3rd March 2014 - Kieran O'Connor
While it's still the big-name autobiographies, all of them ghostwritten, that dominate the football chart, there is also a great deal of insightful and elegantly written anaylsis of the game available, much of it from small independent presses. Kieran O'Connor, from our St Pancras International branch, identifies the pick of recent publications.
On the surface, the recent market for football books has been dominated by Sir Alex Ferguson's angry, absurdly successful tome and 'onest 'arry Redknapp's own that managed to conform to all known East London stereotypes. If you were to dig a little deeper, however, there was a veritable bounty of cultured, socially-relevant and utterly brilliant sports writing, such as Dennis Bergkamp's Stillness and Speed, Guillem Balague's Messi and Mike Calvin's The Nowhere Men. Here are a few recent football titles you might have missed:
When Friday Comes: Football, War and Revolution in the Middle East by James Montague (deCoubertin Books)
The new and vastly updated When Friday Comes follows journalist James Montague across his many travels across the Middle East. In a region that is divided along racial, cultural, economic, religious and linguistic lines, its great love of football is perhaps the best way to view the complicated cross-currents of such a volatile region. With a cast of characters that includes a worn-down Marcel Desailly and a shirtless Ali Daei; meeting the Al-Ahly ultras at the forefront of Egyptian revolution, the Iraqi men's national team uniting a country riven by sectarian conflict and the hugely inspiring women's team formed in the socially conservative Palestinian territories, this is a wonderfully informative window into Middle Eastern football culture.
Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja's Historic Treble by Graham Hunter (Backpage Press)
In his capacity as TV producer for FIFA, embedded within the Spanish national team's entourage for their three successive championship wins, Graham Hunter has the best possible angle on how this frankly unfathomable triumvirate was achieved, starting at the fag-end of the Aragonés regime in 2008. Each tournament unfolds with exhaustive details on the team's preparations behind-the-scenes and on the training ground and peppered liberally with quotes and anecdotes that will endear the Spaniards, seemingly normal and genuinely decent guys, further to your heart. See: the Queen of Spain visiting the Spanish changing room just after the 2010 World Cup win, politely shaking the hands of each player until the one missing player, the talismanic captain Puyol emerges from the shower wearing nothing but a towel, caught out by the sudden arrival. Still, he shakes her hand and sheepishly steps back to his locker much to the admirably restrained delight of his team-mates. The video of this encounter is on YouTube and well worth a watch.
Grobar: Partizan Pleasure, Pain and Paranoia: Lifting the Lid on Serbia's Undertakers by James Moor (Pitch Publishing)
Partizan Belgrade might be Serbia's most successful club comprising of a bright, young squad, winning mulitple titles, earning regular European football and exerting complete dominance over their hated rivals Red Star. Moor's memoir on his time around the fringes of Grobari, the notorious Partizan's ultras is not a feel-good tale: instead, the chronic mis-management by the Partizan board, culminating in the arrival of Avram Grant, playing in a woeful league with hugely substandard teams make this an exercise in perpetual disappointment and frustration. This season-long snapshot, like those of Joe McGinness' Miracle of Castel di Sangro and Tim Parks' A Season with Verona, balances the nuances of the region's politics and nationalism with humour and insight.
The Blizzard, quarterly magazine (Blizzard Media Ltd)
2013 further cemented The Blizzard's place as the football writing equivalent of Granta. For those unaware, The Blizzard, with Jonathan Wilson acting as editor, is a quarterly magazine that collects some of the most renowned and revered football writers and gives the free reign over essay-length articles, with no editorial line to toe, or minimum internet clicks to generate. What emerges is many counts of football writing with real cultural, political and social signficance.