Football fans and book-lovers alike are bound to get a kick out of these titles.
IT’S that time again, when football jerseys and eyebags are the rage, and all everyone can talk about is a certain black-and-white orb. So if you’re going to eat, sleep and breathe foot
ball this World Cup season, you might as well read it too.
While there is no shortage of books on football – everything from biographies and analyses to coffee table books and encyclopaedias abound – there is something special about reading fiction revolving around “the beautiful game” – the many ways in which the theatrics of the sport can be woven in with the drama of life make for compelling reading.
Here are our top picks for fictional writing on football. (Do you have any titles to add? Share them with us, tell us why they’re great at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The FA Cup
Author: J.L. Carr
Author Carr was an amateur footballer himself, and therefore brings a great sense of realism to this 1975 comic fantasy. Written in the form of an official history of a village football club in England, the story tells of how the Steeple Sinderby Wanderers made it through the FA Cup matches to beat the Glasgow Rangers. The tongue-in-cheek style and matter-of-fact narration combine to tell an enjoyable tale of underdogs triumphing against the odds.
Author: Heidi Ayarbe
Seventeen-year-old football (or soccer, since it’s set in America) player Jake Martin is a star athlete in his high school, all set to lead his team towards their third victory. Behind that facade, however, is a constant struggle to hide his severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). An in-depth examination of both the physical and mental challenges involved in living with OCD, Compulsion contrasts Jake’s experiences on the field with his relationships to tell a powerful story about inner strength.
Watch the video.
The Damned Utd
Author: David Peace
Described by Peace as “fiction based on fact”, this 2006 novel is a fictionalised account of late football player and team manager Brian Clough’s short stint as manager of Leeds United, in 1974.
Written from Clough’s point of view by using his inner monologue, the book blends known facts about Clough with rumours, theories and just plain fiction to paint a picture of a troubled protagonist, one who struggles with anger and alcoholism while haunted by memories of his happier days as manager of Derby County.
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Author: B.S. Johnson
A movie adaptation starring Michael Sheen, directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper, was released in 2009. First published in 1969, The Unfortunates is unique in both concept and execution. Described as a “book in a box”, the 27 sections of the work are unbound, with only the first and last chapters specified. The remaining sections are designed to be read in any order, and range from just one paragraph to a dozen pages.
The story uses a football match to ruminate on deeper issues like memory and grief – a sportswriter is sent on assignment to a city to cover a football match, but finds himself haunted by memories of a friend who died of cancer.
Meant to echo the randomness of memory and the mind, the novel was ahead of its time, and even today, is striking for its bold approach to storytelling.
Keeper, The Penalty, and Exposure
Author: Mal Peet
The Paul Faustino novels by Mal Peet – Peet’s three novels featuring South American sports journalist Paul Faustino – Keeper, The Penalty, and Exposure – use football as a backdrop to tell intense and often dark stories of competition, fame and human nature.
From a World Cup winner who claims to be trained by a ghost, to a football prodigy who suddenly disappears, to a successful black football player who battles racism, there is no shortage of drama in these stories. Having scooped up numerous honours, including the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize, the novels transcend the label of “sports books”.
Authour: Brenda Halpin
This young adult novel puts a much-needed female spin on sports, with its story of 14-year-old best friends and soccer stars Amanda and Lena. With the start of secondary school, Amanda finds herself relegated to junior varsity while Lena makes varsity, and soon, Amanda starts feeling increasingly left out. Confused and lonely, Amanda learns that life is not always as simple as a game of soccer with a best friend. Dealing with puberty, peer pressure and the perils of growing up, Halpin shows that there is more to sports than just macho male posturing.