Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
On Twitter: SoccerInsider and PostSports  |  Facebook  |  Sports e-mail alerts  |  RSS

Summer Soccer Reading

Soccer doesn't usually make for good movies; soccer does make for great books.

From "All Played Out" to "Fever Pitch", "Football Against the Enemy" to "Soccer in Sun and Shadow", "Dynamo" to "Barca", "Bamboo Goalposts" to "Brilliant Orange", the choices for fine reading are endless.

This summer comes a new wave of quality material, led by Grant Wahl's "The Beckham Experiment" (Random House), which hits bookstores Tuesday. I am about halfway through it and have enjoyed the insight into the talks that led to Beckham's signing with MLS, his powerful outside influences, ESPN's unsavory stake in his ill-fated debut against Chelsea and, as you surely have read in the pre-released excerpts, Becks' relationship with Landon Donovan and the rest of his Galaxy teammates.

Other soccer books worth a look:

*"Finn McCool's Football Club" (Pelican Publishing), Stephen Rea's funny, touching, troubling and ultimately inspiring story about a crew of colorful characters, including himself, who bond at a gritty Irish pub in New Orleans to watch English matches and form an amateur squad that is shattered by Hurricane Katrina.

*"Outcasts United" (Spiegel and Grau), Warren St. John's extraordinary tale about a youth soccer team of refugees who have settled in a quiet town in Georgia and the coach who "drives her players to success on the field while holding together their lives in the face of a series of daunting challenges."

*"Corner Offices & Corner Kicks" (St. Johann Press), soccer historian Roger Allaway's work showing the unique parallels between the powerful Bethlehem Steel teams of the early 20th century and the glamorous New York Cosmos of the 1970s and '80s.

For a final thought on soccer's literary contributions, keep reading this thread.....

From The Washington Post's Summer Reading feature last month, a few words from Eduardo Galeano, the famed Uruguayan author who wrote "Soccer in Sun and Shadow" (Verso publishing):

I wanted fans of reading to lose their fear of soccer and fans of soccer to lose their fear of books. I never imagined anything more. But a former member of the Mexican congress, Victor Quintana, told me the book saved his life. In the middle of 1997, he was kidnapped by contract killers, hired to punish him for exposing some nasty business. They had him trussed up, face in the dirt, and were kicking him to death, when, just before finishing him off with a bullet, they started arguing about soccer. Victor, more dead than alive, put in his two cents. And he started telling stories from my book, trading minutes of life for every tale out of those pages. Time and stories came and went, and at last the murderers left him, beaten and broken, but alive. "You're okay," they told him, and they took their bullets elsewhere.

By Steve Goff  |  July 13, 2009; 5:49 PM ET
Categories:  Books , History , MLS , Youth soccer  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: MLS's First XI All-Stars
Next: Tuesday Kickaround


Nothing literary, but here are Obama's remarks today honoring the Crew. Or honoring Crew. Whatever.

Posted by: OWNTF | July 13, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

That's about 14,000 times better than Bush's meetings with champions.

Posted by: kdiff813 | July 13, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I absolutely loved "Soccer in the Sun and the Shadow." By far the best soccer book I have ever read.

Although I don't know Spanish, I think the translator did a fantastic job with (not just translating word for word) keeping the author's voice. You could tell it was written by a Latin American author.

Posted by: GoUnited | July 13, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I had heard the Gleanno story on NPR (an interview)--quite dramatic. My favorite soccer read is Franklyn Foer's book "How Soccer Explains the World"---diverse, detailed, distinct and challenging--not just an account of various soccer cultures but an effort to connect it to globalism assumptions and failings.

Posted by: JoeW1 | July 13, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Steven -

Read the Miracle of Castel di Sangro. Fantastic
Also, a season w/ verona.

Last week I read Damn Utd. I thought it was a fun fast read.

Posted by: thetavern15 | July 13, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

The president was excellent, and his speechwriters deserve congratulations. The remarks were one word away from perfect:
"and we might just see that team in the World Cup next year." He clearly meant and should have said "World Cup FINAL next year." But all in all, a fine job. And I hope Sigi enjoyed it as much as I would have if I were Sigi.

Posted by: dccal | July 13, 2009 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Soccer Head by Jim Haner.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | July 13, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

An excellent little book that was made into a mediocre movie:

Posted by: cow_pasture | July 13, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

brilliant orange is so good. one of my favorites, soccer or not.

i read 'inverting the pyramid' a few months ago - it's about the evolution of soccer tactics. really cool, and shone a light on some influential teams and managers that i knew nothing about.

Posted by: stairs | July 13, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

The book "Bloody Confused", by Chuck Culpepper, is a great read. If anyone doesn't know the story, its about an American sportswriter who doesn't know anything about soccer and ends up in England for a year and decides to follow Portsmouth. Very entertaining.

Posted by: SonicDeathMonkey | July 13, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

SoccerHead is hilarious!

Also good: "Bloody Confused"

and "Inverting the Pyramid."

Just got a call from B&N saying my copy of "Beckham Experiment" is now ready for pick-up. I look forward to comparing it to "White Angels," the book about Beckham's arrival at Real Madrid.

Posted by: Juan-John | July 13, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

What about "Fever Pitch," Nick Hornby's ode to Arsenal?

Posted by: Lucius2 | July 13, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Goff, you are the best! A great column!
My husband and I are soccer fans, and we were born and raised in Bethlehem, Pa. Both of our Dads worked at Bethlehem Steel and retired from there. And we had NO IDEA that there was a Steel soccer team. That's partly because we were born in 1944. Nonetheless, we can't WAIT to read this book! What I appreciate about you so much, Goff, is that you recognize the caliber of soccer fans and do not patronize us. Thank you.

Posted by: sbuck | July 13, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Tor!: The Story of German Football by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger is a great read.

Posted by: faklempt | July 13, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Nothing literary, but here are Obama's remarks today honoring the Crew. Or honoring Crew. Whatever.

Posted by: joedoc1 | July 13, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Steve!! I wish you would have relayed the message that FSC wasn't going to broadcast the crystal palace game. If i knew that i would of gone.

Posted by: DCUNITEDTRAVERS | July 13, 2009 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget the book about Robin Friday? called "The Greatest Player You Never Saw".

Posted by: griffin1108 | July 13, 2009 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Hi Goff,

Some good books you've listed. I've read the article about the fugees soccer team in NY Times and looking forward to reading the book.

Also, I'm wondering if there are any good books that explains tactics / formations (for example a the pros & cons of a 442 versus a 352 versus a 451, etc).

Lastly, any book the talks / explains the Barcelona way? I've enjoyed watching them play and would like more analysis of how they are coached to play and their tactics.

Suggestions anyone?


Posted by: FancyBottom | July 13, 2009 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Steve!! I wish you would have relayed the message that FSC wasn't going to broadcast the crystal palace game. If i knew that i would of gone.

Posted by: DCUNITEDTRAVERS | July 13, 2009 8:16 PM |

That's sarcasm, right?

Posted by: fischy | July 13, 2009 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Did they ever make the hit movie "Ladybugs" into/from a book?

If so that'd be my favorite soccer book of all-time.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | July 13, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

By the way it's "I would HAVE gone", not "I would OF".

"Would have" is abbreviated as "would've".

Posted by: fischy | July 13, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

You all know Limarzi the radio guy, right? He actually wrote a book about Germany 2006. Some cool stuff about DC United, Gooch, and Ben Olsen. It's pretty good and very quick. Do NOT read it if you cheer for France or Germany.

Posted by: DC0071 | July 13, 2009 8:56 PM | Report abuse

I got it wrong the 1st time, and no i wasn't kidding. He didnt say it was on fsc today, but when he 1st said the game was happening, he said it was televised. Maybe he didn't know it was changed.

Posted by: DCUNITEDTRAVERS | July 13, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I mean i was right the 1st time. I don't know why i said "would of" the 2nd time.

Posted by: DCUNITEDTRAVERS | July 13, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Huh? I never wrote that this Crystal Palace friendly was being televised. You must have read it somewhere else.

That said, after checking around, it appears FSC will show the game on tape later this week. Check the CPBaltimore or FSC website for details.

Posted by: Steve Goff | July 13, 2009 9:12 PM | Report abuse

What about "Fever Pitch," Nick Hornby's ode to Arsenal?

Posted by: Lucius2 | July 13, 2009 7:15 PM

Goff worked that into his original post. If you've read it, tell us what you think. I've seen the film version.

Posted by: cow_pasture | July 13, 2009 9:22 PM | Report abuse

Thanks steve, sorry, i thought i saw it on here when you reported it 1st, but im sure i was mixed up with other readings.

Posted by: DCUNITEDTRAVERS | July 13, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

CowPasture - I enjoyed Fever Pitch several years ago, mostly because I saw the Gunners play on a trip to London back in the 80s. Stood thru the whole game. Haven't seen the movie. Does it go by the same name???

Posted by: kaynfred53 | July 13, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: joedoc1 | July 13, 2009 8:11 PM

Oh, please....

Nice job by POTUS.

Posted by: JkR- | July 13, 2009 10:19 PM | Report abuse

talked to some people at the last United game I took in in person about a book written from a ref's point of view. Both guys who'd read it said it was great...what book were they talking about?

Posted by: DadRyan | July 13, 2009 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Two books previously mentioned in theis post should do you:
Barca is a great book about Barcalona which gives a great history of the club in a context of the Spanish political landscape.
Inverting the Pyramid is a great book about tactics and formations.

Posted by: timoteo1 | July 13, 2009 10:26 PM | Report abuse

@kaynfred53 - Been a while since I've seen the movie Fever Pitch or read the book, but make sure you get the original version starring Colin Firth, not the recent remake of the same name about the Boston Red Sox. Still not sure how Hornby allowed that.

Posted by: fsfitz | July 13, 2009 11:23 PM | Report abuse

I'm currently featuring "Soccer in a Football World" by David Wangerin. A very thorough review of the history of the game in the US.

So far, recommended. Without "over-egging the pudding"....

Posted by: JkR- | July 13, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Probably buying or at least getting "The Ball is Round" from the library soon; gotta second or third or whatever the recommendations for "Soccer In Sun and Shadow," however. Amazing book, very well written and poetic, and as someone else said the Spanish/Latin/SouthAmerican style comes through despite the translation.

Posted by: VercengetorixII | July 14, 2009 12:23 AM | Report abuse

For non-fiction fans get "Left Foot Forward" by Garry Nelson and "A Strange Kind of Glory" by Eamon Dunphy, a great story about Sir Matt Busby and Man Utd.

Posted by: soccerman | July 14, 2009 12:51 AM | Report abuse

How soccer explains the world. Great book. Made me a Barca fan.

Posted by: Conservativemindsareinshackles | July 14, 2009 12:56 AM | Report abuse

Just wanted to second "A Season with Verona".

Very fun read if you're a soccer fan. A keen insight into Italian football. Inspired me to play as Hellas Verona in Football Manager... getting that team promoted from Serie C to Serie A was no easy task.

Posted by: alecw81 | July 14, 2009 1:31 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: joedoc1 | July 13, 2009 8:11 PM

Oh, please....

Nice job by POTUS.
Posted by: JkR

joedoc is beyond help. just leave him to his drool and his wallet photo of Ronald Reagan.

Posted by: delantero | July 14, 2009 2:38 AM | Report abuse

Goff, thanks for the reminder of Outcast United. That was on my to read list. Have bloody confused on my shelf

Ditto on: How soccer Explains the World, Fever Pitch, The Miracle of that place in Italy, Soccer in Sun and Shadow.

Add: The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup (which was a great book to read before/during the last cup) and The Game of Their Lives

Has anybody read Once in a Lifetime: The Incredible Story of the New York Cosmos?

On my to read list:
National Pastime: How Americans Play Baseball and the Rest of the World Plays Soccer
Brilliant Orange
The Ball is round
Football Against the Enemy

what else am I missing?

Posted by: Sec131 | July 14, 2009 2:40 AM | Report abuse

I just finished Outcasts United and would recommend it to anyone regardless if they like soccer or not.

Posted by: szazzy | July 14, 2009 3:18 AM | Report abuse

A lot of great books suggested, both from Goff and from other commenters. I have to second thetavern15's recommendation for "The Miracle of Castel di Sangro". It's the (true) story of a small Italian village team that was promoted to Serie B. It's a really fantastic tale, full of memorable personalities. And it takes a few surprising turns too- it's not just a straightforward sports cliche about the little team that could.

Posted by: ricky_b | July 14, 2009 3:38 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget, in "Miracle of Castel di Sangro" there is a cameo from Thomas Rongen...I liked the book too, even though the author has a heavy case of hubris.

Posted by: DC0071 | July 14, 2009 6:41 AM | Report abuse


Let me be the first to call you "Stevie G"!

You have hit that status in the soccer blog world.

Thank you for waking up before me so I have something to read about soccer when I wake up other than the 100+ new transfer rumors from skysports and bbc football tweets.

Posted by: adamsunited | July 14, 2009 6:42 AM | Report abuse


I have no real recommendations as far as pros and cons of systems against each other. However, if you want to know about "the Barcelona way", I think you've got to start with Ajax Barcelona Cruyff.

Basically, it's just a series of interviews with Johan Cruyff, who has had massive influence over everything at Barcelona for a very long time. Not only do you get great insight into the tactics used by top managers, but Cruyff is often amusing and describes things both elegantly and concisely.


I offer little else here other than to pile on. Brilliant Orange might be my favorite of all those mentioned, while A Season With Verona is probably the best about the fan experience (the good, the bad, and the very very ugly). Soccer in Sun and Shadow is pretty much essential. Football Against the Enemy is also superb. The Miracle of Castel di Sangro is the best story material, though the portions where Joe McGinniss dabbles in tactical debate with the manager are a bit embarrassing (and happen far too often for a guy who was writing the book in his 2nd or 3rd year of even caring about the game). Don't let that detract from what is otherwise a must-read.

Inverting the Pyramid sounds like something I should have read long ago, so that'll be a must read for me (along with The Beckham Experiment, obviously).

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | July 14, 2009 7:01 AM | Report abuse

A good read for those who have kids that play competitive soccer is The Brilliant Game by Jonathan Littman. It is the true story of a year in the life of a U14 girls team in California.

Posted by: soccermomto192199 | July 14, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

I am wating for the sunmer soccer season


Posted by: fetrew | July 14, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

I am wating for the summer seasone~

Posted by: fetrew | July 14, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

DadRyan: If they were Eurosnobs, perhaps they meant

Of course the only reason I am familiar with the book is because I am and Anglosnob. ;)

Posted by: BlackandRedRedDevil | July 14, 2009 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, fischy, that should of been "an" Anglosnob.

Posted by: BlackandRedRedDevil | July 14, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Non-literature comment here - but has anyone else had trouble accessing SI through Internet Explorer?

(In advance, please no tips telling me to switch browsers - I can't. My company still uses Lotus Notes. ... )

Posted by: VirginiaBlueBlood | July 14, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

BTW: Mr. BaRRD and I did attend the Crystal Palace game last night (see Anglosnob, supra)and had a great time. It's a nice little stadium with friendly people, clean restrooms, good food, and a remarkably wide choice of beers. The pitch was a little catawumpus to fit into the baseball dimensions and the groundskeepers had to keep running out with what looked like mallets to pound the infield turf seams back down, but overall it was a positive fan experience.

Posted by: BlackandRedRedDevil | July 14, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Has anybody read Once in a Lifetime: The Incredible Story of the New York Cosmos?

Posted by: Sec131 | July 14, 2009 2:40 AM

I believe that is the companion book to the documentary that was in theaters, and later was shown a number of times on various Disney channels, a few years ago. I haven't read the book, but the flick was fascinating. Among other things, it made me wonder how the NASL managed to survive as long as it did in that era. Cable TV, with its ability to serve niche audiences, was in its infancy, and satellite TV was even farther in the future. Ditto for the Internet. (Just think how the experience of following MLS, WPS, national teams, EPL, NCAA, etc., etc. would be different if people didn't have vehicles such as this blog to connect to others with similar interests.)

Posted by: universityandpark | July 14, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

"The Fix" by Declan Hill exposes the sleazy underbelly of futball. It's the ending of Miracle of Castel over and over. After reading The Fix, you'll watch dubious ref calls, goalkeeping howlers and poor play by good players with a new skepticism.

Posted by: runningcloud | July 14, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

It's Not About the Bike. Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins. One of the best sports books ever written. And it's not about sports.

Posted by: OWNTF | July 14, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

"Dyanmo" by Andy Dougan. It's about the rise of Dinamo Kiev as a rising superpower in the early twentieth century, followed by the invasion of Ukraine by the Nazis. Dinamo is forced to play a series of propaganda matches against German teams, culminating in a one against the National team. Good read, especially if you like WWII.

Posted by: Josh8 | July 14, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Now that it's Bastille Day, what about books on French football?

Has anyone read Football in France: A Cultural History by Geoff Hare? It looks like a more academic book than some of the others...

Enough about France. I'm also surprised no one mentioned Futebol: Soccer the Brazilian Way by Alex Bellos. He does a great job of discussing the amazing subcultures of futebol in Brazil and th way that the lesser lights of the Brazilian game find their way to places like the Faroe Islands...

Posted by: Modibo | July 14, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

CowPasture - I enjoyed Fever Pitch several years ago, mostly because I saw the Gunners play on a trip to London back in the 80s. Stood thru the whole game. Haven't seen the movie. Does it go by the same name???

Posted by: kaynfred53 | July 13, 2009 10:09 PM

I guess fsfitz (@11:23 p.m.) has already answered your question. To answer his/her question, I see no reason why Hornby would have objected to the adaptation of his work. (Would Shakespeare have objected to the films of Akira Kurosawa? I think not.)

Posted by: cow_pasture | July 14, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I may be repeating recommendations but for a book exploring the Barca way, there may be no better one than Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World,

While by no means solely about Barca, it does a wonderful job of placing how Barcelona is different and putting that difference in context, not just with Real Madrid but with the rest of Europe. Besides, it's just a really good book.

Posted by: sportsbiz | July 16, 2009 11:28 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company