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.
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, by Joe McGinniss
McGinniss passed away earlier this year, and before he died, he was most recently known as the journalist who moved into a home in Alaska next door to Sarah Palin in order to write about the VP candidate. But McGinniss, author of Fatal Vision, a best-selling true crime book from the 1980s, shows his narrative chops in this 1999 examination of life in a tiny Italian town with an on-the-verge soccer team. Embedded with third-division Castel di Sangro, McGinniss gets deep into the lives of a collection of players who never really expected to be playing big-time soccer, and the tale reveals the mundane along with the seedy side of the sport. But for those looking for insight into the Italian "calico" fanatic, the book's introductory pages are worth reading. McGinness finds himself in the company of a true "tifoso" while traveling through the country by train on a game day, and the guy rivals the most fervent Packers fan .