whole 2003/04 season, in which Wolves were instantly relegated. However, when Lescott signed for Everton in 2006, he finally got his opportunity, and even bigger and better times were to come at Manchester City. After winning four trophies at the Etihad, spells at West Brom, Villa, AEK Athens and Sunderland followed, but Lescott had had his moment in the sun, a moment which saw him receive some 26 England caps. Perhaps not a big name in either Man City or England history, but Lescott’s rise to the top is surely the archetypal boy done good story.

  1. Jack Wilshere

When Jack Wilshere burst onto the scene at Arsenal as a mere 16-year-old gracing the first team, he looked to have one of the brightest futures in both domestic and international football ahead of him, epitomised by being awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year in 2011. Sadly, Wilshere’s career has never reached its promised heights, having been blighted by injury from the outset. Yet in between times, Wilshere managed almost 200 appearances for Arsenal, including two FA Cup triumphs, a Community Shield, and two – yes, two – BBC Goal of the Season awards, as well as some 34 caps for England. Wilshere’s talent dazzled brightly in glimpses, but his story, more than most others’, encapsulates the devastation of injury and the resilience and determination to return again and again. If there is anyone qualified to explain that road to recovery and the tragedy of injury setback, it’s surely Jack Wilshere.

  1. Theo Walcott

England’s youngest ever senior player and youngest hat-trick scorer, Theo Walcott was the quintessential young gun when he came to the world’s attention in an England shirt at the age of 17. It was a meteoric rise for a young man whose career had started at Southampton, before he was catapulted into Arsenal and England. And although he reached nearly 400 appearances for Arsenal, a further 85 for Everton and continues to ply his trade at boyhood club Southampton, like his Arsenal and England team-mate, Jack Wilshere, Walcott’s career has been stop-start due to injury and he too, perhaps never reached his full potential. However, there are few who have had such high expectations placed on their shoulders at such a young age and on such a significant stage and Walcott’s journey has always had that auspicious start looming over it.

  1. Jermaine Jenas

Younger fans may be forgiven for thinking Jermaine Jenas is simply a TV presenter, his recent One Show promotion has certainly made him into a household name, but slightly older supporters will remember Jenas as an athletic midfielder who plied his trade at Nottingham Forest, Newcastle United, Tottenham, Villa and QPR, as well as representing his country over 20 times. Another young starter, Jenas was named PFA Young Player of the Year in 2003, but he, too, was blighted with injuries. Nonetheless, his time at Newcastle saw him play under inspirational leader Bobby Robson and Geordie legend Alan Shearer, whilst his move to Tottenham saw him win the only trophy of his career – the League Cup. Internationally, Jenas remained largely on the fringes, making the squad but not featuring in the 2006 World Cup and his experiences in and around football are a familiar case of so near but yet so far.


Jade Craddock

Top Ten Football Books: Steven Kay

Steve’s excellent novel The Evergreen in red and white was published in 2014. It is a fictionalised telling of the true story of Rabbi Howell, the first Romani professional footballer and International player. The novel lifts a lid on the early game and working class life in a northern industrial town and seeks to explain why Rab, a stalwart of the club, was sacked and transferred to Liverpool just weeks before Sheffield United won the English First Division.

In addition to his writing, Steve has since started his own small publishing company: 1889 Books. He blogs about football fiction at: You can follow him on Twitter @SteveK1889

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

Football is littered with tragic figures: Gascoigne, Fashanu, Speed, and recently Lee Collins. It keeps happening. It shouldn’t. Is there something unique about the game that piles pressure on young men? Probably. Should clubs do more. Definitely. Of course men’s mental health issues are not limited to football, but the game still does not take enough responsibility as it shoves players from very young ages through the sausage machine and (gotta love a mixed metaphor) thinks little of the wreckage it leaves in its wake. Reng, a journalist, befriended Robert Enke and followed his career. He wrote this book after the keeper’s death. It is incredibly well written and is heart-wrenching. You know that it’s not going to be a happy ending, but you still try to will it otherwise. Every football manager, every club chairperson, every administrator should be questioned about this book when they are interviewed for a job. Fans of the game should read it to understand what kind of insanity they have driven the game into becoming.

  1. The Blinder by Barry Hines

Written in 1966, this was Hines’ first novel, and in my opinion his best.

Everything he has written has been eclipsed by the film Kes, even the novel that Kes was based on: A Kestrel for a Knave. But The Blinder is, if anything, more authentic and a more complete novel than A Kestrel for a Knave.  Even if it is not better (and it is very hard to compare because the film Kes is so strong visually that it blots out almost all imagery from the text), it is at least equal to it. There is an argument for the characters and dialogue in The Blinder being stronger.

The “Blinder” refers to Lennie Hawk, an 18 year-old with a great talent for football. He is naturally talented (he plays a “blinder”) as well as being feckless and drinking and womanising (ah! the sixties and seventies, those were the days, a skin-full as long as there wasn’t a match the day after, a fag at half time in the changing room, and “dolly birds” in miniskirts – proper footballers! – that was irony, in case anyone has any doubt).

The football is well written, and the treatment of the game feels right:

“Nobody’s right for you are they? Why don’t you run away and find yourself an island somewhere?”

“I’ve found one. It measures a hundred by sixty and they’ve goals at each end.”

“And what about the other twenty-one players?”

“They don’t count. It’s just me, and the ball, and the goal.”

So why has The Blinder been largely overlooked? I believe it is quite simply the cultural prejudice towards football. Any books set in the North have to overcome a massive a barrier to gain acceptance – and even then, can only do so if it stays within certain bounds – A Kestrel for a Knave breached that barrier, perhaps because it contained an animal: like a guide dog being a way to make blind people approachable, and thanks to Ken Loach, whose films managed to gain a certain acceptance as northern eccentricities. I bet it probably wouldn’t even find a publisher in today’s publishing climate.

  1. Abide With Me (and April Skies) by Ian Ayris

It makes me mad that the broadsheets and the literary world rave about a novel like A Natural and overlooked this novel – one with a much stronger story, really important messages about family and belonging, and social breakdown – a novel that is much more skilfully crafted. But perhaps they can’t see beyond their prejudices and the fact that it contains dialect and colloquialisms – and a lot of effing and jeffing – that  it was written by someone so obviously working class. It is too easy to dismiss it as soon as they start reading: “There’s things happen in your life what go clean out of your head. They don’t mean nothing see. Most of your life’s like that.” That is not badly written – it is superbly written – you just have to put aside your literary snobbishness and see things for what they are. This novel is carefully crafted prose, without wasted words – every word pulling its weight (possibly with the slight exception of use of the f-word – but there you should see that for what it is – punctuation).

There are some great observations on growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s and moving accounts of family relationships and the struggles faced by people to make ends meet; a depiction of how easy it is to slip into crime. The plot is also very strong. The football is an important theme – especially in what it says about father-son relationships. It is really nicely integrated into the plot – doing what football does best: providing a metaphor for life.

The second book April Skies is worth a read but is not quite so strong – suffering the way many sequels to superb works do: how on earth do you follow that. It has a lesser football theme, and a slightly more contrived plot, and is not quite so well crafted.

  1. Papers in the Wind (Papeles en el Viento) by Eduardo Sacheri

It took me a long time to discover this book – it never came up on search engines for football novels. Given that the game is played with such artistry in places like Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil and given their rich literary heritage, I thought it curious that South America hadn’t produced a great football novel. It turns out it had. The problem is probably the same as why the literary world in this country looks down its nose at the concept of a football novel: why would search engines pick up on such obscure novels, when no one in Islington is vaguely interested in them?

This is a great novel, by any measure. It is well written – the three main characters jump to life. It treats the subject of male friendship and loyalty really well. The two parallel story threads are nicely done. The football backdrop is weighted perfectly – not overdone, but enough to show a passion for the beautiful game and explain its importance without detracting from the story. It is easily one of my favourite football novels.

The translation is not always the best – especially to a British English speaker – I would have enjoyed it more had I not had to keep translating it properly to myself as I went: soccer player = footballer, light tower = floodlight, alternate = substitute, knee-highs(F.F.S.) = socks, cleats = studs, tied and scoreless(!) = nil-nil draw,  ‘wall pass’ = one-two, ‘lateral defender’ = Nope, not a clue.

The thing that stops this being totally perfect is the pace of historical story thread doesn’t quite keep up and doesn’t quite exploit all the ideas that come through in that sequence to its fullest. You’ve got to read this though.

  1. The Damned Utd by David Peace

Still one of the best football novels. It takes a character we all feel we know to some extent, someone everyone over forty owns a part of, and it makes us feel we get to know and understand him better in a way that only fiction can. We add to the character already in our heads through the creative process of reading and through the words that Peace puts on the page for us. Every one of us will read it differently – for me, my reading is tinged with bitterness from every player who went up the M1 to hateful Leeds: Mick Jones, Tony Currie, Alex Sabella, and so on and on. Add to that an admiration for the character I saw on TV and that last match of his when the whole ground, Forest and United fans alike, chanted “There’s only one Brian Clough.” The Clough family hated the book – of course they did: they had a different version of him, the family man not the ‘Cloughie’ we saw and loved.

We think we know the story that the book covers: his too early exit as a player, how he told the Leeds players that they didn’t deserve their medals; we think we know about his drinking, we know his footballing achievements, and yet somehow you still read on wanting to know what happens.

They way Peace writes about football itself is superb: I read this whilst turning over in my mind how to convey the excitement of the game in words for the novel I was formulating. Newspaper match reports never capture the thrill, the atmosphere: how could you do it? David Storey came close in one scene in This Sporting Life (even though that is Rugby League), but Peace’s book was a revelation. It is pacey and exciting and very readable. I make no apology for trying to emulate something of that (and build on it?) in The Evergreen.

Peace’s work is like performance poetry – it works so well when read aloud: you can hear the speech patterns, hear ‘Cloughie’ in the words (even though they are Peace’s not Clough’s). All those: “down the corridors, round the corners,” and things like: “I still can’t sleep so I open my eyes again; I am still in my modern luxury hotel bed in my modern luxury hotel room, with an old-fashioned hangover and an old-fashioned headache, my modern luxury phone ringing and ringing and ringing –”

Lots of people tell me: “Oh, yes, good film, but, no, not read the book” – which is a great shame: letting all those images be created for you by someone else rather than in your own head.

It is a book that will still be read in a hundred years’ time.

  1. English book cover

    In the Crowd by Laurent Mauvignier (translation by Shaun Whiteside)

Dans la Foule/In the Crowd shows the power of fiction – it takes the reader inexorably towards the events of the 29 May 1985 in Brussels when 39 people were killed and explores the thoughts and feelings of fans caught up in Section Z as well as getting convincingly close to the mentality of a Liverpool fan who was swept up in the crowd, running at those trapped in Section Z. I was struck by the ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the book. ‘Us’ being the French, Italians and Belgians – their common shared perspective and the otherness of the Liverpool fans. This book, written by a Frenchman, holds up a mirror: one of the powerful things in reading the book as a British person is seeing how this event is viewed from a continental European perspective. I spent some time in France in 1985-86 and felt accepted, but I remember the hostility towards a group of us England fans during the World Cup from people who didn’t know us, and the concern on some people’s faces at even our relatively understated support for our team: I felt that ‘otherness.’ The very fact of Faber’s glammed-up British cover, rather than a design more akin to the sober French one also tells us something.

French version cover

Heysel is a difficult subject, and one we never really faced up to: not properly. This is a sobering read. It could be life-changing. Sadly, most football fans will never read it, or will find it too challenging even if they were ever to pick it up. There is something very dark at the heart of football that books like this force you to reflect on. There are many pages given over to the grief of one of the characters and shock faced by two others: how could it be otherwise and deal with this story properly? However, it is well written and there is ultimately some hope of healing. It requires a fair amount of concentration, so it is not one for flitting in an out of, or when there are distractions.

It is one of those books that takes a while for you to get used to the style of writing: there is a lot of stream of consciousness and also the language is not easy. It suffers a little from translation from the French – no matter how good a translation you have to lose a little meaning or a little fluency. So you have to forgive what seems at times a bit of clunkiness. For example, the idiom for drunk: “rond come une queue de pelle” which translates literally as “round as a the handle of a shovel” gets translated for some reason as the non-existent “pissed as a parrot” which just makes you think “what the ..?” when “rolling drunk” would have done just fine. On the same page there is also a peculiar translation: “désosseur de vielles voitures” becomes: “scrapyard bone collector” which is just weird: “vehicle dismantler” makes better sense. It is particularly problematic when the meaning of the author is a bit surreal in the first place. Anyway, if you can be a little forgiving, as the book goes on you do adjust and gloss over these quibbles. (I guess the answer is to read it in French if your French is more fluent than mine.)

  1. The Thistle and the Grail by Robin Jenkins

Published in 1954, this is one of the first football novels. Set in a Scottish town called Drumsagart, somewhere in the Lanarkshire, it follows Andrew Rutherford and his obsession with Drumsagart Thistle in a Scottish lower league. Rutherford has troubled relationships with all around him and seeks solidity, a point of reference, through the Thistle – the team he is president of. It goes to the very heart of why football means so much to so many people: a focus in life, an escape, something outside mundane reality, something to make people feel alive.

There are wonderful, rich, characters and some superb writing. Don’t expect a ‘Roy of the Rovers’ big-kids story from this – it is a good read but is fiction for grown-ups – a novel that makes you reflect on life, makes you think, and which you come away from having learnt something.

Jenkins writes about football beautifully. If Peace captures the pace and excitement, Jenkins captures the emotion and beauty of the game. How about this: “The ball flew like hawk, skimmed the grass like hare, bounced like kangaroo; it had in it not mere air but the hopes, fears, frenzies, and ecstasies of that great crowd. It went everywhere – up on to the terracing even, into the grandstand, into this, that and every section of the field – everywhere except into one or other of the goals.”

I don’t need to say more. Read it for yourself. Judge for yourself.

  1. The Hollow Ball by Sam Hanna Bell

I can’t believe it took me so long to find this novel, published in 1961; I am now 53 novels in to this undertaking and this is one of the best. As with all the best in this genre it is not the football itself that makes the book but the mirror it holds up to life, as with any great fiction; in this case the life of a working class, protestant community in Belfast in the 1930s and the experience of a young lad, Davie Minnis, growing up. Football is his ticket out of a narrow life of strict rules, and routines at a textiles warehouse.

The characters are well drawn, and the location and atmosphere are convincing – it is one of those books where you feel immersed in another world: the streets and homes. Minnis himself is interesting, a flawed individual, believable in his self-centredness – ordinary in many ways, so that you can both root for him and respect him, and yet still dislike him for certain decisions and how he treats people.

There are occasional flaws in the writing but a lot of it is beautifully crafted. The following smacked me in the face within a few pages of each other:

“There was a tingle in the air that pierced their hands and turned their laughter to smoke.” So simple and economical a way to express it.

“The streets looked as drab as they did on any other winter morning. He knew at what corners the wind from the snow-covered hills swirled and plucked and where it thrust as inexorably as a shaft of cold metal, and he clutched his hat and poised his body accordingly.”

  1. Match of Death by James Riordan

Vladimir Gretchko is a 15-year-old, junior player for Dinamo Kiev with a great footballing future ahead of him – and then Germany invade, and his future is ripped away from him. This is a superb story, told simply, but well, and being novella length (about 40,000 words) you have no excuse for not reading it. You will get more out of 2 or 3 hours spent with this than scores of wasted hours watching box sets of American series shown on Sky.

It is grim in places but then how do you tell the story of what did Germans did in Ukraine after invasion in 1941? As Jews are deported they are brought to the Dinamo Kiev Stadium: “It was all so orderly, like a school playground when the whistle blows. But where had so many Jews come from? It seemed as if the entire population of Kiev had turned out, claiming to be Jewish. By midday we had a bigger crowd been the first team usually enjoyed!” There are accounts of Nazi brutality that probably give this a 15 rating.

The “match of death” in the title is apparently a match that actually took place in August 1942 between a Kiev team and the Germans and, there is no spoiler in saying, the Kiev team were told they had a choice: “win – you die, lose – you live.” According to the story, this is on orders from Hitler himself – it not being possible for propaganda purposes for the Germans ever to be seen to lose.

Riordan clearly knows his stuff and the account has a very authentic feel, right down to things like details of the kinds of weapons available to partisans. It is economically written; there are no elaborate descriptions which some modern readers seem to shun, but still enough to set a mood in places: “It was one of those wild nights in early October when the wind was high, driving swirling grey-blue clouds across the heavens. The clouds would bare the bright moon for a fleeting second, like a searchlight flitting across the land, back and forth.”

The only fault in the book is perhaps the scenes involving Stalin and Hitler. The author was clearly looking for a way to provide the bigger picture, but, that zooming out from the real story, jars and breaks the flow. It is a difficult one – perhaps the same overview could have been provided with a lighter touch in another way.

  1. Association Football by Ernest Needham (Classic Reprint Series)

Ernest Needham, an ex-miner, was one of the first working class, professional players to captain England – quite an achievement in the days when the FA was even more dominated by the upper-classes than in the modern era. He was arguably Sheffield United’s greatest ever player captaining them as champions of the English First Division, and to two FA Cup wins. In this short book, written at his height in 1901, he reflects on the game as it was back then and offers advice to aspiring young players – much of which remains very relevant. He was, by today’s cliché, the “consummate professional” and we get a great insight into his character and the history of the game from this book. We lose sight of the game’s heritage to our detriment – Needham would have hated what has become of the modern Premier League and talk of a European Super League.

Top Ten Football Books: David Ross

In January 20201 David Ross had his novel, There’s Only One Danny Garvey, published. The book centres on central character, Danny Garvey a sixteen-year old footballing prodigy, who Professional clubs clamoured to sign. However, his early promise remained unfulfilled, and Danny returns home to the tiny village of Barshaw to manage the struggling junior team he once played for. What’s more, he’s hiding a secret about a tragic night, thirteen years earlier, that changed the course of several lives. It is a story of irrational hopes and fevered dreams of unstoppable passion and unflinching commitment in the face of defeat. There’s Only One Danny Garvey is, above all, a tale about finding hope and redemption in the most unexpected of places.

Following publication, Ross detailed his top ten football books in early February 2021 in an article in The Guardian, which are as follows:

  1. The Damned United by David Peace
  2. The Blinder by Barry Hines
  3. Best and Edwards by Gordon Burn
  4. A Natural by Ross Raisin
  5. The Van by Roddy Doyle
  6. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
  7. McIlvanney on Football by Hugh McIlvanney
  8. Fan by Danny Rhodes
  9. Snapshot by Daniel Gray and Alan McCredie
  10. Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson

To read the full article and reasons for his choices, please click here.

Top Ten Football Books: Stuart Kane

Stuart Kane is a novelist, researcher, and primary school teacher who was born in Birmingham. He had trials at Aston Villa as a youngster and was on the books at Walsall FC but wasn’t offered YTS forms. He then turned his focus to rugby where he played rugby league for Ireland Students in the mid-nineties.

The soon to be released Man Friday: the second half, tells the story of cult football legend, Robin Friday, and his time at Reading and Cardiff City and kicks on from where his first football novel, Man Friday: the first half, finished. His academic interview with the author, Kevin Barry, appears in Conversations with Biographical Novelists: Truthful Fictions across the Globe and was published by Bloomsbury in 2019.

Stuart’s passion for football and biographical fiction combined to create Man Friday (The Life and Times of Robin Friday). ‘I wanted to bring Robin Friday back to life and tell his story more authentically. It had to be told from Robin’s point of view, not wanting to stray too far from the facts, and to try and find out what really happened to him during his life. He was an exceptionally complex character, and my books stay true to his spirit and character.’

Stuart was a Liverpool supporter as a lad citing his love of Ian Rush’s goalscoring exploits, then John Barnes’ sheer magic as the main reasons for this. A supporting nomad he’d often travel to watch local league sides such as Wolves, Birmingham City, Villa, Walsall, and non-league sides Sutton Coldfield Town and Solihull Moors. He then decided to support Aston Villa and has been following them ever since, which he describes as a rollercoaster. Stuart’s top ten football books, in no particular order, are:

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss (1999)

Well, we might as well start with a bit of controversy, so here’s the story of Castel di Sangro. The Italian minnows, who for a brief time, punched above their weight in Serie B. The author, Joe McGinniss, returned his one-million-dollar advance after refusing to write the OJ Simpson trial book. He called the OJ trial “an utter farce”. McGinniss fell in love with the beautiful game during the 1994 World Cup in the US. He said that he just wanted to be a sportswriter focussing on European football. McGinniss described this as therapy; it also helped him feel twenty years younger. McGinniss threw himself into Italian life, picking up the language, becoming friends with the players, fans, and coaches. The book is enthralling, and the drama that unfolds couldn’t be scripted. Fact is always stranger than fiction – to spin a cliché. I won’t give too much away here, but let’s just say McGinniss may well have been left to reflect on his OJ Simpson trial comments. It’s a dynamite book, and McGinniss’ passion shines through. He tries to stay objective but soon gets pulled into club politics and can’t stop himself from getting involved. At one point he falls out with the manager over the team selection, but that’s a relatively minor matter when compared to what later unfolds. You are pulled into this book by McGinniss’ superb writing, and he takes you on one hell of a ride.

The Blinder by Barry Hines (1966)

This was Barry Hines’ first novel, and it tells the story of Lenny Hawk, a brilliant young footballer. He is tough, talented, and trying to make a name for himself. Hawk is also a good college student and has an interest in his boss’ daughter, but he’s also got enemies who play for higher stakes. It’s a rich debut novel. Hines himself was both a good student and a tasty footballer. The author represented England Schoolboys, played for Barnsley’s reserves, and later, Loughborough University, Crawley Town, and Stocksbridge Works. We might assume then that there’s a lot of authentic experience behind the writing. The central character is a working-class lad with brains, who has his flaws. The dialogue is solid in this book, and that’s why I love it; it’s inspiring, and there is a rawness to it, but it’s all the richer for that. This is an often-overlooked classic, as Hines is more widely known for his novel, A Kestrel for a Knave (1968) – which became the classic film, KesKestrel for a Knave contains, in my opinion, the most singularly perfect portrayal of a game of football on a school playing field in the English language. If you can get hold of an old copy of Blinder, I’d recommend it.

Only a Game? by Eamon Dunphy (1976) 

Eamon Dunphy, a marmite pundit, often mocked in his home country. He was a product of the excellent Stella Maris FC youth system. Then as a teenager, he moved to Manchester United but didn’t break through into the first team due to this being a golden age for United in terms of playing staff. Still, he went on to play for the Republic of Ireland and carved out a decent football career for himself. Towards the end of his time in the game, he started writing for a local paper in Reading while turning out for Reading FC. At Reading, he was drinking partner, friend, and guide to the one and only Robin Friday. Only a Game? tells the story of the 1973-74 season at Millwall through Dunphy’s personal diary – a form which has inspired many a football writer since. It records the events from the dressing-room and the struggles of being a professional footballer. Dunphy’s voice is clear, concise, and he captures the golden moments and failures with precision but more importantly, with emotion. This is a must-read if you have an interest in football books.

I Believe in Miracles: The Remarkable Story of Brian Clough’s European Cup-winning Team by Daniel Taylor and Jonny Owen (2015)

This book is pure and simple magic. It weaves the story of Ol’ Big’ Ead, or the one and only Brian Clough, or God as he’s known in some circles. The foreword is penned by José Mourinho, who freely admits his admiration and fondness for Clough. The book begins in January 1975 with Nottingham Forest sitting in thirteenth place in the old Second Division. They scrape promotion to the First Division, and that’s where the partnership of Clough and Taylor is rekindled. The personal reflections from the players help us understand how they were managed by Clough, and both his flaws and genius are on show for the reader. It is about the success of the team as a whole, as well as the Clough/Taylor partnership, and shows what can happen when all the parts pull together in the same direction. Nottingham Forest was a team full of characters: John Robertson, Martin O’Neill, John McGovern, Kenny Burns etc. The book allows these unique characters to tell their own stories and how they fared when pitted against the mighty Clough. Forest’s footballing feat will never be surpassed, or even equalled. Read the book, watch the accompanying DVD, laugh, cry, and go on this beautiful footballing joy ride.

The Damned Utd by David Peace (2006) 

The book that inspired me to pen Man Friday. David Peace read all the different books that had been written about the Leeds United team from the 1970s. Many of the books were by the Leeds’ players or had been ghost-written for them. Peace found that there were many contradictions. This is of course, natural as people remember events differently, or simply wrongly. Peace’s vision was of a man filled with frustration and regret about his own playing career. Regrets about leaving Derby County, further bitterness at having joined Brighton & Hove Albion. A man who felt that he should have been the England manager. Then Clough, of course, had the feeling that people were conspiring against him at Leeds United. It’s a dark book in places, but there’s not too much doubt that Clough regretted taking on the role at Leeds. It was a bizarre move for Clough, who had constantly spoken out against Leeds United’s tough tactics. He’d also called out their master, Don Revie, on several occasions. It was only ever going to go one way. Peace’s use of the first and second person flows like a brook, and this is a masterclass in writing about football. The best football novel ever written.

Red or Dead by David Peace (2013)

Peace’s epic biographical novel built around the footballing great, Bill Shankly. There are many levels to this book. It can be seen to represent the demise of the British working class, socialism and the trade unions, as well as being the antithesis of the footballing values of yesteryear versus modern-day football. We follow Shankly’s journey as he seeks to build Liverpool into a dominant force in domestic and European football. To get the voice of Shankly, Peace listened to the recordings of Shankly’s voice over, and over again. Peace borrowed the tapes from retired journalist John Roberts, what he noticed was Shankly’s use of repetitions, and he would go on to use these in the novel. The book’s themes can, at times, dominate proceedings, at the expense of the story. Still, it is a journey and builds up piece by piece as Shankly did with his mighty Liverpool.

Shankly: My Story with John Roberts (1976) 

This book was written after Bill Shankly had left Liverpool and caused a lot of controversy at the time. Shankly spoke openly about his treatment by Liverpool, after his shock resignation in the summer of 1974. This book was ghost-written by John Roberts, a former journalist. Shankly said this book was ninety-nine per cent about people and one per cent criticism, but he said people had chosen to focus on that one per cent. Shankly claimed that he had just stated the facts. You can’t help but admire Shankly for what he did for that football club and the people of Liverpool. There are some great tales in this book, and we see humour, anger, frustration, but we see Shankly as he wanted to be seen and remembered. The book is testament to the foundations upon which Liverpool Football Club is built and which Jurgen Klopp continues to build on to this day. Shankly was a man for all seasons, but more importantly, he made the people happy.

El Diego: the autobiography of the world’s greatest footballer with Marcelo Mora Y Araujo (2005)  

In this autobiography, we follow Diego Armando Maradona, or Maradona as he is known across the globe. To a whole nation, he is ‘El Pibe de Oro’ (The Golden Boy). This is Maradona in his own words. I read this book when it first came out, as, like most of us, I was fascinated by this footballing legend. A character who is capable of creating delight and frustration in equal amounts, and sometimes both in a single moment. As you’d expect Maradona shoots from the hip and doesn’t hold back. We relive some of Maradona’s greatest moments. We’re left feeling that he could’ve achieved even more as a player, were it not for his extra-curricular activities. Love or hate Maradona, he has that charm and charisma that carries you along and draws you to him. He was the greatest footballer that there’s ever been in my opinion. Maradona played at a time when defenders could still crush you with leg-breaking menace. He danced amongst defenders, fought with them, and beat them all. All of this while battling with his own demons and addictions. This book encapsulates Maradona’s character and spirit. If you’ve seen Asif Kapadia’s documentary Diego Maradona, you’ll enjoy this book, and if you’ve not seen that documentary, then please do.

Angels with Dirty Faces: The Footballing History of Argentina by Jonathan Wilson (2016) 

I have a love of Argentinian football and its history, from the national jersey to the greats of Batistuta, Di Stéfano, Kempes, Maradona, Messi etc. Wilson’s book delves deeply into the game but also talks about the socio-political and economic elements that have influenced Argentina and explores how these have impacted upon its football. Football runs through the blood of every Argentinian and as a writer of great detail, that can only come about through significant research, knowledge, and passion. Wilson tells us everything we need to know about football in this fascinating country. He doesn’t shy away from looking at the corruption that has plagued Argentinian football either – World Cup 1978 for a start. In fact, Wilson covers one of my favourite football mavericks the late, Tomás Felipe Carlovich. A player, arguably good enough to play for the national side but who decided to play for his local teams of Rosario and Central Córdoba instead. A home bird and footballing genius famous for his ‘double nutmeg’. José Pekerman chose Carlovich as the best central midfielder he’d ever seen. Maradona said Carlovich was better than him. Wilson’s book is a search for the soul of Argentinian football, and he doesn’t disappoint. Knowing how much effort and groundwork it takes to produce something this epic, I can only take my hat off to Jonathan Wilson and say thank you. An incredible book that is a must-read for those fascinated with Argentina, and it’s first love, football.

Iron Towns by Anthony Cartwright (2016)

Anthony Cartwright takes on the difficult feat of producing a novel that is about football, but which is not about any known player or team. What Cartwright has crafted is a unique novel which shines a light on struggling football clubs in forgotten towns and the impact of industrial progress and the resulting fallout when dreams fall away. It follows Liam Corwen, journeyman defender, who returns back to his hometown club, after divorce, and a brief appearance in the Finnish league. Corwen, it tells us once played for England as a substitute, but according to everyone he never touched the ball. He knows that he did, in fact, touch it very lightly, with a header which sent the ball away from his opponents. This is a beautiful and subtle book which is layered and combines the sentimentality of football with a deeper exploration of both the changing face of the game and also the world in which the game exists. It is also about the function of clubs within their community and their importance, something which is now perhaps more prudent than ever.


Top Ten Football Books: Dr Kevin Moore

Dr Kevin Moore was the founding Director of the National Football Museum, which he led for over twenty years. Kevin worked in museums and as a lecturer in universities, before he led the creation of the National Football Museum in Preston in 2001. Kevin established the new National Football Museum in Manchester in 2012, which under his leadership attracted over half a million visitors a year. He is an internationally recognised researcher, lecturer and writer on football history. Kevin also advises football and sports museums around the world. He is Special Advisor to the Chinese Football Museum.

As well as his latest book, What You Think You Know About football Is Wrong, Kevin has published extensively academically, including the Routledge Handbook of Football Studies. However, his passion is to bring football history to as wide an audience as possible!

For many years Kevin was a Tranmere Rovers season ticket holder, but now, for various reasons, he is more a casual supporter. He first supported Nantwich Town and then Brighton, before finding a home at Prenton Park… Kevin tells us his top 10 football books are:

Ladybird Books: The Story of Football, by Vera Southgate, 1964

This book inspired my interest in football aged 6 and no undoubtedly led me to become the founding Director of the National Football Museum and a football historian! I bought it with my pocket money for 2 shillings and sixpence (12.5p) in 1967. I had to wait 3 weeks to get it, because I only got one shilling a week pocket money! (5p). The fabulous illustrations still grab me today and it it is still a pretty good basic history of the game!

Soccer Revolution by Willy Meisl, 1956.

The subtitle of this 1955 classic says it all: “Great Britain taught the world how to play and enjoy association football – later to be taught many a hard lesson by former pupils”. Written by an Austrian journalist based in the UK, after the double trouncing of England by Hungary in 1953 and 1954, its insights into the insularity of English football were unarguable, and even remain true to some extent today in the Premier League era! Meisl’s brother Hugo was the manager of the great Austrian team of the 1930s.

Football and the English by Professor Dave Russell, 1997.

By far the best single volume history of football in England. Written by an academic, but in a very accessible style. This book was the inspiration and touchstone for the displays of the National Football Museum in Preston, which opened in 2001. Dave never got round to a second edition, but Professor Matthew Taylor has effectively updated this and widened it to consider the whole of the UK, in his equally excellent book, The Association Game: A History of British Football.

Steppes to Wembley, by Bert Trautmann, 1956.

Subtitled  “The Autobiography of Bert Trautman, The Footballer of the Year, 1956”. Footballers’ autobiographies are not what they used to be! While they were never psychologically insightful (at least not intentionally), they were previously written by a much higher quality of ghost writer, as in this superb example, which takes us up to the 1956 Wembley FA Cup final and that injury! I was very fortunate to meet Bert on several occasions. A remarkable, humble, and lovely man.

Captain of Hungary, by Ferenc Puskás, 1955.

Another brilliant autobiography, packed with insights and revelations, and with great depth, particularly from a tactical perspective, especially regarding Hungary’s triumph over England in 1953 and 1954, but also their loss in the 1954 World Cup final. This is still a fresh and fascinating read.

Footballer’s Progress by Raich Carter,1950.

You just cannot beat these 1950s footballers’ autobiographies! They have a depth of analysis which today’s almost always lack. Carter is highly entertaining and informative throughout, honest and insightful.  A remarkable account of playing at the highest level and a successful turn to management. What links this book and those of Bert Trautman and Ferenc Puskás is that this generation of players were all marked for life by their experiences in the Second World War.

Keeper, by Mal Peet, 2003.

My favourite novel about football is by Mal Peet, an author of acclaimed books for children, teenagers and adults, who sadly died aged 67 in 2015. Keeper is the first in an extraordinary trilogy set (and at least starting in) modern day South America, but linking this to slavery and oppression, and using a very powerful sense of magic realism. This was aimed at teenagers but is enjoyed just as much by adults. Haunting. Yes, about football, but also about life…

Pass it, Polly, by Sarah Garland, 1995.

Brilliant, beautifully illustrated football story for young children, about two young girls being inspired to take up the game, overcoming playground doubters and sexism! I had to read this every night to my children for at least a month and many times thereafter! And it was always a great pleasure. I practically know it off by heart!

Football in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano, 1991.

By far the best of the books by intellectuals (including so-called ones!) on the game. Eduardo Galeano was the real deal, one of South America’s leading thinkers and writers. Here, in chapters of often little more than a page or two pages, he gives greater insight into, for example, ‘the player’, ‘the goalkeeper’ and ‘the fan’, than many books do in 200 pages! Often imitated in approach by British and European journalists, but they never come close.

The Boyhood of Burglar Bill, by Allan Ahlberg, 2008.

Allan Ahlberg is the prolific children’s writer and huge lifelong ‘Baggies’ fan. Every child in Britain will have read, or had read to them, one of his books, often illustrated by his wife, Janet, before her untimely death. Just one of Ahlberg’s 100 plus books has sold over 6 million copies. Here Allan gives a brilliant insight into football’s role in his working class upbringing in the Black Country in the 1940s and early 1950s. Joyous, joyful but not romanticised.

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.