Books on the Beautiful Game

THE most beautiful goal!

As the buzz surrounding the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa continues to build both figuratively and literally thanks to the vuvuzelas, I thought I’d just chime in with a few highly unscientifically chosen recommendations for further reading on “The Beautiful Game.”

In my opinion soccer, or football, is the only sport that can rival baseball as far as the body and quality of literary works written about it is concerned (boxing would also merit a mention).  The theory, whether viewed as gospel or as a gross oversimplification, that certain collectively shared traits are visible and identifiable in a national team’s style of play provides an unbelievably rich and fertile ground for interesting, engaging writing.  For instance, the Italians are known for playing a stubborn, defensive style known as Catenaccio, that some observers/writers have labeled “cynical.” Trained, culturally literate eyes swear you can see samba and the flowing movements of Capoeira in the beautifully rhythmic possession game the legendary Brazilian national team plays. Another great example would be the Dutch who pioneered the “Total Football” style, with its critical emphasis on space, which author David Winner suggests is an emblematic facet of their national identity in his intriguing book Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, which, incidentally, is the first book I’d like to recommend to the JMRL universe. I’ve just started it and I’m hooked!

The second book I’d like to recommend is Franklin Foer’s excellent How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. This thoroughly entertaining book taught me far more about modern history than I could have ever anticipated. Great chapters on the Jewish Hakoah Club of Vienna that dominated club play in pre-World War II Austria, the explosive religious underpinnings of the Celtic/Rangers rivalry, the short leap some Red Star Belgrade fans took from hooliganism to political violence and many, many other interesting topics.

On a lighter note Nick Hornby, of High Fidelity and About a Boy fame, wrote a book called Fever Pitch which deals, in typically obsessive fashion, with the trials, tribulations and fleeting bursts of joy inherent in being an Arsenal fan. This funny, coming of age book is recommended to faithful, lifelong followers of any team, soccer or otherwise. I’ve often considered writing a book like this about the Steelers.

The final book I’d like to suggest is David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer and I’ll let the author tell you why should check it out (via

Goldblatt: The Ball Is Round was, in retrospect, 20 years in the making. I had wanted to write a world history since I knew that such things existed. In a former life I spent a long time working on globalization and global history and then I made a global atlas of football, so I had plenty of background.

After that, I followed Phillip Pullman’s advice, “Read like a butterfly, write like a bee.” I read a lot, followed my nose and other’s advice, scoured journals, libraries and old magazines, studied web sites, visited museums, stadia, and shrines, made contacts in a lot of countries, and begged, bought, and traded information and opinion–oh and I watched an awful lot of football.

There were trips to Scotland, Sweden, Serbia, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Greece, Tunisia, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina not to mention a lot of old games on video and DVD.

That’s a lot of passionate research!

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I thought I’d throw these out for your consideration.

Enjoy the games!


(image courtesy of


  1. Excellent. Great timing. This is obviously where you belong in its contribution and comfort zone. Over the years I have written many columns and public letters plus fimsm and speakers I authored, but compliments always came from the public not my colleagues. So, feels good to break the mold!

  2. Thank you so much for the compliment, JB.
    I greatly appreciate it.
    I love football (the World and American varieties) so this was an exciting post to write and share.

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