Gone are the days when writing about soccer simply involved reporting on the score of a match and describing its key moments with a series of rote, overused phrases. We are arguably in a golden age of soccer writing. From bitingly humorous blog posts to long form essays and meticulously researched books, there is a wide range of high quality writing out there about the beautiful game. Some of it will move you, some of it will fascinate you, some of it will make you laugh out loud, and much of it will make you see the game in a new light.
Below are 15 of the best writers currently plying their trade with soccer publications of one form or another.
David Peace is a man of singular vision and one of the most unusual living soccer writers. His most well-known work, The Damned United, is a dark and comical novel that has reached a wide audience thanks to a film adaptation and a growing cult following, but his most singular and striking achievement as a writer is perhaps his latest novel, Red or Dead. In it, Peace devotes roughly 750 pages to the imagined internal thoughts of the late great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly over the course of his career and subsequent retirement. Written in a repetitive, sometimes hypnotic style, it is more an epic poem than a conventional novel, detailing every game, every player, every goal overseen by Shankly over the course of his 15-year Liverpool tenure. Reading it is hard work, but as is the case with many a weighty tome by an ambitious writer, it is a rewarding experience.
Read This: Why I Took On Bill Shankly
Brian Phillips is an excellent writer capable of mingling vivid poetic imagery with meticulously researched factual detail. He writes about a wide range of subjects for Grantland, and soccer features heavily in his output. For a fine example of his work, see his piece on soccer and World War I in which he draws out the context of a photograph and then expands on its themes, pulling together various disparate facts and images to create a remarkably cohesive article full of fascinating detail and beautiful prose.
Read This: Soccer in Oblivion
Soccer is lucky to have a writer like Nick Hornby in its corner. His memoir Fever Pitch is one of the finest things written about soccer fandom, and Hornby’s unchallenging, extremely likeable style appeals to a broad range of people regardless of the level of their obsession. His soccer writing extends beyond his infamous memoir, however, and he has written a number of soccer-related articles throughout his career. His piece on the complicated relationship that many English fans have with their national team is a fine example. As you would expect from a Hornby piece, its information is conveyed through the filter of personal experience and it is full of warmth, wit, and astute observation.
Read This: Soccer, According to England
Jonathan Wilson, who writes regularly for the Guardian, is also the editor of a quarterly journal of soccer writing called The Blizzard. His ambitions as a writer about soccer go far beyond what is generally considered the norm. He launched The Blizzard because he was interested in going deeper than the constraints of the mainstream media allow. The result is a rare marriage of beautifully designed literary journal and sports writing. When it comes to tactical analysis, Wilson is without peer. His book Inverting the Pyramid is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of the game on a deeper level. And, while it is a book concerned with technical aspects of the game, there is always enough context and anecdotal history to make it accessible and enjoyable.
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Simon Kuper has authored and co-authored a number of widely read books, including the immense Soccernomics. In the world of soccer writing, he is without doubt one of the leading lights and there are very few writers who write as eloquently as Kuper about the game of soccer. The following few lines from one of the essays that make up his book Soccer Men make a good case for this: “Soccer is best understood as a dance for space. The team that can open spaces when it attacks, and close down spaces when it defends, generally wins.” Kuper’s ability to dissect the elements of the game in a simple and detached manner, while still retaining a poetic sensibility, make his words a joy to read. And, like Jonathan Wilson, he is not afraid to go deep, to be meticulous in his research, and to give his reader a broad context while exploring the minutiae of his subject matter.
Read This: Soccer Explains Nothing
This list is somewhat UK-heavy, but there are a number of talented American writers dedicated to covering soccer, and no one among them is as respected and well-known as Grant Wahl. Wahl’s book The Beckham Experiment was the first soccer book to make the New York Times bestseller list, and he has covered the game for long enough to be considered a veteran in the field. One of Wahl’s most widely read articles, “The World’s Team,” in which he takes the reader behind the scenes at FC Barcelona, is a great example of his work. It is deep with history, and Wahl’s ability to peel back the curtain and take the reader inside his subject matter makes for a captivating reading experience.
Read This: The World’s Team
For those wishing to improve their tactical knowledge and ability to analyze the game, Michael Cox is an essential resource. Cox made his name as editor of the highly respected ZonalMarking.net but now writes for The Guardian and ESPN and also features regularly on the Football Weekly podcast. One of the trademarks of Cox’s writing is visual aids—charts and graphs showing movement, formation, and statistical figures—the significance of which can be hard to grasp without something to look at. It can all be a bit overwhelming and disorienting at first, but Cox is knowledgeable and lucid enough in his writing to make it all coherent. Once you tune into the way the information is presented, you will start to understand the game in a whole new way.
Read This: Brazil Have No Answer to Might of Toni Kroos’s Control for Germany
One of the trends that now dominates the soccer book landscape is the “let’s use soccer to explain the world we live in” approach. There are quite a few books out there that take this angle as their premise, and some of them are more convincing than others. Franklin Foer, editor of the New Republic and author of How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, quite easily stands out from the pack. He is a journalist well versed in multiple aspects of the global landscape and his knowledge of the game runs deep. For a bite-sized sampling of his work, see his New Republic article about the recent World Cup and the questions that loom over the future of the tournament.
Read This: Was This The Last Great World Cup?
Barry Glendenning is a funny man. He’s also a bit of a grumpy man, and often takes a fairly cynical view of things, but his writing for The Guardian is generally funny, engaging, and intelligent. There are quite a few witty journalists employed at Guardian Towers these days, and the soccer section of the newspaper is one of the best resources on the Internet for any soccer fan who wants to stay up-to-date and entertained. Glendenning can also be heard regularly on the excellent Football Weekly podcast. For an example of his work and self-deprecating humor, try his piece on the Panini sticker book phenomenon.
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For all the fresh young talent amid the new breed of soccer writers out there, there are some older, wiser voices worthy of attention and respect. One of the game’s longest serving journalists to have consistently held respectable positions with major newspapers in the UK is Patrick Barclay. Barclay has been writing about soccer for the better part of four decades, and has seen and written about more change, more evolution in the game than most of his peers can claim. For an example of his work that showcases the depth of his knowledge and journalistic ability, see his fine essay marking the 150th anniversary of the Football Association of England.
Read This: After 150 Years The Truth: Scotland Invented Football
The wonderful thing about the Internet is the vast expanse of its scope. It is a venue for just about anything. And while this is arguably also one of the worst things about the Internet, the good often outweighs the bad. An example of the good is Will Parchman, who has written a few pieces about attending soccer matches in the style of Ernest Hemingway. Parchman’s Hemingwayesque prose is a great example of the kind of experimentation that can reshape our thinking entirely when it comes to writing about soccer. It doesn’t have to fit a certain template. It doesn’t have to be ordinary. The possibilities are endless, and Parchman’s pieces are a unique and creative example of a strong writer breaking out of the molds that exist around the form.
Read This: The Hemingway Experiment
For those wishing to keep track of U.S. soccer, whether as a fan of the USMNT or as a follower of MLS, there is no better source of information and thoughtful analysis than Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus. Straus not only has the inside scoop on the most up-to-date and reliable information, he has a keen eye for an interesting angle and his stories always provide the reader with context that wouldn’t be obvious without his insight. Straus’ 2013 story Friendly fire: U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s methods, leadership, acumen in question, featuring quotes and complaints from unidentified players after the U.S.opened the final round of World Cup qualifying with a loss to Honduras, is widely perceived as changing the course of the U.S. national team. Most of his stories are less sensational than that blockbuster, but no less insightful. See, for example, his recent piece ahead of the USMNT’s friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina. What could have been a routine article about a not-very-significant match, is actually quite an interesting piece about the approach and mindset of Jurgen Klinsmann and his determination to do things his own way.
Read This: Klinsmann Picks an Experimental Roster for Bosnia-Herzegovina
Neil Atkinson is that rare thing—a fan who writes for a fansite without pandering to his audience, without resorting to the tribalism that so often comes with the territory. He is the founder of “The Anfield Wrap”:http://www.theanfieldwrap.com/, a site devoted to the fandom of Liverpool FC, and most well-known for its podcasts. The site contains a lot of great writing from a number of contributors, however, and Atkinson is one of its strongest voices. In his writing, he gives voice to the concerns, hopes and dreams that come with the territory of avid and devoted soccer fandom and he writes with a poetic, insightful and spontaneous flair. His match reports, which he churns out rapidly in the wake of each of Liverpool’s fixtures, are too subjective to be considered journalistic but too insightful and informed to be dismissed as the emotion-fueled rants of a blindly devoted fan.
Read This: The Curious Case of Fabio Borini
Another excellent journalist capable of chasing down the details of a good story is The Guardian’s Amy Lawrence. Lawrence is adept at making compelling arguments and alerting readers to the layers and complexities of a situation within the confines of a brief, standard newspaper article. A fine example of her work can be seen in her 2013 piece on the signings of Didier Drogba and Wesely Sneijder by the Turkish club Galatasaray. Hers is another voice that can be heard regularly on the Football Weekly podcast, and she consistently produces articles of a high journalistic standard for the paper.
Read This: How Galatasaray Lured Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder to Turkey
Henry Winter is a long-serving writer for The Telegraph and a well-respected figure in the world of soccer journalism for good reason. One of the things that sets him apart from the pack is his ability to comment on the stories of the day without resorting to the sensationalism that often dominates them. A great example of this is his recent analysis of the relationship between Roy Keane and Alex Ferguson, which has been the subject of a lot of headlines since the publication of Keane’s latest autobiography The Second Half. Rather than add fuel to the fire by simply focusing on Keane’s damning quotes about Ferguson, Winter adds depth to the conversation by looking into the history of the relationship between the two men as well as Keane’s history and potential as a manager/coach, which, Winter argues, is being stifled by his Ferguson fixation. Ultimately, he makes some great points about the situation without being cheap or sensational in the process and, as is the case with much of his work, it is well worth reading.
Read This: Keane Needs to Put Aside Fixation with Sir Alex