10 Football Books Worth Tracking Down

Most football books are dull run of the mill ghost written 'My Story' affairs but here are ten with a difference that are well worth tracking down, selected by a former employee of the legendary Sportspages bookshop.
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Most football books are dull run of the mill ghost written 'My Story' affairs but here are ten with a difference that are well worth tracking down, selected by a former employee of the legendary Sportspages bookshop.

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Keeper of Dreams – Ronald Reng/ Lars Lesse (2004)

This book follows the story of Lars Lesse, a third choice goalkeeper at Bayer Leverkusen, who suddenly secures himself a move to Premier League newcomers Barnsley. Not the kind of story that has publishers rushing to commission, particularly when you can spend millions on one of the ‘golden generation’ boring you to death with tales of another major tournament failure. Luckily, someone saw the many merits of an honest and revealing insight into English football.

Despite being 6ft 5inches, Lars struggles to impose himself in a foreign land, both on and off the pitch. The pitches don’t come much bigger than at Anfield in front of 40,000. It’s almost as if Lesse can’t quite believe his rapid rise, that and the ‘refuelling’ habits of his team-mates. This is an excellent ‘warts and all’ tale of a man who dares to dream but then finds out it’s more of a nightmare.

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Steak Diana Ross – Dave McAvay (2003)

Like ‘Keeper of Dreams’, this is a refreshingly honest account of being a footballer (or in this case ‘a football nobody’) but this time set in the 70s. Whilst all old pros have a story to tell, particularly about when football was a ‘man's game’, McAvay is different in that he is a journalist so he knows how to write and with humour as well. No factual inaccuracies in this book either as so often the case with footballer’s memoirs, the book is based on journals he wrote at the time.

Beautiful Game – David Conn (2004)

David Conn is a journalist who knocks out excellent articles on the many off the pitch ills of modern football for the Guardian. He is as adept at looking at the Glazers at Old Trafford as he is the demise of Chester City. His first book, published in 1998 ‘Football Business – Fair Game in the 90s’, was like any output by Conn thoroughly detailed. ‘Beautiful Game’ is a follow up of sorts, but is written with much more emphasis on the effect of the football revolution brought about by Sky and the Taylor Report and what impact that had on the ‘fans’. Like his efforts today, Conn looks at all levels be British football’s worst disaster or AFC Wimbledon. The book may be just over 5 years old but the many themes and issues are still so relevant today… must be due another update!

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You Are the Ref 50 Years of the Cult Classic Cartoon Strip – Paul Trevillon (2006)

Okay, I’m sure you’ve all heard of ‘You are the Ref’ but if the amount of times I see this book in remainder book shops is anything to go by, sadly some of you may not have seen the book. It does what it says on the tin. This is a collection of all those random, sometimes bizarre incidents that a football ref has to act upon. What makes this book though, is Trevillon’s superb illustration of the situations that really bring the book to life. My first experience with Trevillon work was at the end of the 80s/early 90s where he used to draw posters for Shoot magazine and some of these are included in here as well. In the days of modern technology and computer graphics it’s refreshing to flick through this book to be reminded of the power the pen or pencil can have. It turns out an updated version of this came out before the World Cup, I’ve not seen it so I can’t comment.

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The Soccer Tribe – Desmond Morris (1981)

I hadn’t heard of this book until I picked it up for a fiver at a programme fair a year or so ago. This is where I usually have to defend myself BUT sod the programmes, I’ve picked up some other great football memorabilia (or as the missus might say ‘tat’) over the years and this is up there with the best purchase from what is essentially a football car boot sale...but with stranger looking men in macs and loads of carrier bags. Desmond Morris is a clever guy with a PhD from Oxford, and the book is an anthropological/ scientific look at every aspect of the game, backed up with some excellent nostalgic pictures. It’s also got the lyrics to many terrace anthems, and despite being nearly 30 years old it’s got something for any football fan.

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SuperAlbum Panini (1999)

We all collected sticker albums when we were kids, some of the lads who are old enough to know better spent more time looking for swaps of a North Korean left back than watching the action on the pitch in South Africa. Luckily for me I had family out in Naples in the 80’s so I managed to see one Diego Armando Maradona in the flesh. I’m pretty sure I was the only kid in Somerset who had the complete 86-87 Italian sticker book. So when I saw this in a bookshop on another visit 15 years later it brought back some memories. It is what is says, a SuperAlbum of the sticker books since 1960 concentrating on the champions from that season but also the ‘big names’ from the other sides. Whilst all in Italian there are also plenty of stats and results to keep the anoraks busy.

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"Whilst all old pros have a story to tell, particularly about when football was a ‘man’s game’, McAvay is different in that he is a journalist so he knows how to write and with humour as well."

Football Club Manager – Alec Stock (1967)

Remember the Ron Manager character of the Fast Show, well he was based on Alec Stock, the ONLY former Yeovil Town manager to have coached Roma. Stock was the man who put the side from Somerset on the map masterminding the FA Cup run of 1948/49 where we (apologies!) beat the Bank of England side, Sunderland. Okay despite not being born until more than 30 years after that event Alec could’ve put his name to anything and I’d like it but that said this is a great read. It’s in essence an instruction manual for football managers and Stock gives a great insight into management back in the day.

Jose Mourinho Made in Portugal – Louis Lerneco (2004)

If Stock’s book was the original edition, Lerneco’s effort on Mourinho is the revised manual on what makes a football manager. And if you’re going to look at a football manager it may as well be one of the best in the world and as Louis is good friends with the ‘Special One’ it’s a accurate assessment of what makes him tick. It covers his time as a boss in Portugal but everything we know about Jose today is a result of his apprenticeship in his home country. The best feature of this authorized biography is the detail it goes into on how Mourinho prepares for matches – it’s little wonder his players seem to know exactly what and how they need to do things. Maybe when Jose has finished collecting trophies Lerneco could revisit the subject and further enlighten us on an even more successful period in his life.

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Engineering Archie – Simon Inglis (2005)

I often wonder if I would’ve fell in love with football as much if I was born 20 years later and my Dad took me to clean clinical all-seater stadiums for my first experiences of football. As it was, I wasn’t and I was instead taken to ramshackle, piss soaked crumbling grounds around the non-league. However these places had history and football ground addict Simon Inglis looks at the history of a certain Archibald Leitch who had a hand in designing and building the grounds used by the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Glasgow Rangers. Complete with excellent archive pictures and plans this book tell us everything we should (and possibly shouldn’t) know about the venues that have shaped thousands of people’s lives since and at the same time, gives deserved credit to one of football’s forgotten men.

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Garrincha: The Triumph & Tragedy of Brazil’s Forgotten Footballing Hero – Ruy Castro

Despite being born with a deformed spine, a right leg bent inward and his left leg bent outwards and also shorter than his right, Garrincha would win the World Cup twice and become one of the best players ever. Some Brazilians even consider ‘the little bird’ even better than Pele. Garrincha succeeded on the pitch but off it his life was as tricky as his runs down the wing. He fathered (at least) 14 children with five different women, had an affair with his nations most successful singer at the time Elza Soares, was rumoured to have lost his virginity to  a goat and constantly struggled with alcoholism which led to his early death at 49. Ruy Castro has written other books on Brazilian culture, and the life of Garrincha can be considered an accurate reflection of the nation, fun but mixed with sadness and chaotic tragedy.

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