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Writers and Football: An Everlasting Love Affair

Alex Chams By Alex Chams Published on June 6, 2016
This article was updated on November 16, 2017

With the 2018 World Cup qualifiers now over, football fans can sit back and relax until mid June 2018 when the World Cup will kick off in Russia. In the meantime, why not pick up a few books about the game by world class authors either to read yourself, or as gifts for friends who are fans?

Books about football aren't just about the strategy of the game, or histories of previous World Cups. Nobel prize-winning literary novelists and philosophers have spoken and written on the subject such as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Julian Barnes, Salman Rushdie, and Eduardo Galeano. Camus, for example, was a goalkeeper for the university football club in Algeria in 1929, the Racing Universitaire Algérois (RUA). He did not continue professionally because he contracted tuberculosis, but later, with money earned from winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, he bought a property in the south of France where he often spent Sunday afternoons watching children training or playing matches against neighboring villages. He famously said “Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football.”

The French philosopher Jacques Derrida had wanted to become a professional football player but had to give it up when he realized he wasn't good enough.

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Juan Villoro's essays on football

More recently, a compilation of award-winning essays by Mexican author Juan Villoro have been translated and united in a single volume, entitled God is Round published by Restless Books in the US. Villoro said that he found the idea of publishing a book in the US (where interest in the game grows year after year) about football quite astonishing, implying that he was delighted. His British translator Thomas Bunstead said that Villoro's writing was very literary, and that on top of it a certain literacy was required for the football idiom, so the fact that he is a literary translator as well as a football fan worked out well.

Sports journalists are often brilliant writers, and online arts and lifestyle magazine Paste helpfully created a list of contemporary writers who report on football, including Nick Hornby, who of course doesn't just write about football. Hornby's memoir, Fever Pitch, describes how he became obsessed with the game, and gives insight to those who might not understand the passion many feel about football.

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Simon Kuper's Football Against the Enemy

In Simon Kuper's Football Against the Enemy, he recounts football stories about people involved in the game in 22 different countries around the world, and the passion, politics and culture involved in this universal game. 

The late Joe McGinnis spent a season in a small village in Italy in the 1990s where he wrote at length about the Italian league and the village's football team in The Miracle of Castel di Sangro.

In Barry Hines' classic novel, A Kestrel for a Knave, which is not just about football, there is, nevertheless a breathless, 20-page account about a football match that Ken Loach beautifully adapted in his film Kes, inspired by the novel.  These five books are testament to the love writers and many others have for this universal game.

Albert Camus interviewed in 1957 at a football match


Journalist, globe trotter and food lover


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