The 50 Best Football Books Ever: 50-41

In need of a good read? Seeking Christmas presents to buy or be bought? Peruse our list of the finest football books available...

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There are tens of thousands of football books. Many of them are rubbish, hackwork "auto"biographies of empty-headed players with neither the gall nor the wit to say anything of interest. 

There are, however, dozens of brilliant football books, works which will entertain and, yes, educate you. At FFT we love a good read; here are our recommendations, selected from writers far and wide. Let us know your bedside bibles at #FFTBestBooks – and share your "shelfies" of your football-book libraries at #FFTshelfies... 

50. Kicking and Screaming

An Oral History Of Football In England – Rogan Taylor & Andrew Ward, 1995

A perhaps curious one to start with: conversations which became a TV programme which became a book. This is the only all-encompassing oral history of football in the 20th century, pulling together all the strands which make up football’s fabric.

The testimonies, which formed the basis of an award-winning BBC TV series, range from Zillwood March’s comments on football in 1900 to Bestie’s revelations about life in the ’60s. Fans who packed the terraces in the ’30s talk of “hotlegs” and West Ham United supporters reveal the strength of feeling against the club’s bond scheme proposal in the 1990s.

Whether it’s Sir Tom Finney’s “jumpers for goalposts”, Len Shackleton admitting to receiving £25 backhanders in the 1940s, or Ian Wright discussing astronomical wages in the 1990s, this is an indispensable guide to how football was dragged – kicking and screaming – towards the 21st century. Jon Spurling


49. Barça

A People’s Passion – Jimmy Burns, 1999

Skip the pompous foreword and accept that the prose style can be as stuffy as the house style of the FT, where the author worked, and you’ll reap the rewards. Burns’ history of a club, 100 years of Catalan pride and some of the game’s most fascinating personalities (Cruyff, Maradona, Rinus Michels, Romario et al) is carefully researched, well-observed, and packed with fascinating stories.

Barça may now be synonymous with the likes of Cruyff and Ronaldinho, but Burns gives a fair share of the limelight to those who have played vital cameo roles in the drama. Personalities like Patrick O’Connell, the former Manchester United star who hung on as the coach even after his president had been shot by Franco loyalists, and Vic Buckingham, the English coach who restored Barça’s self-respect, despite reminding players of Henry Higgins, Rex Harrison’s character in My Fair Lady. Paul Simpson 


48. Cloughie

Walking on Water: The Autobiography – Brian Clough, 2002

As the second of Clough’s two autobiographies (after 1995’s Clough: The Autobiography), Walking on Water perhaps understandably contains some familiar tunes. Cloughie rants about the directors who incensed him over the years, and provides sharp insights into the successful sides he built at Nottingham Forest and Derby County during the 1970s. But many of the lines are delivered with a degree of mournfulness. Ol’ Big ’Ead expresses regret about his homophobia towards the late Justin Fashanu, and he is open and candid about his alcoholism.

Perhaps the biggest sea-change lies in his attitude towards former assistant Peter Taylor, to whom the book is dedicated. The Forest manager missed Taylor both professionally and personally in his later years at Forest, and the guilt he felt after Taylor’s death in 1990 (the pair didn’t speak for the last eight years of Taylor’s life) hastened his own physical decline. In the loudly moneyed Premier League era, the pair’s monumental achievements at two provincial clubs will never be repeated. An irresistible tale. Jon Spurling 

NEXT: A ghost, a gaffer and a "sensual history"