Soccer is more than just a sport: it’s a culture, with its own rules, codes of conduct, and a rich sense of history that few other games can lay claim to. As with anything in life, if you want to understand more about a given subject or topic, the best thing you can do is read about it.
The wonderful thing about soccer, in this context, is that there’s multiple different vantage point from which readers can analyze and study the sport. They can read about the history of the game. They can check out biographies of their favorite players. They can read fiction novels that are inspired by the soccer world – it’s up to the reader, but it helps to know that there’s a LOT out there.
We’ve compiled five of our favorite soccer books for your enjoyment. We tried to maintain some variety in our picks – there’s both fiction and non-fiction here, as well as works that explore the more overtly criminal and/or corrupt elements of the modern sports world – but in theory, we hope that our readers find a little something for everyone! Without further ado…
Among The ThugsWith an average rating of 4.09 on GoodReads, Bill Buford’s explosive “Among The Thugs” brings readers to the front lines of the U.K.’s violent and turbulent soccer hooligan culture. English soccer thugs are not people you want to play with: they’re known for random acts of terror and violence, and their influence on the conduct of the game itself is considerable. Buford, a formal journalistic editor, infiltrates some of the United Kingdom’s most infamous firms in this grisly page-turner of a book, which offers grisly surprises in every chapter. For those who maintain an interest in both true crime and sports history, this is one you’re going to want to make time to check out. Bill Buford
The Damned UtdYou could write a dozen or more novels about the ups and downs of the soccer world in the 1970’s, although David Peace’s “The Damned Utd,” which as remade into a motion picture helmed by “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper, is as good a place to start as any. The novel takes a good, hard look at the story of F.C. manager Brian Clough, and what happened when he took over for a bunch of over-the-hill players at Leeds United. What follows is a rousing underdog story that extols the value of perseverance and patience in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. If it’s high-stakes drama and hard-hitting sports action you’re after, than this highly rated GoodReads rec (4.14!) is the book for you. David Peace
Fever PitchNick Hornby, author of “High Fidelity” and “About A Boy,” is a guy who knows about music and romance, but did you know that he’s a massive football fan? In fact, he’s quick to remind American readers that, in the U.K., it is called FOOTBALL, not soccer. “Fever Pitch” – which remade into a 2005 rom-com starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, and rated at 3.75 on GoodReads – is a story about love and soccer, combining its author’s two chief obsessions. The book is funny, it’s sad, it’s full of romance and heart and mind-blowing sports trivia – what else do you need to know? Hornby, adroit as he’s always been, clearly understands how the game of soccer builds a strong sense of community among its fans. It’s this hard-won sense of belonging that remains a constant through the lives of the characters in “Fever Pitch” – good seasons, bad seasons, and everything in between. Nick Hornby
The FixThis is another exhaustively well-researched book about the intersection that exists between soccer and organized crime. Written by investigative journalist Declan Hill, “The Fix” is a deep-dive into the world of fixed soccer games: who fixes games, why they fix them, who benefits, and who takes the fall. It’s an underworld operating in the shadow of the polite sporting world, distinctly at odds with a game that is otherwise considered respectable. For more compelling details on this sordid world, check out Hill’s book ASAP – and don’t be surprised if you finish the whole thing in a day. Declan Hill
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants“Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants” is, first and foremost, a book for Manchester United fans: it’s an all-encompassing written look at one of the most important football clubs of all time, from their humble beginnings to their post-2010’s Red Devil run, to now. It is a book about what it means to play as part of a team, and the burden that comes with an athletic legacy. Die-hard Man U fans won’t want to miss it, but the book is so marvelously written and endlessly readable that we venture any true-blue soccer maven will be able to enjoy it. The book also takes its time appreciating the accomplishments of Manchester United’s past achievements, if only to consider where the football club may eventually go in the future. Søren Frank