FourFourTwo's Best Football Books Ever: The Writers' Choices

You've seen the list, but which book do professional football writers love the most?

To arrive at the main list we compiled ideas from FFT staffers and contributors past and present. But we also asked a few journalists and authors for their personal No.1 books – not necessarily the finest, but their favourites. And here's what they said...

Duncan Alexander

Among The Thugs by Bill Buford, 1991 

‘American immerses himself in English 1980s hooligan culture’ sounds like a terrible straight-to-DVD idea but Buford (who’s worked at The New Yorker for years) is a superb writer and manages to be both an observant outsider and deeply involved at the same time. The astonishing final chapter sees him in Cagliari during the 1990 World Cup and is essential reading for anyone who has only ever known halcyon images of Gazza and David Platt. This is an account of an England that is deeply suspicious of Europe and inward-looking. How times change.

Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) is Chief Opta Data Editor and the author of OptaJoe's Football Yearbook 2016 

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Matt Allen

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss, 1999

Tour-de-force American political writer McGinniss follows up on his post USA 94 obsession with Roberto Baggio and calcio to explore Italian football’s saltier edges. It might not have the glamour of Serie A, but the village team of Castel di Sangro throws up enough corruption, heartbreak and drama to keep the pages turning.

Matt Allen (@ByMattAllen) has co-authored books with Wayne Rooney, Paul Merson and Jeff Stelling

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Steve Anglesey

All Played Out by Pete Davies, 1990

John Lennon once observed of rock ‘n roll: “before Elvis, there was nothing.” Several authors on this list will feel similarly about Davies’ journey through Italia 90, which arrived over a year before Fever Pitch and established intelligent, passionate long-form writing about football as a going concern.

No doubt that Davies was in the right place at the right time: unprecedented and unrepeatable levels of access to a successful England team in a game-changing tournament. What is underestimated is how much he was the right man. The long hours of groundwork with sources are invisible; what explodes from virtually every paragraph is the pinch-me disbelief and sheer joy of being granted permission to land on, in a phrase first coined here, planet football.

Steve Anglesey (@sanglesey) is Digital Content Director at Archant, helped launch Football365 and is the author of The 3pm Annual

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Andy Brassell

Morbo by Phil Ball, 2001

It captured the diversity, the intensity and the colour of Spanish football from Figo to Recreativo before it was omnipresent on our TV screens – and before Barcelona were any good. Most importantly, like any great football book, it made sense of the game in a social and historical context too, which is easier said than done given the changes in Spain since the late 1970s.

Andy Brassell (@AndyBrassell) is a freelance writer and author of All Or Nothing: A Season In The Life of the Champions League

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Adrian Clarke

Only a Game? by Eamon Dunphy, 1976

This was the diary of Irish footballer Eamon Dunphy while he was a player at Millwall in the mid-70s, and I think it’s a classic. Honest, raw and free-flowing, it was a serious page-turner. If you want to know what it was really like to be a professional footballer during that era, this book takes you right there, stud-marks and all. I read it when I was a teenager, but it’s one I’ve never forgotten. If only we could get such insights these days.

Adrian Clarke (@adrianjclarke) is a former Arsenal and Southend player turned freelance writer and published author

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Miguel Delaney

Provided You Don't Kiss Me by Duncan Hamilton, 2007

Goes beyond being a sports book, really. It's equally parts hilarious and extremely moving, while providing a close-up insight into one of the game's greatest minds.

Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) is a freelance writer and author of Stuttgart to Saipan

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James Eastham

Best World Cup Money Can Buy by Ed Horton, 1995

This was a refreshingly independent look at some of major issues football faced at a time when the game was changing nationally and internationally at a remarkable pace. Using the 1994 World Cup as his focus, Horton attacked the game's power-brokers with arresting brevity and clarity. His piece on the melodrama surrounding Diego Maradona's expulsion from the USA 94 was outstanding.

James Eastham (@james_eastham) is a freelance football writer

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Uli Hesse

All Played Out by Pete Davies, 1990

A breathtaking fly-on-the-wall account of England’s World Cup campaign in 1990. People often remark how impossible it would be to get the kind of access today which Davies enjoyed back then (he spent nine months with the players and their coach) and how this book is a major reason why football teams have become much more guarded and cautious. However, it’s much more than just a tell-all look behind the scenes. All Played Out also captures a game, and a country, at a crucial moment in time, when both were about to change almost beyond recognition.

Uli Hesse is a football writer and author of books including Tor! and Bayern: Creating a Global Superclub

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Alex Holiga

Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson, 2008

I’d like to be the hipster kid and list some obscure title about an Eastern European provincial team’s Cup challenge in 1954, but I’d be lying if I picked anything other than Inverting the Pyramid. It’s not just a seminal tactics tome that makes you see – and watch – football differently, but a genuinely brilliant book in its own right.

Alex Holiga (@AlexHoliga) is a freelance football writer

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Adam Hurrey

He Always Puts It To The Right: A History Of The Penalty Kick by Clark Miller, 1998

A perfect example of someone finding a niche, throwing themselves into it and not re-emerging until they've explored every single inch. Clark Miller's forensic and fascinating analysis of the evolution of the penalty kick – from its birth in Ireland in 1890 to the almighty fuss it has continued to cause since – has no right to be so engaging. That the author passed away before the book was published only adds to its cult appeal. Track down a copy somehow and bathe yourself in the curious detail.

Adam Hurrey (@FootballCliches) is a freelance football writer and author of Football Cliches

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Oliver Kay

A Life Too Short by Ronald Reng, 2011

Rarely, if ever, has the issue of mental health in sport been addressed so powerfully and poignantly as by Ronald Reng, whose biography of Robert Enke was published two-and-a-half years after the German goalkeeper's suicide. Enke's tragic story is brought to life magnificently – troubles and all – by Reng's impeccable research, insight and empathy.

Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) is The Times' Chief Football Correspondent and author of Forever Young

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Ben Lyttleton

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss, 1999

A great story, brilliantly told, as much about community and passion as about football. 

Ben Lyttleton (@BenLyt) is a football writer and author of Twelve Yards and Football School

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Iain Macintosh

The Glory Game by Hunter Davies, 1972

I'll never grow tired of The Glory Game, an incredible behind-the-scenes account of life at Tottenham Hotspur during the 1971/72 season. It's not simply the football, it's the social attitudes, the comparatively mundane concerns of the players, the heart-stopping revelation that Joe Kinnear was considered the team's “eligible bachelor”. And just talking about it makes me want to read it again.

Iain Macintosh (@IainMacintosh) is a football writer and author of several books including Football Manager Stole My Life

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Nick Moore

Believe In The Sign by Mark Hodkinson, 2006

A melancholy masterpiece, Believe In The Sign is one of the greatest memoirs about a northern English childhood, and being a football fan, ever written. Imagine Fever Pitch if it'd been penned by Alan Bennett: Hodkinson grew up in Rochdale ("built to be rained upon and swathed in mist, joyous in a sulk"), obsessed with his town's consistently terrible football team. Half club and half town history (without ever getting bogged down in details), the writing is stellar, and from Hodkinson's compulsive liar schoolmate to the philandering club chairman, is often howlingly funny.

Nick Moore (@nick_moore) is a freelance football writer

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Jon Spurling

The Glory Game by Hunter Davies, 1972

The fashions, the money and the TV exposure may have changed irrevocably since the early ‘70s, but the pressures to perform, the boredom of training, and personality clashes with managers haven't. Davies's inside story of Bill Nicholson's Tottenham in the 1971/72 season remains a timeless classic.

Jon Spurling (@JonSpurling1) is a freelance writer and author of six football books (five of them about Arsenal)

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Seb Stafford-Bloor

Provided You Don't Kiss Me by Duncan Hamilton, 2007

There isn't a more vivid portrayal of Brian Clough. Informed by the kind of trust which sadly no longer exists between football and its media, it recounts the 20 years the author spent with Clough during his time at Nottingham Forest. Rather than being just another collection of weathered anecdotes, it explores the fabric of the man in great detail and is, in parts, funny, prescient and very sad. It's wonderfully rich in detail and splendidly written.

Seb Stafford-Bloor (@SebSB) is a freelance football writer

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Tim Stannard

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss, 1999

A masterpiece from a much-missed author. The book details the love affair between an American author and a small, Italian club achieving miracles. But it's a love affair of the worst kind, the kind that ends in betrayal, bitterness and the reminder that nothing in life is ever as good as it seems.

Tim Stannard (@LaLigaLoca) is a sports news TV editor and writer 

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Rory Smith

Various

No, sorry. No, you can't just pick one favourite football book. You can't say Inverting The Pyramid is better than Football Against The Enemy, or vice versa. You can't just sit there and make an objective, qualitative judgment that says Brilliant Orange is not quite as good as Fear and Loathing In La Liga or 31-0 or Football In Sun and Shadow.

FFT Best Books

Where's your favourite?
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You can't do any of those things, because all football books are different. That's what makes writing them so popular, and reading them so absorbing. You can look at football in myriad different ways – the tactical, the historical, the biographical, the cultural – and take myriad different things from them. Inverting The Pyramid is not a football book in the same sense as Football Against The Enemy. They're apples and pears, only the pears are neatly arranged in a Lobanovskyi-style 4-3-3.

Now football books I'd recommend that other people might not know about, there's a question. Football books that have been particularly important to me, too. And to those I'd say: This Love Is Not For Cowards, Promised Land and Behind the Curtain – still Jonathan Wilson's best book, though perhaps not his most significant. 

Rory Smith (@RorySmith) is the New York Times' Chief Soccer Correspondent and author of Mister

Now show us yours - tweet @FourFourTwo with your #FFTshelfie

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