10 fantastic football books you need to read this year
We're not talking autobiographies, we're talking football books that truly dig deep into the beautiful game. Here are ten of the best.
Let’s be honest, there’s never been a better time to pick up a book and spend some quality time with it. We’re pretty sure there’s not much else to do right now, is there? The thing is, some of us aren’t into fancy fiction books with tales of other worlds, love affairs or ‘who dunnits’. We’re simpler creatures, revolving our lives around the beautiful game of football.
You may be thinking at this point, “well, I’ve read everything about Zlatan, Gazza and Keano”. Fair enough, they’re good books, but we’re not here to chew the fat about autobiographies. Instead, we’ve pulled together a list of books which open up fresh new angles from within the world of football, treasure troves of information that you never knew you needed in your life.
As part of this article, we got in touch with some of the authors and asked them to give us the reason behind why they wrote their book. From those comments, the true dedication and passion of these people shines through. These are the people who tell the stories of the world’s beloved game, in a brilliantly entertaining and informative way. In no particular order, get set for our favourite ten.
Red Wine & Arepas by Jordan Florit
This book isn’t solely about football, it’s much more than that. This is a book about a country’s longing for recognition and understanding from the wider world. Author Jordan Florit has been described as a talented, tenacious journalist and to create this book he worked tirelessly to interview characters from every imaginable corner of Venezuela’s sporting, social and political pyramids.
We’re all aware that South American football is a melting pot of passion and fierce loyalty, but in his writing, Florit poetically weaves together unheard anecdotes and murky tales squeezed from every source available to him. Red Wine & Arepas is a book for the football mad, whilst also being for those curious about wider Venezuelan culture. A culture which is undeniably eye-opening. Brilliant and enlightening, maravilloso!
"My motivation for this project is a belief that a country, society, or culture should not be so narrowly defined to the point at which there is just one prevailing narrative. Sadly, that has happened with Venezuela. Football is a great way of understanding a country’s characteristics, socio-political makeup, and psyche. It [football] is becoming Venezuela’s religion, it offers hope and salvation and is a unifying force."
- Jordan Florit (@TheFalseLibero), author of Red Wine & Arepas
Where the Cool Kids Hung out by Steven Scragg
Most of us chuckle when our rivals are playing on a Thursday night in the now-titled Europa League, the old ‘Channel 5’ banter and all that. Steven Scragg is here to tell us that that sort of belittling wasn’t always the case. In what he describes as ‘the chic years’ of the UEFA Cup, Scragg digs into his encyclopaedic knowledge and uses a witty writing style to tell us everything about the glory days of the tournament. And it’s joyous every page of the way.
Before the Champions League came to dominate the world stage, it was Ipswich Town, Dundee United and Borussia Mönchengladbach of the UEFA Cup who were the top dogs of Europe. Through interviews with players, journalists and fans, Scragg creates an enjoyable glimpse into a period which at the time, captured the imagination of the footballing world.
“Where the Cool Kids Hung Out is the sequel to the bestselling European Cup Winners' Cup themed, A Tournament Frozen in Time, which was shortlisted for the 2020 FWA Football Book of the Year. It’s an idea which stems from a These Football Times podcast series, that has now got completely out of hand, a trilogy ending edition on the European Cup is currently in progress, which will complete what has been a labour of love, drawing on my knowledge, and the memories of my most impressionable years of watching football.”
- Steven Scragg (@Scraggy_74), author of Where The Cool Kids Hung Out
The Football Shirts Book: The Connoisseur's Guide by Neal Heard
It would be incredibly unFOOTY.COM-like for us to create a list that doesn’t include something about the endless beauty of football kits. That’s precisely why Neal Heard’s wonderfully diverse exploration of that subject is here. Neal’s superb knowledge is coupled up with lively, eye-popping graphics in a stack of pages that should only be referred to as: a kit bible.
The Football Shirts Book is exactly what it says on the tin, a connoisseur’s guide. From obscure designs to the most recognisable shirts since football began, Heard explores and explains them all with unbridled passion. He digs deeper by using interviews with football shirt design teams, musicians and fashion designers in a bid to find out more about the worldwide obsession with kit culture.
“The Football Shirts Book: The Connoisseur’s Guide is as stylish as the shirts it showcases — a mesmerising, beautiful design that can be devoured three times over and still offer something new in the next read. Shirts serve as a time capsule to a past long gone. They don’t grow fat and old like your idols. They remain pristine, perfect and utterly wonderful.”
- Joe Short, from a review at express.co.uk (The Express)
The Names Heard Long Ago by Jonathan Wilson
Puskás. The extent of most people’s Hungarian football knowledge, right? That’s because the name rings out every year, amongst a raft of physics-defying and net busting worldy goals. It turns out, there is so much more to Hungarian football than most of us are aware of. Legendary football writer and historian Jonathan Wilson wants us to know about it all, with no detail spared. In our opinion, this book is brilliantly researched and it’s riveting.
In the space of two years, The Magyars had beaten England 6-3, won Olympic gold and somehow lost the 1954 World Cup final after scoring 27 goals through their 5 matches. Wilson tells the unheard stories, the ones that we missed from that era with help from his page-turning narrative. He explains how Hungarian football philosophy travelled the world and embedded itself into countries we now refer to as: ‘footballing powerhouses’. This book will undoubtedly fill you with inspiration.
“The Names Heard Long Ago is a book of tactical innovation, jaw-dropping football, genocide, airplane crashes and football’s own Great Escape. Wilson never offers any definitive theory as to what led Hungary to become the greatest football team of the first half the 20th century; but it was born from a then modern consumer capitalist society who created, like many European societies, an intellectual coffee shop culture of debate and ideas In Paris on the Left Bank, they debated literature and Modernism and philosophy. In Budapest, they talked about football.”
- James Turrell, from a review at godisinthetvzine.co.uk (God Is In The TV)
Wings of Change by Karan Tejwani
This book is not another Red Bull PR stunt. Repeat. One of the things which seemed to duck under the radar in recent memory was a global energy beverage brand, slipping effortlessly from the extreme sports market into the football world. It began with Salzburg of Austria, and the juggernaut hasn’t stopped rolling since. Karan Tejwani expertly and comprehensively picks apart the phenomenon in this book, Wings of Change.
If you like football, you’ll have some sort of opinion on this matter. Tejwani takes opinion out of the equation, instead relying on facts and information to tell the full story. He looks at the success, failure, controversy and innovation involved in the global Red Bull strategy, making it interesting and easily digestible. It’s a great piece of work, one which may well change your own opinion of the RB clubs.
“Wings of Change was the work of several months. I always knew bits about Red Bull’s involvement in football and sport, but wanted to explore more. Having watched RB Leipzig beat Mainz 8-0 in November 2019 in such relentless, tireless fashion, I felt that it was worth exploring them further in the form of a book.
I wanted to know why a group that was so attractive on the pitch was so despised off it as well as learning about their model, the commitment to youth, global scouting network and the people behind it. Reading and researching allowed me to come across some fascinating people and stories and I’m happy to have shared that all in the book.”
- Karan Tejwani (@karan_tejwani26), author of Wings of Change
The A to Z of Weird & Wonderful Football Shirts by Richard Johnson
Another cracker for the kit geeks. This should be on everyone’s shelf, serving as a reference to some of the wildest and finest garments to ever grace the pitch. Richard Johnson has a personal obsession with football shirt collecting, this passion shines through in his writing as he explores modern clubs’ desire for unique, one-off creations.
The A to Z of Weird & Wonderful Football Shirts is a vibrant journey from beauty through to insanity, stopping off somewhere absolutely abstract on the way. From the shrimp-laden splash of Loja CD to the predatory hammerhead shark of Providence City FC, this book will have you laughing and wrinkling your forehead throughout. Be careful though, it may well inspire the beginnings of your own obsession.
“Shirts with prawns, broccoli or ham on. Shirts which look like the player has been skinned alive. Incredible Hulk shirts…who wouldn’t love them? Most football fans usually, with us all being creatures of tradition. So why did I end up writing a book about them all?
From the classics like Denmark 86 & Holland 88, I’ve always loved the extremes of football shirt design, and over time, made it my mission to own the most weird and wonderful shirts going. When I realised how few people had seen them all, I was determined to share them with the world.”
- Richard Johnson (@footballattic), author of The A to Z of Weird & Wonderful Football Shirts
The Turning Season: DDR-Oberliga Revisited by Michael Wagg
The whatty-what league? The DDR-Oberliga isn’t a league most people will be familiar with. Michael Wagg though, knows it inside out. From a time before the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Germany’s top flight league was a thriving oasis of greats. In this brilliant book, Wagg recounts his visits to each of the 1989 season’s 14 DDR-Oberliga clubs, where he interviews former players, staff and fans to get their perspective. From those conversations come plenty of funny, surprising and moving anecdotes.
As Wagg journeys from the Erzgebirge mountains up to Rostock on the coast of the Baltic Sea, he explores the current German football pyramid in detail. The Turning Season is a real discovery story, from teams that have clung on to top flight dreams to those that have sadly been banished to the footballing history books. A very interesting insight into the East German game.
"Like many fans I've long been fascinated with football history and culture in Germany. A few years ago I decided to travel and learn more about part of that history; exploring stories from the DDR-Oberliga, 30 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall. The result of my wander-plan was that I met wonderful characters round every terrace curve, many of whose stories are in The Turning Season. I hope the book might encourage others to visit some of their clubs. My fascination remains and there are still loads more stories to explore."
- Michael Wagg (@michaelwagg), author of The Turning Season: DDR-Oberliga Revisited
1982 Brazil: The Glorious Failure by Stuart Horsfield
We’re all aware of the artistic football that Brazil were producing in 1982. The likes of Zico, Sócrates, Falcão, Éder and Júnior tip-toeing past opposition and busting nets with an adidas Tango. What we’re not aware of is why, as clear favourites, they failed to win that World Cup. Knocked out by an Italian hat-trick from the late, great Paulo Rossi, it was one of football’s most scintillating games of all time. An impassioned Horsfield tells the incredible story beautifully.
The Glorious Failure serves as a shrine to the greatest team to never win a World Cup. Horsfield shows us that as a young boy, this team helped him forge his love for the game. He talks to the people who witnessed these mythical gods in yellow first hand, forcing you to think about just how bloody beautiful the game is.
“38 years is a long time to wait for a book… in fact so long that I decided it would be quicker if I wrote it myself. In 1982 I was 10 years old and at my most impressionable. On 14th June 1982 Brazil burst on to my television screen playing a brand of football that still to this day is the best I have ever seen. With a carnival in the stands at every game, my life has been a constant search to replicate the feeling that Telê Santana’s men engendered in me. They say write about what you love… To this day I am still in love with THAT team."
- Stuart Horsfield (@loxleymisty44), author of 1982 Brazil: The Glorious Failure
International Football Kits (True Colours) by John Devlin
First of all, John Devlin is an authority on football kits. As part of his True Colours series, he picks apart the subtle variations in international football kit design over time, from the pale blues of Argentina to the dragon reds of Wales. Each team has their kit chronologically ordered and illustrated in a clean and precise way, backed up with a raft of Devlin’s useful and interesting knowledge. A feast for the eyes and brain.
Over 1,300 illustrations grace the pages, so it’s a perfect book if you’re one to keep a distance from heavy reads. Having been shortlisted for The Telegraph’s ‘illustrated sports book of the year’ award, International Football Kits is a concise, balanced and loving overview of kit culture. Get a copy on your bookshelf, and you’ll be forever picking it out.
“The book charts the evolution of international teams' kits from 1966 to the present day, using more than 1,300 perfectly presented designs. Apart from bringing back memories of some real classic designs, it's also a reminder of some proper dogs' dinners too. More than just a reference book, it's a trigger for long-buried memories of watching low-wattage World Cup group games and a reminder of those shirts you once coveted or maybe owned.”
- Mark Taylor, from a review at thesportsman.com (The Sportsman)
The Next Big Thing by Ryan Baldi
Football fans, we do love a precocious talent. It only takes a session on Football Manager to know that. In The Next Big Thing, Ryan Baldi expertly discusses the vast range of reasons why so-called ‘wonderkids’ disappear from view. From speaking candidly with 15 players from different eras who were all once branded with the tag, Baldi shares with us their tales of joy and heartbreak.
This book is not just interviews with individuals though, Baldi digs into wider context as to why these players didn’t do as well as expected. He looks at management, injury, emotional and recreational factors in a gentle, empathetic style. Does Giuliano Maiorana mean anything to Manchester United fans? Get comfortable, because that’s just one of 15 incredible stories within these pages.
“I think more than anything it was my own curiosity about these players and others like them, who seemed to have the world at their feet and a bright future ahead of them, only to fade from view. I wanted to find out not only what happened to them but how and why these things can happen to young players. And as the book developed, I suppose it became my aim to show the reader how there are no guarantees in football (as there are none in life) and that a player can have all the requisite talent and work ethic yet still be at the mercy of a moment’s misfortune — a bad tackle, a wrong decision, a change of circumstance.”
- Ryan Baldi (@RyanBaldiFW), author of The Next Big Thing
We’ve picked out ten of the best books about football here, but there are hundreds of fantastic ones out there to discover. Once you’ve worked your way through our picks, dig in, research and find your own favourite read from these brilliant authors and more.
We all love the game here, that means we know you might be looking for some new football boots ready to grace the turf again, or incredible football shirts which are the talk of the kit community. The good news is, FOOTY.COM can help you find deals on them all.