The wait is finally over! Football fans around the world will be fixated on Russia this summer as 32 nations battle it out to win the biggest prize in global football.
To celebrate the 2018 World Cup, here are 11 (one for each position) World Cup-related books to get stuck in to during the tournament…
Thirty-One Nil: On the Road With Football’s Outsiders: A World Cup Odyssey – James Montague
Long before the bigger nations begin the World Cup qualifying process, and before the wider football world pays any real interest, national teams around the globe start their own World Cup journeys on the lowest rung of the ladder. No superstars, no spotlight but the same dream of reaching a World Cup finals.
Football journalist James Montague travels around the world to shed light on these journeys in Thirty-One Nil – named after Australia’s record 31-0 victory over American Samoa – as nations bid to defy the odds of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
From Tajikistan where Afghanistan and Palestine face each other in the first Asian qualifier, to Haiti, Lebanon and Eritrea – Thirty-One Nil provides a platform to all the dreamers and chancers aiming to achieve the impossible. The glitz and glamour may be on show in the summer tournaments, but the exceptional stories are found in football’s coal face – as Thirty-One Nil reveals.
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Eight World Cups: My Journey through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer – George Vecsey
Professional football has changed immeasurably over the past few decades and that has certainly been reflected at the World Cup over the years. Starting at the 1982 tournament in Spain up to South Africa 2010, journalist George Vecsey offers a first-hand account of his various World Cup experiences.
Combining on-field action with travel experiences, Vecsey immerses himself in each World Cup – the national leagues, players, fans, and cultures – and offers his accounts of some of the most iconic players in history, including Socrates, Diego Maradona, and Zinedine Zidane.
As an influential American sports journalist, Vecsey also chronicles the journey of the United States national team and their efforts over the eight tournaments.
Eight World Cups offers football fans a fascinating insight into the hype and hysteria that grips a nation during a World Cup summer and how the tournament has evolved over the years.
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Doctor Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher, Legend – Andrew Downie
The greatest Brazilian footballer to never win the World Cup, Socrates still made a lasting impact on the tournament, captaining Brazil in 1982 and playing in ’86. An immensely talented footballer, Socrates did not conform to stereotype: he graduated from medical school and smoked and drank throughout his football career. He was also very politically engaged and a social activist during a tumultuous time in Brazil.
With Socrates’ unpublished memoir, hours of newly discovered interviews, and conversations with Socrates’ friends and family, Andrew Downie compiles a comprehensive and compelling biography that documents the life and times of one of Brazil’s most iconic footballers.
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The Game of Their Lives: The Untold Story of the World Cup’s Biggest Upset – Geoffrey Douglas
In the summer of 1950 – the first World Cup following the Second World War – a United States team arrived in Brazil with little more than a hope and a prayer. With little time to prepare, facing opponents of greater resources and facing widespread scepticism, the United States pulled off one of the most remarkable victories in World Cup history, shocking the mighty England 1-0.
In The Game of Their Lives, critically acclaimed author Geoffrey Douglas takes us back to that historic day, to a time before multi-million pound contracts, celebrity-obsession and commercial endorsements – when a group of ragtag Americans proved how far a long shot can go. Will we see a major upset this summer?
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World in Motion – Simon Hart
Released in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup, World in Motion delves into detail of Italia 90 – arguably the most pivotal World Cup in history. Taking place only a few years before the onset of the Premier League and Champions League, and the abundance of riches that have since flooded football, World Cup 90 lives long in the memory for all the right and wrong reasons.
Remembered for Gazza’s tears, Nessun Dorma and a grand spectacle of colour and drama that helped football recapture the hearts of the world, it was also a tournament filled with controversy and low points, including a lack of goals, a record number of fouls, and an Argentina team that appalled opponents and spectators alike en route to the final.
It was a tournament that transfixed a global audience as a record 26 billion viewers – double the previous tournament – tuned in to witness the action.
In World in Motion, Simon Hart documents the good, the bad and the ugly of Italia 90, speaking to numerous players and illustrating the global impact the tournament had.
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The Mammoth Book of The World Cup: The Definitive Guide, 1930-2018 – Nick Holt
As the World Cup prepares for its 21st edition in Russia this summer, learn all about the previous 20 tournaments in this all-encompassing, chronological history of “the greatest show on Earth”. From its very beginnings in 1930 up to the modern day, author Nick Holt covers every tournament, with features on the biggest stars, most famous games and greatest stories.
The Mammoth Book of The World Cup focuses almost entirely on the football, and not so much on the various social and political climates that often form the backdrop for each tournament. Holt provides wide-ranging stats and tactical observations which help tell the story of that particular World Cup and the state of football at that time.
For anyone interested in gaining a complete understanding (and boosting their trivia knowledge in the process!), The Mammoth Book of The World Cup is a great addition to the book collection.
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Fifty Years of Hurt: The Story of England Football and Why We Never Stop Believing – Henry Winter
Despite inventing the game of football, winning the World Cup in 1966, and being home to the most popular league on the planet, England have endured nothing but disappointment on the global stage for 50 years. How could a nation where football is so ingrained in society, that consistently produces top-class talent, always underperform?
In Fifty Years of Hurt, Henry Winter – arguably the finest English football writer of this era – delves into the history of England and their struggles at major championships, using both collective and personal experiences to paint the picture. However, Winter not only dwells on the past but looks to the future in search of hope and solutions as England seek to end their perpetual misery.
Using his unprecedented access to figures within football, Winter talks to players and managers past and present, from Jack Charlton, Gary Lineker, and Alan Shearer, to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Roy Hodgson. Fifty Years of Hurt also looks at the non-playing perspective, involving fans, agents, officials and governing bodies in order to tell the entire story of where it all went wrong for England. Released on the 50th anniversary of the ’66 triumph, Fifty Years of Hurt remains just as relevant two years later as England embark on their campaign in Russia. Will the hurt finally end this summer?
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The Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multimillion-Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer – David Conn
The biggest corruption scandal in the history of football was exposed in 2015 and brought down the most powerful governing body in all of sports. Bribery, money laundering, racketeering, tax evasion, FBI informants and early morning raids – the FIFA scandal resembled something out of a gangster movie… except it was all real.
In The Fall of the House of FIFA, David Conn provides the definitive account of the rise and fall of world football’s governing body, covering in detail the corruption allegations and scandals, and exposing the rottenness at the core of this organisation.
Conn also shines a light on the human element of the scandal, focusing on the damage caused to the reputations of such legends as Michel Platini and Franz Beckenbauer. The Fall of the House of FIFA also features an exclusive interview with former president Sepp Blatter.
To get the full, unadulterated account of the most remarkable scandal in sports history, The Fall of the House of FIFA is compulsory reading.
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The Man in the Middle: The Autobiography of the World Cup Final Referee – Howard Webb
Moving away from players, officials and scandals for a moment, here is a chance to understand the perspective of a referee from the man who officiated the 2010 World Cup final. Refereeing can seem the most thankless task in football: good games are rarely recognised while a disproportionate amount of blame is aimed at the man in the middle when mistakes occur, even for someone as respected as Howard Webb.
In his tell-all autobiography, Webb reflects on his journey as a referee, from his first game at the age of 18 and culminating in the World Cup final in South Africa. He reveals how he handled star names and difficult players on the pitch, and how he dealt with fall-outs and criticism.
Refereeing may be a tough business but Webb explains why he enjoyed it so much and provides fascinating insight in to what it’s like to be in the thick of the action. This may not be the sexiest subject when it comes to football, but Webb’s autobiography is a gripping read.
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Maradona: The Autobiography of Soccer’s Greatest and Most Controversial Star – Diego Maradona
The World Cup and Diego Maradona are indelibly linked – the world’s biggest football tournament and one of its greatest ever stars. Maradona is undoubtedly one of, if not the, greatest player of all time, responsible for two of the tournament’s most famous goals – both delivered in a single game.
As iconic as the 1986 World Cup is to Maradona’s story, and in particular that semi-final against England, it makes up only a small part of the remarkable life and career of the Argentine. From growing up in the slums of Buenos Aires all the way through to his rise to football’s pinnacle, Maradona’s story is laid bare in his own words – the good the bad, and the ugly.
Told in the bluntness he has always been known for, Maradona opens up about the pivotal moments of his life: the pressures of being a child prodigy, his immeasurable impact at Napoli, the shame of failing a drug test at the 1994 World Cup, and yes of course the crowning glory of his career at Mexico ’86.
Maradona allows us inside the mind of a complex and and at times troubled man as he attempts to navigate his way through a life of publicity and superstardom bestowed upon him by his unrivalled talent.
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Pele: The Autobiography – Pele
No World Cup books list would be complete without featuring a book focused on the tournament’s greatest ever player, so why not include the autobiography of the man himself?
A life and career no where near as controversial as Maradona’s but no less gripping, Pele emerged from the poverty-stricken streets of Sao Paulo to become the most celebrated footballer in history and a World Cup icon. On top of his unprecedented athletic achievements, Pele was, and continues to be, a staunch human rights activist and shares his thoughts and experiences throughout his autobiography.
Pele is the ultimate memoir of the rise of a superstar, and an inspiring reminder of how anyone – regardless of the circumstances into which they were born – can fulfill their dreams.