2012’s literary Christmas tree formation

Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman reveals the football books any fan would welcome as an addition to their bookshelf this Christmas

November 20, 2012
7 min read

Twenty years on from the 1992 publication of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch it might be assumed that there wouldn’t be any subjects football-wise remaining to write a half-decent book about. It is true there’s a lot of dross, personally I avoid almost all ghost-written player biographies like the plague, and the ‘Hornbyesque’ diary of a season/lifetime has been mostly done to death. But there’s also enough fine writers, some new, some vintage, to still provide a literary sparkle to writing about the Game.

Jimmy Burns’ unauthorised biography of Maradona was one of the stand-out books that helped define the new football writing. His latest, La Roja maintains his exceptionally high standards as a football writer, detailing the cultural and social context from which the Spanish team has emerged as World and European champions, arguably the finest national team ever. Of course Spanish club sides aren’t bad either, though domestically La Liga is dominated by just two teams (sound familiar?). Richard Fitzpatrick’s El Clasico provides a superlative explanation of what the Barcelona vs Real Madrid rivalry represents on, and off, the pitch.

At home the biggest story of the year was Man City’s ending of their own years of hurt, in City’s case numbering 44 seasons since last winning the league championship. The finest investigative sports journalist working in the British media is without much doubt David Conn who also happens to be a long-suffering City Fan. His book Richer than God manages to combine quite brilliantly a tribute to all that his club has achieved while at the same time unravelling how the super wealthy owners are a major part of all that is wrong with football today. A hugely insightful and opinionated commentary on the modern game has also been written by an anonymous top-flight player, I Am The Secret Footballer. Almost every topic covered from inside the dressing room, no culprits named though which makes for a well-informed guessing game!

Against Mod£rn Football has been the T-shirted manifesto of Philosophy Football pretty much from our start back in 1994. Of course loudly declaring that football isn’t what it used to be can sometimes descend into a conservative nostalgia. This isn’t something you could accuse Duncan Hamilton of, author of the powerfully evocative memoir The Footballer Who Could Fly. A multi-award winner for his sports writing, Hamilton in his latest book traces the reasons why under the influence of his father he first became a football fan, and what the sharing of their passion taught him about family, masculinity and community. An entirely different take on football’s evolution is provided by Gavin Mortimer’s innovative A History of Football in 100 Objects. Taking the format of Neil MacGregor’s hugely popular TV series, and book A History of the World in 100 Object Mortimer provides a richly original account of the game’s past, present and future without letting the quirkiness of the format get in the way of the interesting facts he expertly uncovers.

In the late 1980s a wave of football fanzines appeared. They were the space where an emergent movement of fandom developed ideas, insights and hopes towards a better game. Few if any of those ideals have survived the commercialised onslaught that the Premiership was to become but that doesn’t mean they don’t remain in the corners of almost every club support. Changes in publishing technology have meant that most of these voices have now gravitated to websites, blogs and twitter feeds. Dig around and the imagination and commitment that once framed the fanzine movement can still be found online. Amongst the best of the new football writing is to be located at In Bed with Maradona and the good news for those whose reading habits remain pre Web 2.0 is that the best of their articles, features and essays have now been compiled into a book, In Bed With Maradona : The First Two Years. The do-it-yourself maxim remains unchanged, the quality unbounded. But one gripe, why is it that the authors are almost exclusively male? Football is framed by its masculinity, in my book that is one of the limitations to the game any new writing should be challenging, not reproducing.

A splendidly alternative tale of football is recorded in Freedom through Football. Founded in 1992, Bristol’s Eaton Cowboys and Cowgirls are punk-footballers who have not only built a truly community club in their native city but also travelled to Mexico, La and Palestine to spread the internationalist word of football for change. Truly inspiring and testament to what the Game, at its best, can become. An entirely different tale of football’s potential is beautifully told by Anthony Clavane in his brilliantly titled Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?. Season 2011-12 was one when the cause of anti-racism in football took a few steps backwards, and to date there’s not much sign of the furore disappearing. In contrast Anthony Clavane’s remarkable book describes how football helped provide Britain’s immigrant Jewish community with an early basis for organising, forming an identity, strengthening their cause both for representation in their own right but to connect with host communities and organisations too. Superbly written, it is a story largely hidden from history. In their different ways it could also be told as a tale of football in the Asian, African, Chinese, Eastern European and other migrant communities who have organised around football in a similar way. In discovering this history we learn not only something about football, but of ourselves too. The perfect combination for a good read about the Game.

An eclectic line-up to shamefacedly suit those who have an inclination not just to check the scoreline, but the meaning of football too. Whilst wishing for six points over the Christmas period may be a forlorn hope for most, with a selection of these reads stuffed in your stocking the read on the bus, train or car home may at least spread some of that fabled seasonal comfort and joy.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, Philosophy Football.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greenwald speaks Trump, War on Terror, and citizen activism
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn


4