The 50 Best Football Books Ever: 40-31

More essential reading from the FourFourTwo library

The first section of this list took you from jumpers-for-goalposts to death by Nazis. This one will transport you around the world, but it starts in the North-East... 

40 The Far Corner

A Mazy Dribble Through North-East Football – Harry Pearson, 1994

For exiles from that 50-mile strip from Ashington in the north to Teesside in the south, The Far Corner cannot be read without a lump in the throat. It’s hard to imagine anything else could be so evocative of the North-East. Football, of course, is the perfect medium for exploring the spirit of the region, that “far-off mythical place where the people were called ‘folk’, the beer was called ‘ale’, the men were called ‘lads’ and the lads were called ‘Jackie’.”

Harry Pearson, himself a returned exile, manipulates the whiff of batter, leek-growing contests and the shopkeeper with the Shackleton obsession to produce a work that is moving, cynical, romantic, tragic and sentimental. Most of all, though, it is hilarious – in that peculiarly North-Eastern mode that is both abrasive and affectionate. Jonathan Wilson 


39 Mister

The Men Who Gave The World The Game – Rory Smith, 2016

England casts a long shadow. Across much of Europe and Latin America, the colloquialism for a coach is Mister: a lingering linguistic bootprint from the pioneering English managerial diaspora who spread their footballing ideas across the globe but remained little-known at home.

FFT columnist Smith commemorates a series of these Johnny Appleseeds in Mister, shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year (despite some improvable editing: we’re told twice in two pages that the Copa del Rey was the de facto Spanish national championship in the 1920s, and the same assertion crops up again later in the chapter).

Understandably, some of the chapters tend to follow the same narrative arc: minor Football League player is forced to seek work abroad, finds success and acclaim, eventually returns due to homesickness or war but still can’t find a job in an England doggedly obsessed with muscular athleticism rather than clever coaching. But Smith teases out the personal, sometimes heartbreaking stories behind the Misters’ matches and medals.

And although celebrating the coaches in question, the book’s recurring theme is a melancholic reflection on missed opportunities as Anglocentric arrogance assumed there was nothing to learn from these innovative individuals and their foreign charges. After all, what could they possibly teach the cradle of the game? Gary Parkinson 


38 The Boss

The Many Sides Of Alex Ferguson – Michael Crick, 2002

Having debunked the myths surrounding leading Tories Jeffrey Archer and Michael Heseltine, Newsnight reporter Michael Crick wrote an instant best-seller on the United boss. The “hairdryer” treatment, his dealings with agents, Fergie’s often fractious relationship with journalists – Crick proved that the Scot is a man of many contradictions.

The fear Fergie invokes in others was never better illustrated than when the Manchester Evening News refused to grant Crick access to its United clippings files on the grounds that it might incur the boss’s wrath. The entire episode led the author to question whether he’d been transported to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. One of Crick’s other revelations is that Fergie enjoys singing along in the car to Sinatra songs, including My Way. Fitting indeed. Jon Spurling

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