By Lee McGowan
Some believe the football novel only really took form when Nick Hornby stared right through his belly button to give us a tale of suburban obsession in Fever Pitch (1992). Others think Pete Davies started it when he stained his pages with Gazza’s tears in All Played Out (1990).
While it’s true that football lifted its literary game in the last 30 years, there were great football novels long before the ‘embourgoisement’ of the ‘working man’s game’ in the 1990s (see: Bale 2008; Hill 2006). There are classics, class warfare, hidden gems, incredible characters, accomplished authors and the best and worst of stories – just like any genre.
Football novels feel rare amid the wash of non-fiction football writing.
Historians, sports-writers, pundits, players, fans, and hooligans have all written, ghost-written, and inspired historical, topical, philosophical, biographical accounts and analyses of the game and events that occur within its vicinity.
Yet, the football novel, a pause for contemplation and insight, in the all-consuming sports news cycle, is all too often ignored (see Delaney 1961, Glanville 1962, Plimpton 1992), or worse still, dismissed out of hand (see Hornby 2006, Braunias 2002).
Academic scrutiny has taken place. Individual works have been considered (Bairner 2009; D’Arcy 2007; Hill 2006) alongside overlapping and broader explorations (Piskurek 2018; May 2018; Wood 2017; Taylor 2017, 1997; Cox et al 2002; Seddon 1999, 1995).
Across the best part of a decade and barrows full of football novels, a research project is working to bring what is known together. The project maps and unpacks a history of the football novel, its examining qualities and conventions, rich traditions, formulae and divergences.
The resulting book, an aggregation of previous studies and new discoveries will present a topographic perspective of the football novel, a theoretically-informed, field-guide for an uncertain, and until now, only partially explored, terrain.
There are and will be books missing.
I can’t read Spanish or Portuguese or German, or French or Italian or Mandarin for a start – I’m a Scot, so some would question my capacity for English – but I’ve endeavoured to gather and read hundreds (and hundreds) of football novels. Not all of them good, but they’re listed.
Rather than wait until after it’s published, then have you write and say you’ve missed a spot, a colleague suggested I try to make sure all the books are there by sharing the list.
This way you can see if your favourite is on there. If you want to have a look, I’ll share my list, but only on the condition you think you can contribute a title.
What’s your favourite? What’s the best, oldest or most obscure football novel you know?
It’d be brilliant if you got in touch.
firstname.lastname@example.org (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane Australia).
Image original source can be found here.