Brazil 2014 – The World Cup starts today!
Oh woe, woe and thrice woe on the telly front for the next month! I come from a family of fanatic Crystal Palace FC supporters who will all be glued to their TVs watching the World Cup. Admittedly, if England were to get into the knock-out stages, even I would probably watch bits of it – but only England, and only the later matches.
Similarly, I have no desire to read any novel where football – that is soccer, rather than an other national variant, is the main subject. Surprisingly, football novels of any note are not very thick on the ground so this list of books I’m not going to read isn’t very long. (Please note the titles do go through to my Amazon affiliate link just in case you are interested – I’ll earn pennies!). I will not be reading:
The Damned Utd about Brian Clough’s 44 days as manager of Leeds Utd is legendary. I should add that I have seen (and enjoyed) the film (DVD, 2009), but that was about Michael Sheen’s amazing performance more than anything else.
Red or Dead is a novelisation of Liverpool FC’s long association with manager Bill Shankly, who famously said:
Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.
Glanville is perhaps the UK’s greatest writer about football including these novels. I was amazed to find that the Gerry Logan book from 1965 is republished by Faber Finds and Franz Beckenbauer has declared it to be ‘the best book on football ever written’! Apparently the character of Logan is based broadly on Danny Blanchflower.
Goalkeepers are different is a children’s novel, and I expect my brother probably read it as a child, along with Glanville’s The Puffin Book of Football, which I remember seeing on his shelves.
The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard R Gribble
This crime novel from the 1930s was adapted into a film (1939, DVD). It was perhaps the first feature football film and many Arsenal players from the 1938-9 season were included in the cast. During a charity match between Arsenal and amateur side the Trojans, the Trojans’ key striker mysteriously collapses in full view of the capacity crowd – it transpires he was poisoned. The film in particular appears to have been much loved.
They Used to Play on Grass by Terry Venables and Gordon Williams – or is it Gordon Williams and Terry Venables as on the original (right). They’ve switched the author’s order on later editions… I wonder why?!
Venables and Richards were also responsible for the crime detective Hazell – penning a trio of novels which were developed into a TV series in the 1970s starring Nicholas Ball – does anyone remember that?
The Football Factory by John King.
This debut novel about a disaffected Chelsea fan who becomes a hooligan may be ground-breaking in a way, but when you look it up on Amazon, you’ll also find lots of memoirs by real-life yobs about their hooliganism inspired by it – not novels and not good.
My last inclusion on this short survey of football novels is not a novel, it’s a memoir and I couldn’t miss it out. If I ever do read a soccer book - this will be the one – and primarily for Nick Hornby’s writing.
The book is, of course, Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, and if I did read it, I would be sure to get it’s latest livery incarnated in the Penguin Modern Classics catalogue.
And so in the immortal words of Kenneth Wolstenholme as Geoff Hurst scored England’s fourth goal in the 1966 World Cup final:
They think it’s all over, … it is now!