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.
Eight World Cups, by George Vescey
Activists and players in Brazil are currently worried about how the high temperatures, even in the southern hemisphere's winter, might affect this year's game. Vescey's recollections of the lead-up, and the kick off of the 1994 World Cup in the United States might prove useful, as that year's Cup was played in the depths of summer in Chicago, New Jersey, and even inside the Pontiac Silverdome, home of the Detroit Lions. With grass cultivated outdoors and then slid into the building on trays before the game between the U.S. and Switzerland, the atmosphere proved to be stagnant, with a fitting score of 1-1. A moral victory, at least, for the red-white-and-blue, as it was the team's first point in the World Cup since 1950. It's just one of Vescey's memories from 20 years ago.