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The Best Football Books Ever Written

A polymath from humble beginnings, spiralling. Bit of a wretch.

Best football books.

Best football books.

Fever Pitch: A Fan's Life by Nick Hornby

Written in 1992, Fever Pitch is an autobiographical novel that draws parallels between watching football matches as an Arsenal fan and events in the author's personal life. The book beautifully captures the trials and tribulations of being a sports fan and the emotional impact your local team can have on you. Despite being a deeply personal book, the emotions involved are universal, and they can be understood by any sports fan, making it a really enjoyable read for people who like to read about all sports.

Incisive in its tone, the book brings to life the agony of supporting a losing team, the hope and expectation created by a good run of form, and above all, the huge role that football plays in the adolescence of many British men. It's a celebration of fandom, stitching together fan anecdotes and old recollections, and creating an authentic portrait of fandom in turn-of-the-century England.

The book was highly popular in the UK as it sold over a million copies, and it was declared a Penguin Modern Classic in 2012. It also won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 1992. It has also been adapted into multiple films, which have starred celebrities like Jimmy Fallon, Colin Firth and Drew Barrymore.

“Yes, yes, I know all the jokes. What else could I have expected at Highbury? But I went to Chelsea and to Tottenham and to Rangers, and saw the same thing: that the natural state of a football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score.”

— Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch


The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines by Michael Cox

Since its inception, the English Premier League has grown to become one of the most watched tournaments all over the world with fans from hundreds of countries supporting their favorite teams. The book charts the evolution of the tactical side of football as the league grappled with wholesale changes in how the game was approached by owners of the clubs and administrators of the game. From the impact of foreign coaches like Arsene Wenger, to the consequences of the abolition of the back-pass rule, the book creates an engaging narrative that talks about how conventionally British football underwent seismic shifts in the 90s.

The Mixer will be treasured and highly appreciated by fans who are sufficiently interested in the Premier League and are able to absorb a certain level of data. Despite the role of statistics and technical analytics, Michael Cox writes this in a highly enjoyable style, deconstructing complex tactical phenomena in an easily understandable manner.

For the casual fan, the book includes expert analysis of household names like Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez and others. Overall, the book is an essential read for every modern football fan, as it charts the evolution of tactics over a 25-year time period. This book is a worthy successor to Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson, one of the greatest books written in the genre.

“There are two types of coaches. There’s coaches like me who weigh up the opposition and ask the team to adjust. Fergie was similar. José [Mourinho] is similar. Then there’s Arsène, who won’t adjust. There’s Brendan [Rodgers], who looks like he won’t adjust. There’s Manuel Pellegrini, who looks like he won’t adjust … their philosophy is different to ours. Ours is more about who are we playing against."

— Sam Allardyce, The Mixer


Blessed: The Autobiography by George Best

One of the most candid autobiographies written in sport, Blessed by George Best traces an incredible life packed with experiences that few people have ever had in life. Being the best player in the world, while having the sex life of a Beatle, and battling alcohol addiction at the same time, Best truly tested the limits of how many extraordinary experiences a single human being can have.

Best has been extensively covered by celebrity-obsessed British media. He has been valorized and demonized, with possibly only Diego Maradona coming close to the scrutiny that he faced in life. Despite that, Best is brutally honest about most of his life, especially his battle with alcohol addiction and his struggles in his later years to recreate the form that made him such an incredible player.

There are also anecdotes and nuggets of his sexual escapades sprinkled throughout, which brings the euphoria of the 60s and 70s to life in a visceral way. Always the ladies' man, Best makes no qualms about enjoying the company of beautiful women, but he is also honest about his faults and issues in relationships.

Above all, there is the football. And what a glorious footballer he was. From humble beginnings, Best takes us through the era after the Busby Babes and the hunt for that elusive European Cup, which ultimately proves successful. He speaks about the glory days with increased appreciation brought by age, and it's clear that he was not just talented but also a deep thinker when it came to football. He talks insightfully, honestly and most of all, lovingly about his teammates, manager and the club.

A significant part of the book is also dedicated to his later years, moments where he showed glimpses of his magic. However, he could never manage to replicate his talent on a consistent basis. There's a clear sense of regret about the role of alcohol and distractions, which didn't allow him to stay at the absolute top for more years than he did.

This is a great book packed with interesting and thrilling anecdotes. Above all, it is an honest portrait of an extraordinary yet flawed human being.

" They'll forget all the rubbish when I've gone, and they'll remember the football. If only one person thinks I'm the best player in the world, that's good enough for me. "

— George Best, Blessed


Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

Written in the same vein as Freakonomics, Soccernomics takes an incisive look at football, bringing forth a new, more informed perspective with the help of statistics, technical analysis, psychology and footballing incidents.

The book goes beyond mere superficial analysis based on feel and experience. It uses numbers and facts to present a picture of modern-day football, which is both counterintuitive and easily recognizable. Despite being heavy on statistics and numbers, the authors are able to painstakingly bring to life what the data means for an average football fan, making the book an easier read for someone who has not encountered statistical analysis.

Covering a wide range of topics, they delve deep into the concept of football ownership and how it differs from running other businesses, statistically prove the prevalence of racism in the game and how it plays out on the field, and also provide an economic perspective about the relationship between football and wellbeing of a particular nation.

The book ends with a series of hypotheses and questions about where the game is headed, who will be playing it, and who might dominate it in the years to come. It also makes a prediction about the 2010 World Cup, which ultimately is proven wrong, but the methodology involved is highly fascinating. It's a highly original work which takes a completely new approach to looking at the game of football. This is a must-read for any passionate football fan who wants to understand the inner mechanics that control the nature of the game.

“Football is not merely a small business, it's also a bad one. Anyone who spends any time inside football soon discovers that just as oil is part of the oil business, stupidity is part of the football business.”

— Simon Kuper, Soccernomics

Bonus Books

There are so many more books on football which are highly enriching, but unfortunately, they could not be covered in detail in this piece. Some of them are:

  • Football Men by Simon Kuper
  • Football Against the Enemy by Simon Kuper
  • Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson
  • The Brazilian Way of Life by Alex Bellos
  • Provided You Don't Kiss Me by Duncan Hamilton