Mihir Bose’s top 10 football books

From Arthur Hopcraft to Nick Hornby, the award-winning journalist chooses the books that have improved our understanding of the beautiful game

Colin Firth Fever Pitch

Gunning for it … Colin Firth in the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch 

Mihir Bose is an award-winning sports journalist with a career spanning more than 30 years as a sports writer for the Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph and the London Evening Standard. He was the BBC’s sports editor until last year. The 2010 World Cup will be the sixth consecutive tournament he has covered.

“Bill Shankly’s famous comment that football is more important than life and death was, I am sure, never meant to be taken literally. I have always seen it as meaning that football can reach many levels of society, far beyond the mere physical contest of 22 men and a round ball. It is this aspect of the game that has always fascinated me.

“Not long after my marriage, I took my wife to a match. She is not a football fan but had been eager to know why so many followed the game with such devotion. At the match she realised that followers of a team are really part of a family.

“Outside of football there may be enough evidence to prove the politicians right, that society has indeed broken down. But those who follow the game know it can bring people together. The supporters of a team may or may not meet physically on match days, but the bond that ties them together is their team’s fortunes. The communal joy that spreads through followers when their team wins is matched by a sense of desolation when it loses, emotions not that different from communal family occasions.

“I know groups of fans who only meet to go to away matches. They never go to each other’s homes, do not even exchange Christmas cards, but the journey they make every other week is a bond as strong as anything that ties family members together. The books I have chosen, which are listed in the order I first read them, deal with this phenomenon of the game.”

1. The Football Man: People and Passions in Soccer by Arthur Hopcraft

In a sense, the literary fruit of England winning the 1966 World Cup. First published in 1968, it spoke of football being “inherent in the people”, and launched this genre of writing.

2. Soccer Syndrome: From the Primaeval Forties by John Moynihan

John, one of our finest football reporters, always had an eye for things beyond football and his description of trying to watch the 1958 World Cup while consoling a woman friend is a classic.

3. The Glory Game by Hunter Davies

The first book to take us inside the dressing room – that of the 1972 Tottenham team still basking in the glory days of the 60s. Hunter, who was not a sports writer, had fallen in love with Tottenham when he moved down south. He used his acute eye for detail to paint a picture of a dressing room of a big club that made the reader aware of what top footballers were like as human beings: little details such as the papers they read and how politically rightwing they all were.

4. All Played Out: The full story of Italia ’90 by Pete Davies

A marvellous reportage of the 1990 World Cup. Davis followed England’s campaign right from the start. Not being part of the football reporters’ world he could take a detached view of the increasing media interest, although at times he did get under the skin of some of the travelling pack. He could not have chosen his period better. English clubs were coming out from under their European ban imposed after Heysel and the book marks the moment when football changed, both in England and round the world.   

5. Among The Thugs by Bill Buford

It required an American to tell us how vile and racist English football had become in the 70s and 80s. I empathise with this book as, while reporting football, I was often subject to racist abuse and attack and had to work hard to convince my mainly white colleagues how bad it was.

6. Only a Game?: The Diary of a Professional Footballer by Eamon Dunphy

The first footballer to show he could do more than kick a ball. He both understands and explains the game. Before Dunphy the idea that a footballer could write an articulate, readable book would have seemed extraordinary. Dunphy proved some footballers not only have brains, but they harbour thoughts beyond tweaked muscles and the next lay.

7. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

A classic which brought into British sports reporting some of the style and verve already part of American sports writing. Scott Fitzgerald had rebuked Ring Lardner for wasting his time writing about baseball. Brian Glanville had always found it difficult to be taken seriously as a novelist because he wrote on football. Hornby used football to display his literary skills. 

8. Broken Dreams: Vanity, Greed and the Souring of British Football by Tom Bower

I have particular affection for this book. Not only is this a book from a very fine investigative reporter who has a knack for uncovering the filth hidden under stones, but I, in a small way, was able to help Tom find his way round football. Just before Tom started on his project he asked for my assistance in understanding a game that he did not know much about.

9. The Last Game: Love, Death and Football by Jason Cowley

Taking as its pivotal point the May 1989 Liverpool v Arsenal match, which also features in Hornby’s book, this is a graphic study of how English football has changed since then. The period is seminal. Many predicted the changes would bring disaster and Cowley explains why they have not.

10. The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt

A classic history of the game that knits together the story with superb skill and should appeal to even those who may not care about football. It is a history that goes far beyond the playing field.


Full article and photo: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/09/mihir-bose-top-10-football-books