It’s summer. The kids are winding up their school semesters and if you’re lucky a vacation looms. Or at least a staycation. Either way, you will have time to read. You know reading — that thing we profess to love in order to sound intelligent, but rarely do? (Or maybe that’s just me.) But if you have time and if you’re looking for a good book to explain the sport of football and the mad, passionate hold it has on the people of this world, here are a couple of suggestions:
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. The first thing we do not understand about football fans is their passionate allegiance to their club. How is it formed? When does it start? Why does it almost never change? Fever Pitch gives a glimpse into this magical moment. The movie with Colin Firth is also charming in its Firthy way, and the scene where he sees Highbury for the first time is brilliant. The book is genial, the film solid, the American remake is trash.
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro: A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy by Joe McGiniss. I loved this because it starts from an American’s point of view, one of “I’d heard about soccer but . . .” Joe McGiniss takes you by the hand as you start in the kiddie pool, slowly edging into the deep end of calcio madness. An easy read by a proven master of the summer novel.
Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win . . . Simon Kuper. Imagine a cross between the brilliant Moneyball and Freakonomics, where easily knowable facts are applied in fresh ways to explain seemingly complicated questions. Read this and you’ll dominate the cocktail party chatter when it comes to football matters.
Kick the Balls: An Offensive Suburban Odyssey, by Alan Black. Black’s a dark horse. I always referred to him as “the quiet one” behind the plank at the Edinburgh Castle. Now I know why he doesn’t indulge in mindless chatter. He’s working on his next piece of writing. This one’s about his voyage through coaching football (something he knows) in a Bay Area AYSO league (something unfathomable). Suspenseful, amusing, engaging.
Soccer in Sun and Shadow, New Edition (Paperback)~ Eduardo Galeano . I put this in because everyone else does. Charming vignettes that accumulate in your mind, each piece like a mosaic of football “I didn’t know that” lore. In Brasil, fans don’t say “I follow Flamengo” or “I’m a Flamengo fan.” They say “Sou Flamengo,” — “I am Flamengo.” Did you know that?
Brilliant Orange The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer by David Winner. I loved this but would not read it first. It assumes a little more understanding of football than the novice possesses and goes deep into Dutch voetbal. On the international stage, the Dutch are like that cute girl you went to college with, who never got married and was last seen working at Walgreen’s. You expected she’d amount to more, but the more you know, the more it makes sense.
Last, A Beautiful Game: The World’s Greatest Players and How Soccer Changed Their Lives (Hardcover)~ Tom Watt is just out. Looks like it’s not too challenging but more a feel-good set of essays that might be good for fathers and kids alike. Famous players explain what turned them towards football, “what makes a player from the perspectives of the players themselves.” A bit of a coffee-table book, adorned with good photos to accompany the essays.