Books. Football. Both great in their own way. Imagine a world where these two universes combine. Football books. But there are so many out there. Gulp. Can anyone help? Relax, Stuart Fuller is here with six of the best.
Football books are hit and miss. Go back ten years and you would see one a week being published, with an autobiography being saved for Christmas release by someone who actually has a story to tell. Nowadays players normally wait a week after they have made their Premier League debut before putting pen to paper and publishing their account of their "tough upbringing" and "how lucky they were to be a footballer otherwise it would have been a life of crime", conveniently forgetting to retell the events of their arrest for assault, drugs or shagging underage girls.
For every interesting story such as Steve Claridge's "Tales from the boot camp" there is a "Walking Tall" by Peter Crouch, or an "Off the record" by Michael Owen. The real writers of these books should actually get a medal for a)agreeing to write the book and b) making it so uninteresting. However, there have been some absolutely fantastic football books published over the past decade, and many simply do not get the credit they deserve as they do not have the headline subject. So if you do want a decent insight into some of the more interesting areas of the game pick up one of the following five books.
The Bromley Boys - Dave Roberts
Supporters diaries of a season are two a penny these days. However, this one covers a season following non-league Bromley who endured their worst ever season and seen through the eyes of a teenager. Still not convinced? Well what about the fact it was written over 40 years ago. A fascinating look at what life was like growing up in the 1970's as well as supporting a less than fashionable team. The paragraph about taking his boots to his first ever game "just in case a few players were involved in a car crash" rings so true for those of us who remember our first football match.
Stamping Grounds - Charlie Connelly
Books about Liechtenstein are pretty thin on the ground. Books about football in Liechtenstein are as rare as a West Ham win at the moment. In fact you could say that this fantastic book by Connelly is the best ever written about the subject, simply because it is the only one. Bored with work the author decides to follow Liechtenstein as they try to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. He begins with a first visit to the landlocked Alpine country and through the book meets not only all the people behind the game in Liechtenstein but also all of the movers and shakers in the country, including a drunken introduction to the Crown Prince and a comprehensive guide to the Postage Stamp museum. Part story of despairing hope, part travelogue to a place few actually know where it is, this is a great book to put our modern Premier League game in perspective. We all know there would be no happy ending for the team but its a great journey.
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro - Joe McGinnis
Take an American writer with little knowledge of "soccer" and stick him in a small village (population 5,500) in the middle of Abruzzo in Italy and ask him to write about the local team. That is the basic summary of this excellent book, published in 1999 as McGinnis follows the team and the village in their first ever season in Serie B in Italy. Castel di Sangro had somehow defied all of the odds to make it to Serie C in the first place, but then to win the playoffs and to make it into the second tier of Italian football was, as the book title suggest, a miracle. McGinnis is given full access to the team, the management and the fans as he tells the tale of the historic season which saw them play clubs such as Palermo, Genoa, Torino and Bari. He also recounts the difficult times as two of the team are killed in a car crash and another is imprisoned on drugs charges. And just when you all believe in miracles he reveals at the end some evidence that it all could have been fixed. Now there's a surprise.
Broken Dreams - Tom Bowers
Vanity, greed and corruption at the heart of our beautiful game? Surely not. We all know its true, we all know that dodgy deals go on but few seem prepared to break the taboo and name names and provide some hard facts. Bowers book, first published in 2003 certainly opens your eyes on some of the household names today and what their pasts reveal. Ken Bates, Harry Redknapp and Terry Venables will be glad this book has faded from public view now after it exposed a few things they didn't want people to know. The chapter on Bates, and essentially how he made his money from construction projects in the West Indies is fascinating, especially in a day when the FA's "Fit and proper persons test" is apparently so rigorously enforced for club owners. All of the issues that Bower highlights in his book are still with us today, which gives you the impression that if we knew all of this seven years ago why hasn't someone done anything about it? Spurs fans - buy a copy and just read the chapter on Redknapp and then pour yourself a large brandy because you know what is coming down the line.
Scum Airways - John Sugden
It's a bit unfair to just pick this book as it goes hand in hand with Badfellas, written by Sugden and Alan Tomlinson about the corruption in the game at the highest level - FIFA. This book goes undercover to research the ticket touting market and how it has become an important market force for the owners of the game and the clubs and how it will never be eradicated. Focusing on the 1998 World Cup, Sugden manages to meet some of the people on the inside of Football Associations as well as "running" with some of the most profitable touting firms in world football. You are left with a feeling that whilst everyone in football publically deploys the touts and their business practices, actually they provide a valuable service to football as a whole. Wrong, simply wrong.
Choosing five books is incredibly hard as there is some wheat amongst the chaff. Notable other mentions have to go to Tim Parks "A season with Verona", David Conn's "A Beautiful Game" Andrew Jennings "Foul" and David Peace's "Damned United" . Oh, and of course there is a great book by a little known author called Stuart Fuller called "Passport to Football" that should be on everyone's Christmas list this year!
Stuart is a well respected author and well travelled football fan. You can read more from him at the truly wonderful The ball is round.