The beautiful game has been the subject of books for as long as it’s been around. But in the U.S., this is something of a golden age for soccer books. As the sport grows in popularity, the audience for books about it has ballooned. Books released in Europe years ago are being repackaged, updated, and rereleased for the American market. Likewise, the pool of soccer writers has expanded to a number of Americans who have shown that they are capable of writing intelligently about the sport. Every Barnes and Noble now has a shelf or two dedicated to soccer books.
This is a long way of saying that I’ve been reading a lot lately, and I’d like to share those books with you.
Distant Corners: American Soccer’s History of Missed Opportunities and Lost Causes, by David Wangerin. His first book, Soccer in a Football World, tells the broad story of American soccer, from its early days in football’s shadow to the modern success of Major League Soccer. Here, Wangerin takes a narrower view, focusing on the often-overlooked characters, mistakes, and stories that capture the essence of American soccer’s pre-MLS existence.
The Soccer Diaries: An American’s Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game, by Michael J. Agovino. If soccer is still a niche sport in 2014, than it was obscure and foreign in 1982, when Agovino fell in love with the game. Over the course of three decades, he has found a community through the game that few other sports can provide.
Long Range Goals: The Success Story of Major League Soccer, by Beau Dure. Here we have a look at American soccer’s less-distant past, namely the formation and first 14 years of MLS. Dure explores the league on and off the field, with an eye for its struggles and at-the-time moderate success. The past few years make some portions of the book feel dated, but it’s an important look at how the league reached this point.
Fear and Loathing in La Liga, by Sid Lowe. In short, this is the definitive book on what is perhaps soccer’s greatest rivalry: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. In it, Lowe sits down with seemingly all the major people in El Clasico’s history, while also dispelling some of the myths that people believe about the rivalry.
Golazo! The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup, by Andreas Campomar. Golazo is the detailed history of soccer in South America, which is to say that it doesn’t just talk about Brazil’s World Cup triumphs. Campomar is equally willing to discuss the domestic league of Peru as Diego Maradona, which makes this a good repository of information on soccer in South America’s smaller countries.
Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer, by David Goldblatt. As the title suggests, this does talk about Brazil’s World Cup triumphs. But Goldblatt also highlights the culture and politics of Brazil, and the way these shaped its national sport—and vice versa.
Brazil’s Dance with the Devil, by Dave Zirin. It’s not quite fair to call this a soccer book. Zirin dedicates a chapter to the Brazilian love for futebol, but is more concerned with the politics and hazards of hosting an event like the World Cup. Brazil’s World Cup has passed, but the anger it inspired was not an isolated incident, and this is still a worthwhile look into the ugliness of FIFA and the IOC.
Soccer in Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano. Galeano is noted as a Latin American historian, but it’s clear from reading this that his true passion is futbol. His love of the game shines through here, and though modern events have soured Galeano’s view of the sport, there is enough in this book to remind you why we watch.
Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics, by Jonathan Wilson. This is the book when it comes to tactics. The subject is often overlooked and underappreciated, but Wilson recognizes their importance. He is both able to tell the history of how the modern 4-2-3-1 developed, and explain why it came to be.
Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football, by David Winner. This is a wry look at English soccer, and how it came to be defined by plodding, direct play. This isn’t so much a history as an exploration, both of the game on the field and the culture that shaped it.
Hoolifan: 30 Years of Hurt, by Martin King and Martin Knight. An inside look at the raucous world of soccer hooliganism, from a long-time Chelsea supporter.