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The best books on Football

recommended by David Baddiel

The Person Controller by David Baddiel

The Person Controller
by David Baddiel


British writer, comedian and broadcaster David Baddiel with his five football must-reads.

The Person Controller by David Baddiel

The Person Controller
by David Baddiel

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You’ve chosen Nick Hornby’s novel, Fever Pitch first.

Just because it sets the standard for writing about football that isn’t just statistics and ‘this is who won the FA Cup in 1918’. In about 1990 there was this sea change in the way people expressed themselves about football – more emotionally. Nick’s book sets the stall out for that. It shows the inner life of the football fan and describes how men can be thinking about football all the time – that it’s always there, that it is the backdrop to your thoughts if your team is about to play an important match. It’s very easy to read and very easy to connect to if you’re a football fan.

I support Chelsea and I don’t like Arsenal. They were managed by George Graham at the time [1992] and were just the epitome of victorious dullness, so it’s a considerable achievement of Nick’s to get me to empathise with him.

All Played Out, Pete Davies.

This is about the 1990 World Cup and is one man’s story of going as a fan to Italia 90 and it’s another example of the new emotional writing about football. The cover is Gazza crying, which is now rather clichéd, but then it was an icon of the change in attitude towards football and men and how emotional they can be about football – the sheer emotional experience of being there. England played Germany in the semi-final in an epic game and England went out on penalties. There’s no embarrassment about how emotional a man can feel about this and it goes with Nick’s book as part of the sea change in how men and football were being portrayed.

Black and Blue: How Racism, Drugs and Cancer Almost Destroyed Me.

I met Paul Canoville at the FA Cup semi-final and, you know, heads up to him. He was the first black player at Chelsea [debuted in 1982]. He has ten kids by ten different women, which is also impressive. He’s 50 now and really looks very well, considering that racism, drugs and cancer almost destroyed him. I remember when a black player would get a lot of stick from the terraces, even from their own supporters. Now the players being black is just something we expect. He wasn’t a brilliant player but it’s an amazing story.

Brian Glanville’s Story of the World Cup.

We should have this in Five Books before the World Cup just because Brian Glanville is a very good sports writer. He is old now and a most esteemed journalist who always wears a big hat. He was born in 1931 and spent a lot of his career in Italy working for Corriere dello Sport. He first wrote this book in 1973 and it was originally called The Sunday Times History of the World Cup. It’s continually being revised and updated and it is very, very good for knowing what happened in each World Cup, at each football match. It’s the gold standard of sports writing. Sports writing is an interesting thing – Richard Ford has written two great novels about being a sports writer. There is a sort of poetry to it when it’s done well. At Euro 96 England played Germany again in another epic game that went to extra time and we lost again and I read a piece saying: ‘In extra time both teams played like they had nothing to lose, like they do in dreams.’ This book does emote and is not just a reference book. It’s got match reports and polemic and its purpose is to be a reference book, but it gives more of a perspective, more vision.

Bottle: The Completely True Story of an Ex-Football Hooligan.

This book is by my brother and is a parody of the hooligan’s memoir, which, as you probably don’t know, is a genre and there is a quite a big market for hooligans’ memoirs.

Is there?

Yes. John King wrote The Football Factory, which is a novel out of this genre, the ins and outs of gang warfare and the heady days of the Chelsea Headhunters. They had this image of themselves as soldiers in a war – ‘We’re going to take the west stand’ kind of thing. But these books are always just about how hard the author is – here are my glory days when I broke bottles on people’s faces. On Amazon there are people who haven’t realised my brother’s book is a parody and they’ve read it and written things like: ‘This bloke isn’t hard at all!’

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The real ones are all called things like Naughty: The Story of a Football Hooligan Gang. Hang on, I’m just having a look through them now. 30 Years of Hurt: A History of England’s Hooligan Army. Do you know where that comes from – 30 Years of Hurt?

June 8, 2015

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David Baddiel

David Baddiel

David Baddiel is a writer, comedian and football fan.