Former New York Times sports columnist George Vescey made a career of covering people and places off the beaten path. As national correspondent for the New York Times, he spent weeks in Appalachia in the 1970s talking with coal miners and their families. As a religion reporter, he interviewed the Dalai Lama. And when he first started covering the World Cup, beginning at the 1982 tournament in Spain (at which Italy took down Germany in the final match), it was still out of the ordinary for an American sports writer to take interest in the international game.
World Cup soccer brought him some unforgettable experiences: "When you see lightly clad Brazilian women dancing down the Rambla in Barcelona to a Samba beat, you tend to remember," Vescey says. Now, as he turns 75 just before this year's knock-out stage begins, his book Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer, traces his timeline through the sport, beginning as a teenager in Queens through the Klinsmann era with the U.S. national team.
On a Saturday morning phone call from his home office in New York, Vescey listed off 10 great soccer books anyone who finds themselves falling in love with the Beautiful Game should investigate. So if you're off to the beach between matches, away from radio, TV, or cell service, bring along Fever Pitch, Among the Thugs, or Soccer in Sun and Shadow, or any of the others on this list to maintain your soccer high.
Among the Thugs, by Bill Buford
There's no lingering reverence for the mobs of thugs that intimidated opposing fans both within and outside of England's borders in the 1980s in Buford's book, but it's a drama-packed and breathless read, especially a section chronicling the bottle-throwing and bus-shaking mayhem a few hundred Manchester United "fans" unleashed on Turin ahead of and during a 1984 match against Juventus.
After decades of work between local and international police organizations to prevent that sort of fan behavior, it's unlikely there will be a similar scene at this year's World Cup, says Vescey: "People are paying good money to be there. Fathers are taking sons to the game. That's what you see at the World Cup. [In 2010] Ghanaian fans and American fans were coming out of this knockout match, talking to each other about the game."