The best soccer books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about soccer and why they recommend each book.

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Fever Pitch

By Nick Hornby,

Book cover of Fever Pitch

There has to be a football book in the list and it was a toss-up between this and the other This Sporting Life (1960), David Storey’s magnificent novel about northern rugby league. But Hornby edges it because he is writing about being a fan and god knows being a fan gets little enough attention in sport writing. Admittedly, it is about Arsenal but I’m just going to have to live with that because Highbury was a lovely ground and Hornby is smart enough to know that sport is about everything in life but money.


Who am I?

One reason is that I belong to Europe's leading sports institute, the International Centre for Sport History and Culture at De Montfort University in England. The other reason is that I’m mad about all history, not just sports history. I am currently a Professor of History at De Montfort University, Leicester. Before that, I was a Professor of English History at Leicester University.


I wrote...

This Sporting Life: Sport and Liberty in England, 1760-1960

By Robert Colls,

Book cover of This Sporting Life: Sport and Liberty in England, 1760-1960

What is my book about?

Apart from a truly great cover (look right) this book gets down to what it was like, for instance, to ride with Minna Burnaby and The Quorn in 1910, or fight bare-knuckle with English champion Tom Sayers in a Hampshire field in 1860, or be young, female, sporty, and up to university in the 1920s. This Sporting Life also tells how sport ran through every part of people’s lives, showing them, in actions not words, how to belong and how to be free – the two great themes of the modern era.

Furia

By Yamile Saied Méndez,

Book cover of Furia

I adored this book. After I turned the final page, I sat in silence, sinking into all the feels. Set in Argentina, Furia is the story of Camila, a fierce soccer—or fútbol—player who is one of the best in her sport. However, she’s forced to keep her love of fútbol a secret because she’s living under the strict supervision of her father, who doesn’t believe girls should play sports. That story alone would be enough to make Furia one of my all-time favorite books, but it’s also got an incredible swoony love story. You don’t want to miss this one. 


Who am I?

I adore books about sporty badass girls. Yet, when I first began to write Dangerous Play, there were few young-adult novels featuring fierce sporty girls. Of those, there were fewer which portrayed the powerful friendships that can emerge on girls’ sports teams. I want to read and write about girls who are defined by more than their love interests, who are dogged in the pursuit of their goals. In a world that so often judges girls by how their bodies look, sports offers an arena in which girls can view and value their bodies in an alternative way. And who doesn’t love to cheer for someone who beats the odds? 


I wrote...

Dangerous Play

By Emma Kress,

Book cover of Dangerous Play

What is my book about?

Zoe Alamandar has one goal: win the State Field Hockey Championships and earn a scholarship that will get her the hell out of Central New York. She and her co-captain Ava Cervantes have assembled a fierce team of dedicated girls who will work hard and play by the rules.

But after Zoe is sexually assaulted at a party, she finds a new goal: make sure no girl feels unsafe again. Zoe and her teammates decide to stop playing by the rules and take justice into their own hands. Soon, their suburban town has a team of superheroes meting out punishments, but one night of vigilantism may cost Zoe her team, the championship, her scholarship, and her future.

Winners Never Quit!

By Mia Hamm, Carol Thompson (illustrator),

Book cover of Winners Never Quit!

Written by soccer superstar, Mia Hamm, this book shows her as a young girl and how she learned to deal with disappointment while learning the sport with her brothers and sisters. She loved being praised when she did well but she became angry and quit when she missed goals. There was a consequence – when she returned to play, she wasn’t welcomed back because “winners never quit.”

There is so much to love about this book as it shows a phenomenal athlete as a girl and the origins of her love of soccer. Also, difficult emotions that children experience are explored (without being preachy) as the young Mia learns a valuable lesson. The illustrations are adorable!


Who am I?

As a children’s librarian, teacher, and parent, I know that children have big feelings. I write heart-filled books that speak to the issues that they deal with while navigating new experiences. I was inspired to write Evie’s Field Day because of the frustrations most children deal with when they lose. I hope that my book will encourage children to enjoy the process of playing sports and games with others and the rewards of being a friend and a good sport.


I wrote...

Evie's Field Day: More Than One Way to Win

By Claire Annette Noland, Alicia Teba (illustrator),

Book cover of Evie's Field Day: More Than One Way to Win

What is my book about?

Evie loves to run, jump, hop, and win. So, when the school’s field day comes around, she plans to add to her growing collection of ribbons and trophies. Unfortunately, Evie struggles and loses each competition. She wants to be happy for her friends, but it is so hard to lose! Finally, Evie finds herself ahead of the pack but when faced with a choice she learns that there is more than one way to win.

Children will root for Evie as she learns to navigate the playground in this celebration of competition, teamwork, friendship, sportsmanship, and the challenge of losing. The backmatter includes suggestions for helping children learn to be good sports whether they win or lose.

The Breakaways

By Cathy G. Johnson,

Book cover of The Breakaways

A rough-and-tumble gaggle of middle-schoolers on the C-string girl's soccer team navigate first crushes, coming out, queer identity, and relationships – and being really, really bad at soccer. Johnson’s perfect ear for tween voices is matched by a frenetic art style that pops with crisp energy and a delirious, bouncy pace that rebounds around its panoply of League Of Their Own-esque characters like a soccer ball zig-zagging across its field. All the cheers, all the skinned knees, all the dizzying emotions and close friendships of the tween years come rushing back. 


Who am I?

When I was growing up, there were no stories for me. A queer kid in a very conservative Catholic household, I knew I was different, but I had no way to articulate that difference, and no way to imagine a horizon of happiness, of dignity, or of joy. In the worlds people imagined for young people, we were simply written out. I have since spent a lifetime studying and telling stories – as an English professor, as a bartender at a queer bookstore and drag bar, and now as a writer. And what matters to me most is seeing queer lives lived in abundance. These are the stories I wish I had.


My project is...

The Devil's Party Podcast

Follow along in readings of Milton's Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, the Gospel of Mark, and now the Gospel of John, each reading with a companion book-club style analysis meant to help first-timers and experts alike in catching the weird magic of these important and influential texts!

If you're familiar with my stuff on Twitter, you know what kind of work I do: a queer scholar, analyzing and remixing pop culture, politics, and literature. I want to tell and magnify queer stories that carve out space for us in genres and belief systems that have sought to push us out. Funding my work will help me transition into longer-form pieces that aren't reliant on turnaround for-hire pay.

Jaz Santos vs. the World

By Priscilla Mante,

Book cover of Jaz Santos vs. the World

I love this empowering story about Jaz, a sensitive, caring Black British girl who sets up a girls’ football team to prove to her mum that she is a star so that her mum will return home. As a reader, I found myself rooting for Jaz as she got into trouble (unfairly) and faced challenge after challenge. Priscilla, the writer, deals sensitively with issues of anxiety, fear, and rejection. Though girls football features heavily in the book, you don’t have to be into football to enjoy the book—I know next to nothing about it. A heart-warming and uplifting read.


Who am I?

Ghanaian-born, I came to Britain aged twelve with my family and was always a lover of stories.  Now a PhD-educated mum of three, it niggled that there weren’t many novels with a Black child as the protagonist, especially a Black British one. As a creative who’d acted and performed poetry in the past, I set out to write a story about a Black child in Britain overcoming challenges.  Inspired by anecdotes of children remaining with relatives in their home country as their parents moved to Britain to make a life before sending for them, I was interested in writing a story about such a child after they arrived in Britain.


I wrote...

Looking Up

By Abena Eyeson,

Book cover of Looking Up

What is my book about?

Thirteen-year-old Esi is reluctantly on her way to London, England. After many happy years living with her grandma in Ghana, she is joining Maggie, the mother she hasn’t lived with since the age of six. Her move to London, not only forces Esi to deal with challenges she’s never faced before, but it brings up lots of questions about Solomon, her absent father, and Maggie—the answers to which in the end change her life. 

With themes of empathy, friendship, and family, Looking Up is a compelling story about leaving the security of home and starting again without the ones who made us feel loved.   

Baller Boys

By Venessa Taylor,

Book cover of Baller Boys

This is a novel about two Black British boys, eight-year-old Frankie and Shay, who are football-mad best friends, excited to be taking part in the football trials for All Cultures United, the best football team for miles, in the summer holidays. What I love about this novel is its depiction of loving family life; the realistic, believable portrayal of the boys by the writer; the exuberant love the boys have for football and seeing them go for their dreams. You don’t have to be into football to enjoy the book. A fun read.


Who am I?

Ghanaian-born, I came to Britain aged twelve with my family and was always a lover of stories.  Now a PhD-educated mum of three, it niggled that there weren’t many novels with a Black child as the protagonist, especially a Black British one. As a creative who’d acted and performed poetry in the past, I set out to write a story about a Black child in Britain overcoming challenges.  Inspired by anecdotes of children remaining with relatives in their home country as their parents moved to Britain to make a life before sending for them, I was interested in writing a story about such a child after they arrived in Britain.


I wrote...

Looking Up

By Abena Eyeson,

Book cover of Looking Up

What is my book about?

Thirteen-year-old Esi is reluctantly on her way to London, England. After many happy years living with her grandma in Ghana, she is joining Maggie, the mother she hasn’t lived with since the age of six. Her move to London, not only forces Esi to deal with challenges she’s never faced before, but it brings up lots of questions about Solomon, her absent father, and Maggie—the answers to which in the end change her life. 

With themes of empathy, friendship, and family, Looking Up is a compelling story about leaving the security of home and starting again without the ones who made us feel loved.   

Soccer in Sun and Shadow

By Eduardo Galeano,

Book cover of Soccer in Sun and Shadow

Galeano was no ordinary sportswriter. He was also a radical journalist, revisionist historian, and clear-eyed social critic whose work redefined modern Latin America in the minds of readers worldwide. In Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the Uruguayan author explores the meaning of soccer far beyond yellow cards and defensive strategies. In a series of short chapters, some no more than a page, Galeano illuminates the Beautiful Game’s legends, known and forgotten, from Maradona and Pele to the match that ended with 44 penalty kicks but whose results no one can quite remember. He is at his best when writing about how players of color from the favelas of Latin American added flare and rhythm to a hitherto stodgy old European game. Lyrical and learned, loving and elegiac, Soccer in Sun and Shadow stands as perhaps the greatest book on sports ever written.  


Who am I?

I’m a novelist (Human Capital, The New City, and Security) with a lifelong passion for sports, from my boyhood days as a Yankees fan during their woebegone late Sixties years, to my career as the father of an All-ACC wide receiver.  In my youth, I was a workmanlike catcher, mediocre quarterback, and hard-working 800-meter runner who came this close to breaking two minutes.  These days, I mainly enjoy watching great moments in sports history on YouTube.  Through it all, I have always believed that sports are about much more than wins, losses, records, and titles.


I wrote...

Something like the Gods: A Cultural History of the Athlete from Achilles to LeBron

By Stephen Amidon,

Book cover of Something like the Gods: A Cultural History of the Athlete from Achilles to LeBron

What is my book about?

Why is the athlete so important to us? Few public figures can dominate the public imagination with such power and authority. Even in our cynical times, when celebrities can be debunked at the speed of light, many still look to athletes as models for our moral and emotional lives. An aging fastballer goes for a few last wins in his final season, and he becomes an exemplar for our daily struggles against time.

Drawing from art, literature, politics, and history, Something like the Gods explores the powerful grip the athlete has always held on the Western imagination. Amidon examines the archetype of the competitor as it evolved from antiquity to the present day, from athlete-warriors such as Achilles and Ulysses to global media icons like Ali, Jordan, and Tiger Woods.

Among the Thugs

By Bill Buford,

Book cover of Among the Thugs

Whatever rhetoric leaders deploy, they depend on others—usually teenagers and young men—who will fight for the joy of it. “Violence is one of the most intensely lived experiences,” writes Buford. “For those capable of giving themselves over to it, is one of the most intense pleasures.” He reaches this conclusion after years of observing the largely apolitical English football hooligans who follow their favorite teams around Europe, plundering and brawling as they go. The crime is brutal and pointless, but, Buford explains, the thugs thrill to the mayhem, the naughtiness, and the sound of broken glass. 


Who am I?

I am fortunate not to have witnessed any major riots myself; the worst I’ve endured was a 1993 street fight in Moscow between parading Communists and the police, with bricks on one side and clubs and water cannon on the other. But even a relatively gentle protest march that draws a police response can be an astonishing spectacle, transforming a familiar, modern city into a medieval battlefield of massed crowds confronting armored men on horseback. And I am fascinated by the place of crowd actions in democratic societies. The right to assemble is embedded in our constitution, but there’s a fine line between public expression and mob rule.


I wrote...

The Fires of Philadelphia: Citizen-Soldiers, Nativists, and the 1844 Riots Over the Soul of a Nation

By Zachary M. Schrag,

Book cover of The Fires of Philadelphia: Citizen-Soldiers, Nativists, and the 1844 Riots Over the Soul of a Nation

What is my book about?

A gripping and masterful account of the moment one of America's founding cities turned on itself, giving the nation a preview of the Civil War to come.

America is in a state of deep unrest, grappling with xenophobia, racial, and ethnic tension on a national scale that feels singular to our time. But it also echoes the earliest anti-immigrant sentiments of the country. In 1844, Philadelphia was set aflame by a group of Protestant ideologues—avowed nativists—who were seeking social and political power rallied by charisma and fear of the immigrant menace.

Bea Is for Blended

By Lindsey Stoddard,

Book cover of Bea Is for Blended

This heartwarming novel is full of soccer, touching family dynamics, and girl power. It stars a feisty sixth-grader named Bea who has to adjust to a new house, a new school, a new blended family, and a new neighbor who’s gunning for her position on the soccer field. At first, Bea is determined to look out for herself and protect her turf, but then she and her neighbor team up to fight against sexism and form the first-ever all-girls squad. The team dynamics in this book will make any reader cheer. Soccer fans will love the on-field action, but this gem of a novel also has humor, emotional depth, delightful and inspiring characters, and even references to the beloved Katherine Paterson novel Bridge to Terabithia!


Who am I?

I’ve always loved watching and playing sports, and now I love writing about them, too. As a former teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how sporty books appeal to sporty kids. But after publishing my novel Up for Air, which is about a star swimmer, I’ve been struck by how many readers tell me they connected deeply with the main character even though they don’t like sports at all. That made me think about what makes sports stories resonate, and now I look out for books that capitalize on all the most exciting and relatable things about sports while also offering compelling hooks to readers with all sorts of interests.


I wrote...

Coming Up Short

By Laurie Morrison,

Book cover of Coming Up Short

What is my book about?

Bea’s parents think she can accomplish absolutely anything. But at the end of seventh grade, on the day she makes a play to send her softball team to the league championships and Xander, the boy she likes, makes it clear that he likes her too, a scandal shakes up her world. Bea’s dad took money that belonged to a client. He’s now suspended from practicing law, and another lawyer spread the news online. To make matters worse, that lawyer is Xander’s dad.

The thing she was best at seems to be slipping out of her fingers along with her formerly happy family. She's not sure what's going to be harder—learning to throw again or forgiving her dad. How can she be the best version of herself when everything she loves is falling apart?

Lena, the Sea, and Me

By Maria Parr,

Book cover of Lena, the Sea, and Me

Maria Parr’s timeless novel takes place in Norway’s fictional Mathildewick Cove. The story centers on Lena and her best friend Trille, who are dealing with typical 12-year-old matters, including family arguments, rapidly growing bodies, and drama-filled school days. The setting of Lena, the Sea, and Me is especially charming, featuring mountains, hills, farm animals, and of course the water, which plays a significant role in the book. I appreciate that Lena and Trille spend all their time outside. Lena in particular—with her strong limbs and ruddy cheeks—is formidable as she builds rafts and plays goalkeeper for her soccer team. Irascible and lively, she will delight and inspire readers everywhere.


Who am I?

I live in Madison, Wisconsin, and when I’m not reading my way through a tall stack of library books, I love to exercise and explore the outdoors, particularly in the Northwoods and in the Driftless Area (Google it—it’s the coolest!). My debut novel, Crossing the Pressure Line, is about identifying the lifeboats that have the power to save us during turbulent times. One of my own personal lifeboats is nature. I spend time outdoors every single day, even when the temperature is below zero, because I find deep peace in breathing fresh air, using my muscles, and watching for signs of wildlife. 


I wrote...

Crossing the Pressure Line

By Laura Anne Bird,

Book cover of Crossing the Pressure Line

What is my book about?

My middle grade novel is about Clare Burch, a deeply reflective twelve-year-old who grieves the untimely loss of her grandfather, puts her self-confidence to the test, and learns how to listen to the courageous voice inside. It’s the perfect book for tween girls who love swimming, animals, fishing, art, and setting fierce goals for themselves. 

Crossing the Pressure Line celebrates a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world, which I believe is essential in these times of cell phones, social media, and virtual everything. Go outside! Get dirty! Move your body! Sweat! You’ll experience a rush of endorphins while seriously recharging your battery.

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