Top 10 Football Novels with Excerpts

Sat 27 November 2021 | 5:30

You don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy a good football novel, but if you like the game there’s a good chance that you’ll love a good football novel, where you can explore different viewpoints and cultural backgrounds, especially in the best football books of all time.

It was a tough couple of years of Covid-19, especially for football fans who not only had to stay home for more than a year but also have the game they love canceled for a huge period. However, it was the perfect time to delve into the football literature, people who novelized experiences and tactics to explain the game we love, or people who love it. Football, as the world’s most popular game, has opened it to a wealth of different viewpoints and cultural backgrounds, and the literature of the sport truly reflects this diversity.

Whether the focus is on the game’s most interesting characters, the tactics, the supporters, or the memorable events, soccer is a topic that has yielded some of the finest writing of any sport, it was a perfect time to delve into the best soccer books 2021.

To say that these men paid their shillings to watch twenty-two hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut,”

J.B Priestley said on the beauty of the game.

Although that great sportspeople are rarely great writers, and while anecdotes featuring classic players are entertaining, they generally fail to give an insight on what it’s like to play at the top level. However, both novels and autobiographies make our list of top 10 football novels as they give an insight into the world we love.

All You Need to Know About Top 10 Football Novels

Here, we not only bring you a sense of the best soccer books 2021, but we also make you familiar with them by bringing excerpts from these brilliant football books 2021.

10- The Italian Job

  • Authors: Gianluca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti

  • Length: 400 pages

  • Year Published: 2007

Starting our list of

top 10 football novels

with ‘The Italian Job’ by Gianluca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti explores how do the characteristics of England and Italy, two of the most passionate soccer-playing countries, affect the game in these two nations.

In The Italian Job, for the first time, a footballer of the first rank, Gianluca Vialli, in conjunction with sportswriter and broadcaster Gabriele Marcotti, tackles this debate head-on. Uniquely positioned across both the English and the Italian games, they provide a fascinating and highly controversial commentary on where football is now and where it's headed. And they have invited some of the biggest names in the sport to join in their discussion, Sir Alex Ferguson,

Jose Mourinho

, and Arsene Wenger.

9- What We Think About When We Think

  • Author: Simon Critchley

  • Length: 224 pages

  • Year Published:  2017

We continue our list of the best football books 2021 with a book by the renowned philosopher, Simon Critchley, he approaches every subject, be it suicide or soccer, with the same intellectual rigor. The writing is not only deep and philosophical, but approachable and conversational

In number 9 in our list of top 10 football novels, the author weds insights gleaned from a career studying Continental philosophers to his observations and experiences of soccer managers, players, fans, and even his own family. He ties the sport to politics by beginning with a chapter titled “Socialism” before going on to establish what he calls a “poetics of soccer.”.

As his protagonists, he uses philosopher Martin Heidegger and Liverpool manager

Jurgen Klopp

, men both obsessed with “the moment” and the movement of history through “situations”.

Critchley addresses head-on the “contradiction between the form of football, as an association, socialism, and collective praxis, and the material content of the game, which is money, in its most excessive and grotesque manifestations.” For him, this contradiction creates a philosophical conundrum: How can world soccer be dominated by the fans and the oligarchs at the same time?


“WHAT DO WE THINK about when we think about football? Football is about so many things, so many complex, contradictory and conflicting things: memory, history, place, social class, gender in all its troubled variations (especially masculinity, but increasingly femininity too), family identity, tribal identity, national identity, the nature of groups, both groups of players and groups of fans, and the often violent but sometimes pacific and quietly admiring relation between our own group and other groups.

Football is a tactical game, obviously. It requires discipline and relentless training to maintain the fitness of the players, but – more importantly – to attain and retain the shape of the team. A team is a grid, a dynamic figuration, a matrix of moving nodes, endlessly shifting, but all the while trying to keep its shape, to retain its form.”

8- A Season with Verona

  • Author: Tim Parks

  • Length: 464 pages

  • Year Published: 2003

Going on through our list of the 

best soccer books 2021

we reach Tim Parks’ ‘A Season with Verona’.

After twenty years in Italy, Tim Parks goes on the road to follow the fortunes of Hellas Verona football club, to pay a different kind of visit to some of the world's most beautiful cities. From Udine to Catania, from the San Siro to the Olimpico, this is a highly personal account of one man's relationship with a country, its people, and its national sport. A book that combines the tension of cliff-hanging narrative with the pleasures of travel writing, and the stimulation of a profound analysis of one country's mad, mad way of keeping itself entertained.

Aside from detailing

Hellas Verona

's on-the-pitch exploits, Parks provides a commentary of political events in Italy at the time (namely the national election held in 2001 that brought Silvio Berlusconi into power). Parks also describes how the city of Verona is viewed by other parts of the country, with particular emphasis on the reputation of the football club and the city of Verona for xenophobia.


“Hellas Verona vinci per noi! I still remember my amazement when I first heard myself shouting those words. “Hellas Verona, win for us.” It’s a kind of liturgy. Next you yell: Hellas Verona segni per noi! I yell it with all my heart. Self-control ebbs away. “Hellas Verona score for us!” Then the whole Curva Sud, the end of the stadium where the hard core fans hang out, bursts into the triumphal march from Verdi’s Aida. Only we sing: Alè, Forza Verona alè, forza gialloblù, gialloblù, gialloblù! Because the team plays in blue and yellow. The moment the song breaks up, ten thousand arms are raised: Napoli, Napoli vaffanculo. Fuck off Napoli. This ritual insult is absolutely necessary. Roma vaffanculo, Vicenza vaffanculo, Juventus vaffanculo: it’s our pre-match warm up.

You sit down exhausted, pleased with yourself and trembling with nerves. There are ninety nail-biting minutes ahead, played as ever on the brink of the relegation zone. Serie A, where we are now, is paradiso, Serie B is purgatorio, Serie C is the inferno.”

7- Among the Thugs

  • Author: Bill Buford

  • Length: 320 pages

  • Year Published: 1993

Bill Buford’s masterpiece that certainly is among the

best football books of all time

explores the violence and hooliganism in football.

Resident in England for the last 15 years, Buford set out to get acquainted with these football supporters, as their fellow British people call them in more measured moments, to learn what motivates their behavior. He discovered a group of violent, furiously nationalistic, xenophobic, and racist young men, many employed in high-paying blue-collar jobs, who actively enjoy destroying property and hurting people, finding “absolute completeness” in the havoc they wreak. He also discerned strong elements of latent homosexuality in this destructive male bonding. Following his subjects from local matches to contests in


, Germany, and Sardinia, Buford shows that they are the same wherever they go: pillaging soldiers fighting a self-created war.

He also suggests that crowds cannot be incited to violence against their will, contrary to the belief that otherwise pacific crowds can be stirred to violence by a persuasive leader. Buford also argues that those in a crowd collectively decide whether or not to cross thresholds of violence.


“THESE ARE THE things that are said about crowds.

A crowd is mindless.

A crowd is primitive; it is barbaric; it is childish.

A crowd is fickle, capricious, unpredictable. A crowd is a dirty people without a name (Clarendon). A crowd is a beast without a name (Gabriel Tarde). A crowd is a wild animal (Alexander Hamilton, Hippolyte Taine, Scipio Sighele). A crowd is like a flock of sheep (Plato), like a pack of wolves (Plato), like a horse—tame when in the harness, dangerous when set free. A crowd is like a fire burning out of control, destroying everything in its way, including finally itself (Thomas Carlyle). A crowd is in a fever, in delirium, in a state of hypnosis (Gustave LeBon). A crowd reveals our Darwinian selves, primal hordes suddenly liberated by the sway of the pack. A crowd reveals our Freudian selves, regressing to a state of elemental, primitive urgency. A crowd killed Socrates; a crowd killed Jesus. A crowd kills—in the Bastille, at the Commune, in front of the Winter Palace, in the streets of Vienna, down a dirt road in Mississippi or Soweto.

And who do we find in a crowd? Trouble-makers, riff-raff, vagrants and criminals (Taine). The morbidly nervous, excitable and the half-deranged (LeBon). The scum that boils up to the surface of the cauldron of a city (Gibbon). Both honorary barbarians (Hitler) and the vulgar working class who want nothing more than bread and circuses (Hitler).”

6- Seeing Red

  • Author: Graham Poll

  • Length: 416 pages

  • Year Published: 2008

Next in our list of the best

football books 2021

is Seeing Red by former Premier League referee, Graham Poll, where he exposes the myth that referees are the game’s silent men, and opens the lid on the shocking and often unbelievable world of football that few outsiders get to see.

In this brilliant barred autobiography, Poll reveals what really goes on between the players in the tunnel before a match and in the dressing room after, and unveils the true nature behind the nicest and the nastiest figures in the game. Poll also shares private conversations with the likes of Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Sepp Blatter, and Steve McClaren, and the inside story behind controversial incidents involving

Roy Keane

, David Beckham, Patrick Vieira, and current England captain John Terry, among others.


“Referees have football’s poisoned chalice. Obviously the game needs refereeing and yet very few people want to do it. So the likes of Graham Poll, who get involved at a young age at grassroots level, deserve enormous credit and the thanks of all us who care about the game of football. Perhaps, no disrespect, Graham! they are not the greatest footballers but they want to be involved in football because they love the game, and that is a very good thing.

Then, if they work their way up to professional level and the very serious stuff, they become the focus of an enormous amount of scrutiny. It is not just me, and all the other managers, watching their every move and being very demanding. It is not just the players and the fans who are focused on everything they do. It is, of course, all the television cameras. If a referee makes the smallest mistake, a television analyst will tell the world, ‘That mistake cost this team a goal.’ It is incredibly difficult to have the confidence to make decisions in those circumstances. Big brother is watching you all the time.”

5- Fever Pitch

  • Author: Nick Hornby

  • Length: 247 pages

  • Year Published: 1998

Next in our list of

top 10 football novels

is Nick Hornby’s best-seller. Fever Pitch is not a typical memoir as there are no chapters, just a series of match reports falling into three time-frames (childhood, young adulthood, manhood). While watching May 2, 1972, Reading v. Arsenal match, it became embarrassingly obvious to the then 15-year-old that his white, suburban, middle-class roots made him a wimp with no sense of identity.

Nick Hornby has been a football fan since the moment he was conceived. Fever Pitch is his tribute to a lifelong obsession. Part autobiography, part comedy, part incisive analysis of insanity, Hornby’s award-winning memoir captures the fever pitch of fandom—its agony and ecstasy, its community, its defining role in thousands of young men’s coming-of-age stories. Fever Pitch is one for the home team. But above all, it is one for everyone who knows what it really means to have a losing season.

Fever Pitch sold over a million copies in the United Kingdom. It won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 1992 and was reprinted with a new cover and made available as part of the 2005–06

Arsenal F.C.

membership pack as part of the "Final Salute" to Highbury Stadium. The book was made a Penguin Modern Classic in August 2012.


“I used to believe, although I don't now, that growing and growing up are analogous, that both are inevitable and uncontrollable processes. Now it seems to me that growing up is governed by the will, that one can choose to become an adult, but only at given moments. These moments come along fairly infrequently -during crises in relationships, for example, or when one has been given the chance to start afresh somewhere- and one can ignore them or seize them.

As I get older, the tyranny that football exerts over my life, and therefore over the lives of people around me, is less reasonable and less attractive. Family and friends know, after long years of wearying experience, that the fixture list always has the last word in any arrangement; they understand, or at least accept, that christenings or weddings or any gatherings, which in other families would take unquestioned precedence, can only be plotted after consultation. So football is regarded as a given disability that has to be worked around. If I were wheelchair-bound, nobody close to me would organise anything in a top-floor flat, so why would they plan anything for a winter Saturday afternoon.”

4- The Miracle of Castel di Sangro

  • Author: Joe McGinniss

  • Length: 404 pages

  • Year Published: 2000

In the number 4 in our list of top 10 football novels, Master storyteller Joe McGinniss travels to Italy to cover the unlikely success of a ragtag minor league soccer team--and delivers a brilliant and utterly unforgettable story of life in an off-the-beaten-track Italian village.

With the growing popularity of soccer in North America, McGinniss has written the rags-to-riches story of how an Italian soccer team, Castel di Sangro from the Abruzzi region, rose through the ranks from the very bottom (Terza Categoria) to the Serie BAa remarkable feat.

When Joe McGinniss sets out for the remote Italian village of Castel di Sangro one summer, he merely intends to spend a season with the village's soccer team, which only weeks before had, miraculously, reached the second-highest-ranking professional league in the land. But soon he finds himself embroiled with an absurd yet irresistible cast of characters, including the team's owner, described by the New York Times as "straight out of a Mario Puzo novel," and coach Osvaldo Jaconi, whose only English word is the one he uses to describe himself: "bulldozer."


‘I flew to Rome anyway, of course. But as soon as I wheeled my luggage cart through customs, and the horde of cab drivers descended upon me, I picked the first one.

"How much to Sulmona?"

"Five 'undred thousand."

"Four," I said.

He motioned with his thumb. "Follow me." And so I was off to the Abruzzo, well in advance of the 11:50 from Rome. Italy is composed of twenty regions. Some are legendary, others extremely popular with foreign tourists, and still more, though not as well known to outsiders, prized by the Italians themselves. And then there is the Abruzzo.

Frommer's 1996 guide to Italy describes it as "one of the poorest and least visited regions" in the country. "Arid and sunscorched . . . prone to frequent earthquakes, the Abruzzo is . . . impoverished and visually stark." It is a region, says another guidebook, "in which there is little of interest to see and even less to do."’

3- The Fix

  • Author: Declan Hill

  • Length: 416 pages

  • Year Published: 2010

The Fix is the most explosive story of sports corruption in a generation. Intriguing, riveting, and compelling, it tells the story of an investigative journalist who sets out to examine

the world of match-fixing

in professional soccer.

Understand how gambling fixers work to corrupt a soccer game and you will understand how they move into a basketball league, a cricket tournament, or a tennis match (all places, by the way, that criminal fixers have moved into). My views on soccer have changed. I still love the Saturday-morning game between amateurs: the camaraderie and the fresh smell of grass. But the professional game leaves me cold. I hope you will understand why after reading the book. I think you may never look at sport in the same way again.


“At first, I was interested in the general issue of organized crime in soccer. However, I began to become interested in the subject of match-fixing. It was, in the words of one worried tennis executive I spoke to, “the ultimate threat to the credibility of the sport.”

I visited some of the world’s most famous soccer stadiums, teams, and games to see organized criminals in action. I investigated leagues where Chinese triads have fixed more than 80 per cent of the games; and I found that top international referees often get offered, and accept, “female bribes” before they arbitrate some of the biggest games in soccer.

In my journey I did find real heroes: people who have attempted to clean up the world’s “beautiful game.” They have, for the most part, been marginalized, stamped on, or silenced. Their stories are littered throughout this book: failed journalists, dead referees, ignored players. I will also introduce you to some of the fixers, criminals, and con men who corrupt the sport. Whenever possible I have tried to allow the criminals to speak for themselves, using verbatim transcripts of either their interviews or covertly recorded conversations. The work has, at times, been difficult and dangerous. For that reason, in some places in the text, I have changed the locations of the interviews and the names of both the innocent and the guilty. (The first time that I introduce someone whose name has been changed, I will place an asterisk beside it in the text.) I have done that to protect myself and my interview subjects from all the dangers that a reader can imagine.”

2- Bloody Confused

  • Author: Chuck Culpepper

  • Length: 250 pages

  • Year Published: 2008

Chuck Culpepper was a veteran sports journalist edging toward burnout when he went to London and discovered the high-octane, fanatical world of English soccer, and wrote the next entry in our list of

top 10 football novels


After covering the American sports scene for fifteen years, Chuck Culpepper suffered from a profound case of Common Sportswriter Malaise. He was fed up with self-righteous proclamations, steroid scandals, and the deluge of in-your-face PR that saturated the NFL, the NBA, and MLB. Then in 2006, he moved to London and discovered a new and baffling world—the renowned Premiership soccer league. Culpepper pledged his loyalty to Portsmouth, a gutsy, small-market team at the bottom of the standings.

Chuck Culpepper brings penetrating insight to the vibrant landscape of English soccer, visiting such storied franchises as Manchester United,


, and Liverpool, and an equally celebrated assortment of pubs. Bloody Confused! will put a smile on the face of any sports fan who has ever questioned what makes us love sports in the first place.


After eighteen mostly wondrous years covering five Olympics, twenty-five major golf tournaments, four Wimbledons, eleven Super Bowls, ten Kentucky Derbys, one Sunday night romp up the Champs-Elysees in July 1998 with a bunch of French people who might've abhorred soccer but seemed to enjoy winning, seven baseball World Series, seven Rose Bowls, five Sugar Bowls, five Fiesta Bowls, three Orange Bowls, basketball from Hawaii to Alaska to Kentucky to Athens to Sydney, nine Indianapolis 500s, three Daytona 500s, and one tractor pull, among other events, I found myself purged of free media credentials, free media shuttle buses, and free media buffet lines. I bought tickets as do real people. I went to stadiums and sat as a fan among the completely irrational other fans. I breathed amid the wisest, savviest old fan culture on earth. I relearned arts forbidden in press boxes, including applauding, cheering, and even jumping up and down like a buffoon.

And crucially, I came upon a league chockablock with facts I didn't know, legacies that hadn't grown exhausted, and astounding fan noise I couldn't wait to comprehend.

I felt confounded at mysterious words such as "Hotspur" (that's the nickname for the North London club Tottenham Hotspur), "Everton" (that's an actual and first-rate club set in Liverpool), and "Sven-Goran Eriksson" (he's the dour Swedish former coach of England's national team). I pictured "West Ham" as some gumdrop village somewhere in the countryside, when it's a storied club in gritty East London.

1- The Damned Utd

  • Author: David Peace

  • Length: 400 pages

  • Year Published: 2006

Finally, David Peace’s masterpiece peaks on number one in our list of top 10 football novels. The novel tells the tale of

Nottingham Forrest

icon, Brian Clough, in a time of misfortune.

Told from Clough's point of view, the novel is written as his stream of consciousness as he tries and fails to impose his will on a team he inherited from his bitter rival, Don Revie, and whose players are still loyal to their old manager. Interspersed are flashbacks to his more successful days as manager of Derby County. Described by its author as "a fiction based on a fact", the novel mixes fiction, rumor, and speculation with documented facts to depict Clough as a deeply flawed hero; foul-mouthed, vengeful, and beset with inner demons and alcoholism.

The Damned Utd tells the story of the legendary Clough’s tumultuous forty-four days trying to turn around a corrupt institution without being corrupted himself—the players who wouldn’t play, the management that looked the other way, the wife and friends who stood by him as he fought to do the right thing.

Arguably the best football books of all time, the Damned United has been adapted to a 2009 movie starring Michael Sheen.


“The smell of blood. The smell of sweat. The smell of tears. The smell of Algipan. You want to smell these smells for the rest of your life.

‘He needs the hospital,’ says Johnny Watters.‘Needs it quick and all.’ ‘But don’t you take his fucking boots off,’ says the Boss again.

You are lifted off the plinth. Off the bloodstained sheet. Onto another stretcher. Down another tunnel –

Into the ambulance.To the hospital.To the knife.

There is an operation and your leg is set in plaster from your ankle to your groin. Stitches in your head. No visitors. No family or friends –

Just doctors and nurses. Johnny Watters and the Boss –

But no one tells you anything, anything you don’t already know – That this is bloody bad. This is very f***ing bad –

The worst day of your life.”

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